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Twitter Search should be brilliant but the reality is that it pretty much sucks. I can only assume that the reason Twitter has limited the scope and functionality of its search tool is so that it can sell its data.

As such it has taken a third party called Topsy to create a ‘social search’ engine based on content posted to Twitter. It has been around for a little while, but I thought I’d give it some love because it has become my go-to place to unearth old tweets, and there are a few other things it can do too.

The pros and cons of Twitter Search

It’s not all bad. I do like Twitter’s search filtering options, where you can view the results by ‘top’ or ‘all’, or narrow them to show only those posted by the people you follow.

I also like the way you can save searches, and Twitter's advanced search operators (which also work on Topsy).  

But, the big problem with Twitter search is that you can’t look back very far, so if you’re hunting for a tweet that you posted a couple of months (or even weeks) ago then you’re going to be unhappy with the outcome.

This is where Topsy comes into its own.

Topsy’s Social Search

Thankfully, Topsy offers access to Twitter’s historical archive. This allows you to mine the gold. 

What I find it useful for:

  • Finding old tweets and links (my own, usually)
  • Discovering new content
  • Searching for videos and images
  • Comparing trends
  • Retweet counts 

The search tools

I use Twitter as a kind of bookmarking tool, among other things, and the main reason I use Topsy is to locate a link that I’ve shared. 

I’ve been sharing a few HTML5 links in the past year or two, so let’s see what Topsy makes of that…

Topsy returns 25 links, each one pointing directly to the link itself, with my tweets displayed underneath. 

If it had returned 250 results then I might need to make use of the advanced search tool, which has various filters to help you focus in on the thing you’re looking for (I find the date range to be of the most use).

Video and images

You can discover which videos (or images) have been popular on Twitter over the years. For example, I searched for ‘multichannel marketing’ and a link I shared two and a half years ago appeared at the top. 

It’s a coincidence that I appear, as I’m not logged in, but I remember that the link was popular among my followers at the time, and it’s proof that Topsy has a long memory. Unlike Twitter Search, which doesn’t show any videos for the same search

Compare trends, benchmark performance

Topsy has a neat analytics tool that you can use to compare up to three keywords (or phrases), to discover trends and popular links shared on Twitter. The free version allows you to look back over the past month, fortnight, week or day. 

This is like a version of Google Trends, based on tweets. Here's what you can do:

  • You can track your own content, to see how it is performing compared to the competition. 
  • You can discover new content that focuses on topics of interest.
  • You can identify new experts and content sources.

Underneath the chart there are up to three tabs. Each shows relevant links to various sources, based on links shared in tweets.

Note that for the '@econsultancy' search shown below it shows what appear to be duplicate URLs, but we have lots of country-specific URLs: the top two results represent the US and UK URLs for our blog post. This too is useful, as our (official) Twitter counter only tracks one page, and as such it undercounts. By looking at this I can see that we're closing in on 300 retweets for that content marketing post (the Twitter counter suggests 143 at the time of writing).   

There’s more to it, but you get the idea. 

Overall, Topsy is a very useful free tool (there’s a pro version if you want extra power). It fills the gap left by Twitter’s lack of focus on search, and it is something that content marketers in particular should take a close look at. Now go and play!

Chris Lake

Published 4 October, 2012 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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anon

unfortunately topsy.com has one major problem. it doesn't return ALL tweets, only pulls some here and there, and it's not good at filtering out what you don't want or displaying tweets in chronological order.

almost 4 years ago

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Ben

I'd love to have a go at this since we have the technology in house to process the amount of data twitter can generate. The issue is mainly that of accessibility to a wide enough section of the fire hose to get reliable results. As the anon commentator mentioned even this search is missing content. That indicates it doesn't consume the 100% fire hose, for which I can't blame topsy considering the costs involved.

almost 4 years ago

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