Twitter's deals with Microsoft (Bing) and Google have the blogosphere and Twittersphere abuzz. 'Real-time search' has been a hot topic in 2009 and there has been much speculation on Twitter's strategy vis-à-vis the real-time search opportunity. It appears that we now know what that strategy is: sell firehose access to the Twitter stream to the search engines and let them do what they do best.
The Bing and Google deals could be significant. Depending on what Bing and Google decide to do with their Twitter firehose, internet users could potentially see SERPs that are heavily influenced by Twitter activity, which would mean that SEOs will have to deal with Twitter as a 'ranking factor'. Of course, nobody knows all of the details yet, which is why I thought it would be worthwhile to see what experts and observers are saying about the deals.
Adam Bunn, Head of SEO at Greenlight:
With News and Blog results being drawn from a wide range of disparate sources it’s difficult for search engines to get a consensus opinion of what’s really newsworthy, and despite the speed with which many bloggers and news websites can publish new content, it’s not always fast enough. Twitter suffers neither of these drawbacks, essentially bringing millions of bloggers under one roof where the a news story can be picked up and “re-Tweeted” thousands of times within a matter of minutes. In essence, Twitter brings search engines as close to “real time” search as they’ve ever been able to get.
There’s another facet to this though, and that’s what search engines can infer about the popularity and usefulness of other websites by looking at the frequency with which they are mentioned in Twitter tweets – information that has until now been off limits to them. This is a new spin on the old idea of link citation analysis, some variation of which forms an important part of all modern search engine algorithms, the idea being that a link is treated as a vote in favour of the site it points to. The problem with using links in this way is that as time goes on, many of the types of links search engines used to rely on have become subverted by companies looking to manipulate search results in their favour. This has left search engines fighting a constant rearguard battle in an attempt to ignore manipulative links while concealing which factors they really take into account. So, any new source of information about what real users like will be a welcome weapon in the search engines arsenals.
Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li of Altimeter Group:
Expect real time data to merge with existing search engines, as a result we should see Google Search and Bing to serve up search results based on: 1) Real time information based on what Twitter users are saying, including memes from trending topics, 2) Preference given to links and URLs that are tweeted by users with more followers or authority, 3) Geo location of tweets to influence search results. As users seek “Thai Restaurants in San Mateo” location based tweets could provide additional context. 4) Eventually results will be served up by your friends. Google has given a nod to serve up information based on your social graph (your friends) using Google Profile.
Rand Fishkin, CEO of seoMOZ:
Twitter's new relationships with both Google & Microsoft is certainly interesting from a macro-technology industry perspective, but being deep in the world of search engine optimization and visibility, I'm drawn to thinking about the specific impact on our field. For those practicing online marketing in the search ecosphere, Twitter data making its way both directly into the search results as well as potentially into the ranking signals the engines use for analysis has an actionable takeaway. If you want your content to prosper in search engines, ignoring social media and Twitter in particular (as well as all the services that feed into and leverage it) is no longer an option. Twitter and SEO are now fundamentally tied together like never before.
Mark Pilatowski, SEO Manager at Reprise Media:
Everyone seems to be overjoyed about the possibilities and I myself am very interested to see how this all plays out. I do have one concern and that is how are Bing and Google going to deal with the issue of spam when it comes to real time search via Twitter results?
In some ways, Twitter is like the early days of the search engine. There is a lot of great information available but it is continually being overwhelmed by spam. Twitter has attempted to stay on top of the spam situation but they can only do so much and in most cases only catch it after the fact. The real time nature of Twitter means a spammer can send his/her message out all over the Twitters before anyone notices and by the time it is noticed and the spammer is removed the spammer has 1,000s more spam bots stepping in to continue the assault. Spamming Twitter is obviously profitable for some people otherwise they would not do it. Imagine how much more profitable it will be if those results end up filling up Google and Bing search results.
Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch:
Now that Google and Bing are getting the firehose, it could have a big impact on search results. For the search engines, the firehose is much more valuable than any single Tweet. They can index it and sift it, looking for patterns and spikes in keywords and shared links to get a better sense of what people across the Web are paying attention to at any given moment. This data can then be folded back into regular search results, even if the top result isn’t a Tweet.
Peter Da Vanzo of SEOBook:
Go where the search engines do. Link to your content from Twitter. Publish excerpts and link-backs. Monitor real-time search trends, using Google's Hot Trends and trend data tools, such as TweetStats. Supply content to match demand.
It will be interesting to see if real-time search, on a Google scale, produces new business models. The traffic bursts should ample reward for being seen first for popular real time queries.
The news business relies on immediacy, and they just got a whole new wave of unpaid competition.
Kevin May, Editor of Tnooz, calls the deal "The Perfect Storm of travel search":
It is unclear as yet how Google will index and rank the stream from Twitter – but if it uses the same relevancy and linking protocols it applies at the moment to natural search, then this is a powerful change in engine’s capability.
Jared Newman of PC World asks, "Will people who hate this stuff have to see it in their searches?":
Microsoft doesn't say whether Twitter searches be shown outside of a dedicated section of Bing, and we don't know how Facebook will be treated. It's a big question mark for Google's Twitter integration as well, though we do know that Social Search results for Google Profile users will appear mid-way down the page. I imagine both companies will want to play around with their treatment of social search results, depending on how people use and respond to them.
Ben Wood, MD at Diffiniti, Alex Hoye, CEO of Latitude, and Mark Mitchell, Head of Search at OMD Group all chime in:
We can imagine that users interested in current affairs, for example, could find the real-time search offering beneficial, but the engines need to be intelligent enough to be able to bring truly relevant results to the surface, otherwise there is potential of having a negative impact on user experience.
As search engines integrate real-time into the ranking algorithms, brands will have new opportunities, such as the potential for last-minute promotion.
The search engines have to be ruthless with their filtering of this information and provide truly worthwhile and relevant results for the user; I think this will be a major challenge for them to overcome.
If you look at the quality of results you get in Twitter search on brands like McDonald’s most of tweets are of no major note and wouldn’t really add much to the searcher’s experience.
My personal take? Wait and see. There's a lot of reasons to be excited and/or intrigued about where Twitter's deals with Google and Bing will take search, but speculating on the future doesn't always help present efforts. It's worth considering that Google and Bing already index tweets and a lot of SEOs are already making an effort with Twitter. Twitter SEO is in the early stages but in some markets, it's safe to say that sharing your links on Twitter can be a very smart link building tactic.
But beyond this, everyone should keep in mind that Google and Bing have just signed their deals with Twitter and even if they get firehose access integrated with their main indexes tomorrow (which they're not), it still remains to be seen how Google and Bing let your tweets influence their SERPs. Personally, I'm hesitant to buy into any broad proclamations about the extent to which Twitter's data will influence rankings making the rounds because, well, nobody knows. So such proclamations are just conjecture at this point.
While there's no doubt that there's a lot of value in the Twitter data -- if the wheat can effectively be separated from the chaff -- it's important not to forget that Google and Bing won't have an incentive to dramatically change the way their SERPs are created unless they see evidence that such a change would also dramatically benefit consumers. Perceived relevance is key for both of these search engines. If either (or both) overemphasizes Twitter's influence in the SERPs and it skews results in a manner that consumers don't respond favorably to, use of Twitter data could quickly become a liability.
The problem with this data is that it's difficult for search engines to get context because there, well, there isn't much context in 140 characters. Sure, the links that get spread on Twitter are important and who spreads them can probably be mined for trust and relevance, but Google and Bing will need to experiment with models for figuring out the appropriate value to place on Twitter link love given that Twitter is so easy to spam. That's going to take time and chances are that Twitter results culled from the firehose will primarily be relegated to dedicated real-time indexes (like Bing Twitter) for the time being.
For all of these reasons and more, I personally doubt that we'll see any notable SERP changes on Google or Bing proper anytime soon, which means those who shift too much of their SEO attention to Twitter will probably be doing themselves a disservice. In other words, this is a good time to prepare but probably not a great time to take a plunge.