We know that Russia is a key internet growth market and that the country boasts the biggest web user base in Europe, but what of its neighbours?
How much of an impact is Russian digital progress having, and how are these markets similar or different to this significant and unique part of the globe’s digital landscape?
Numbers and growth
With 67m users, Russia is still the biggest Russian-speaking internet market. Yet, neighbouring countries Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are undergoing their own respective digital evolutions too.
According to Gemius, Belarus sees internet penetration levels at 71%, having grown significantly over the past two years from 58%. The market’s actual web user numbers are around 5m.
By comparison, in Kazakhstan 54% of its population go online – around 6.7m users. And Ukraine has slightly lower penetration at 52% (up from 42% two years ago) but with more than 17m active users.
Like Russia, the Kazakh and Ukraine online landscape skews very slightly towards females aged under 35. In Kazakhstan, 53% of users are female and 65% are under 35, while Ukraine sees 52% female and 56% under 35.
Belarus doesn’t follow the pattern so closely, with internet users split down the middle 50/50 gender-wise – but still boasting mostly younger netizens with 55% under 35.
What users do online
So there are 28.7m of mostly young Belarusians, Kazakhs and Ukrainians using the Russian-speaking internet, but are their user habits similar to Russia and to each other?
The Gemius data sheds some light on this. The top 10 websites in Belarus by users is dominated by well-known domestic Russian sites with email portal Mail.ru at the number two spot (3m users), search engine Yandex at the number four spot (2.56m users), as well as social networks VK.com and Odnoklassniki at number three and number seven (2.64m and 1.45m users, respectively). US names such as Google, YouTube and Wikipedia are also visible.
Ukraine’s leading sites are a similar mix of mostly big Russian sites (Mail.ru, VK.com and Yandex) and a few US sites such as Google and Wikipedia. Facebook also makes an appearance, hinting at the popularity of a range of social sites within this market.
Kazakhstan’s top 10 sites do not, however, include any US named sites. Mail.ru and My.Mail.ru take the one and two spots (with 5.4m and 3.46m, respectively) and Russian social network Odnoklassniki is popular too at number three with 1.54m users. Apart from these three Russian leaders, though, the rest of the 10 are accounted for by domestic Kazakh sites such as portal Nur.kz and motoring classifieds site Kolesa.
Russian internet: more than a one market thing?
With the proliferation of the Cyrillic alphabet and official use of the Russian language across some of Russia’s neighbours, it’s unsurprising that the development of the Russian digital landscape is having an impact beyond its borders.
While there are similarities between Russia’s satellite markets, they are – of course – developing and evolving in quite unique ways. It is notable that Kazakhstan, for example, boasts 54% penetration with plenty more room for growth and is seemingly very much dominated by Kazakh web properties aside from Mail.ru and Odnoklassniki.
Ukraine, again, looks like a market where we can expect more numbers coming online in 2015 – but its top sites are more similar to what we find in Belarus and Russia itself; a mix of big Russian names and big US names offering search, social and information services.
Acknowledging Russia’s effect on the digital markets of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, it’s interesting to think about the Russian digital market less in terms of a country and more in terms of this group of markets.
At around 100m internet users altogether, these four markets boast more users than Central America and about the same as the whole Middle East. And as Russia’s digital landscape continues to evolve as well, I think it likely we’ll see Belarusian, Kazakh and Ukrainian netizens come to use an increasing number of Russian online services on into 2015.