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Google has started rolling out real time search, which has lots of potential implications for brand reputation and SEO, as well as paid search.
I've been asking some of the UK's search and social media experts for their opinions on how Google's real time search will affect brands and SEO...
What will the major effects of Real Time search be?
Andrew Heaps, Head of SEO at Latitude:
For me it puts the emphasis right back on brands, just as Eric Schmidt said would be the case 12+ months ago. With the inclusion of live Twitter (et al) streams in the natural SERPs, social media, and in particular brand reputation has never been so important. Those brands that dismiss the need to monitor their online sentiment or are just not well equipped to do so will suffer.
Ciaran Norris, Head of Social Media at Mindshare:
In terms of what it does for brands, it makes constant monitoring for potential reputation issues more important than ever. If I slag off a brand, and that starts showing at number one on Google, that's something a brand needs to know about and be prepared to respond to.
Henry Ellis, Head of Social Media at Tamar:
This move really does cement Social Media at the centre of search. Before now, people would use Twitter, for example, to do their ‘emotional research’ and trust Google to deliver the factual side, the best deals, information and so on.
Now, Google is more fully addressing those emotional needs, and brands are going to have to get serious about social media very quickly. If somebody does a branded search for a product and finds less-than-favourable messages from Twitter or a blog, this will have an effect on their purchase choices.
Dave Wilding, Senior SEO Analyst at Epiphany:
With the proliferation of mobile internet, consumers will no longer wait to get home to rave, or complain, about the new restaurant they just visited, they'll do it straight away, and these reviews will instantly appear within search results.
I predict a number of big brands will experience brand protection issues during 2010; and these issues will break out of Twitter into everyone's browser. Results are not only going to appear for 'Big Brand Name & Product Fault', but for 'Big Brand' by itself. Consumers who are just Googling for a brand are soon going to know all about the current hot issue for that company.
Andrew Girdwood, Head of Search at Bigmouthmedia:
Bid management faces a challenge. A search landscape that changes in real time will be tricky for systems that check the search landscape only a few times a day. The positions of the PPC ads may not update in real time but the commentary around them will – a real time stream could spend the first half of the morning on positive messages around a generic keyword which would result in increased PPC click throughs only then to spend the rest of the day on a negative message which would decrease PPC click throughs. The very same real time stream could vanish entirely the next day.
As popular conversation subjects are more likely to feature in the real time integration, brands will find that top level generics and brand terms may start to behave differently in PPC campaigns.
When Google's Real Time search appears at the top of the page it takes up a significant amount of space above the fold, and the fact it continually scrolls certainly draws your eye to it. Will this have a detrimental effect on PPC click through rates? Perhaps, though given this is Googles primary source of income I'm sure this has been thought through so not to detrimentally effect this revenue stream.
For SEO techniques...
The most immediate thing to consider regarding the impact on SEO is that it's yet more links, pushing the traditional '10 blue links' further down the page. When you add it to videos, images, news, maps, etc... we could find that the first 'proper' links are some way below the fold.
And the final thing to consider for SEOs is that, if Google is showing this data, it must have worked out some way to filter and rank it. And whilst Twitter links are nearly (if not entirely) nofollowed, this means that it's very likely that they could start to have some impact on the ranking of the normal SERPs.
What Google’s move means is that there's going to be a whole heap of ‘screen real-estate’ that will be much less controllable with traditional SEO methods, although of course new ones will be developed. It's no longer going to be enough for companies to simply optimise their websites and presences. They have got to be completely on top of what people are saying about them.
The basics of SEO are still required, and probably will be as long as search engines exist. The line between SEO and social media has just blurred even more, and the ability to help ensure a positive brand reputation will need to be in the SEO toolbox.
It will be interesting to see whether sentiment is ever factored into the ranking algorithm –a brand SERP full of negative tweets is going to impact CTR and if, as we believe to be the case, CTR is factored into the ranking algorithm it may end up having a broader impact on rankings.
And a final thought to ponder: will retweets become the new links?
Google appears to be filtering the real time streams on some relevancy and authority metrics. This is a positive thing as it’ll reduce the chance of spam links appearing in dominant positions. It also means that brands will have to work hard and build a genuine following in their social efforts in order to pass these Google quality checks.
The real time streams offer brands, almost anyone in fact, the chance to rank well for a competitive keyword even if that ranking is highly transitory. This means that sites with really good content have a better chance to showcase that content to the world. It also means sites can lose their top search position, albeit briefly, just when traffic for that keyphrase would be at its highest.