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Google’s recent move into real-time search has generated a lot noise in the internet industry recently, not least among the SEO professionals.

The search engine is now indexing tweets from Twitter and other status updates from other social media sites, including Myspace and Facebook.

Most of the time real time results are currently displayed on the top half of the page, which is prime real estate, and as such SEOs are keen to understand what makes Google tick.

Today, I spotted an article in Technology Review (hat tip to @rorybrown) that explains a little bit about how Google chooses real time results.

It turns out that it works rather like PageRank, where links from other sites help determine rankings. But not all links are equal.

Like PageRank, Google doesn’t simply look at volume or popularity measures, but rather reputation. Specifically, it considers a Twitter user’s followers and looks for reputed followers. "You earn reputation, and then you give reputation,” says Google’s Amit Singhal. He added:

"As high-quality pages link to another page on the Web, the quality of the linked-to page goes up. Likewise, in social media, as established users follow another user, the quality of the followed user goes up as well."

HASHTAGS = BAD?

Of course, not all ranking factors are positive. Google has also seemingly extended its TrustRank thinking to social media sites, by trying to identify what is – and isn’t – spam. 

One warning sign that Google looks at is whether or not a tweet includes a hashtag. Trending topics on Twitter – largely measured by hashtag popularity – can attract lots of junk tweets, so Google has adjusted its ranking factors for tweets that contain hashtags.

It most likely applies some kind of negative weighting for tweets that contain hashtags, especially those that trend and hit the Twitter homepage (and all user accounts).

As such, think again before you start jumping on the hashtag bandwagon.

WHAT ELSE?

So there are literally hundreds of ranking factors that Google uses as part of its algorithm, and they are tweaked regularly. Which of these ranking factors are likely to apply to real time search, and to Twitter?

We’re watching real time search closely to try to figure out what matters, and what doesn’t, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s very early in the day. As such, this is a braindump of possible ranking factors, rather than anything definitive.

Keywords. Keywords matter. Nanocontent may matter even more. Front loaded keywords in tweets may help outrank tweets without keywords. Keywords in links may carry weight too (as has been pointed out to me in the past, when I've previously talked about Twitter and SEO).

Unique content. Will tweet originators achieve higher real time rankings than high reputation retweeters?

Recency. Will Google apply a negative ranking penalty to dormant Twitter accounts with occasional tweets? Will frequently updated accounts be ‘crawled’ more often?

User name. Like domain names, keywords may help. Note that Twitter allows you to choose a user name (unique) and a real name, so there’s an anchor text thing going on here.

Age. We know that age of domain name is a ranking factor, so is it possible that more established Twitter users will outrank newcomers?

Keyword focused accounts. If all of your tweets refer to ‘sofas’ isn’t it possible that you’ll be seen as a sofa expert by search engines, and positioned accordingly? Staying on-topic may help.

External links from non-social sites. Links to @lakey from beyond the walls of Twitter should boost my reputation in Google’s eyes, especially from quality sites / highly-ranked pages.

Quantity helps. While Google says it isn’t “a popularity contest” I don’t think there’s any doubt that the quantity of retweets plays a big part in getting on the real time radar.

Ratios. I think is one area that will definitely be (or become) important. What is your ratio of follow to followed? Consider the way that Google has moved to deal with reciprocal linking in the past, and it might make sense to stop auto-following (as we have been doing, but recently decided to stop and will soon cull our ‘following’ count). We don't use any of those pyramid software tools to drive our Twitter followers, but a close correlation between following/followers may be a red flag to Google.

Lists. Twitter lists may help provide a hefty boost to your reputation, especially if they have been created by reputable Twitter users. Also, Econsultancy appears on around 900 lists, and has 19,000 followers, so thinking about ratios we have something like a 5% followers-to-lists ratio. This number might matter too.

I’d love to hear your own thoughts – what do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Chris Lake

Published 13 January, 2010 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

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David Hollands-Hurst

Google News has been using Aggregated Editiorial Interest instead of PageRank to determne the rankings of news stories. If Google was to use anything in its technological armory for Twitter something like AEI is more suitable. There is a video of how it is used for news here  http://bit.ly/5JA0h2.

over 6 years ago

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Richard Michie

Brilliant ideas on Google ranking for Twitter feeds. All seems to make great sense to me. Bit worried about the hash tag point because that a great way to get your feed spread out. My own thought on this is that maybe you shouldn't discard it totally but use it sparingly?

over 6 years ago

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Nigel Sarbutts

Hash tags are only really any use for very specific subjects such as live tweeting from events, does anyone get any value from #UKsnow or #fail?

I'm puzzled by Google giving such high value real estate to such transient content as a roll of tweets. Maybe they hope to switch client budgets out of the hands of SEO consultants and into theirs via PPC?

over 6 years ago

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Andy

Brilliant article. I think serious issues connected by hashtags are in the minority compared to the more trivial hashtags so I can fully understand why Google is doing this.

The indexing of tweets in Google has been a double edged sword for me as I have seen a marked increase in spam DM's and keyword rich tweets but can also see that we have had an increase in traffic for our site as a direct result of the indexing.

I am not convinced that Google's placement of the tweets at the top of the page is the optimum place as it interrupts my search journey with info that I don't find relevant and expect it to maybe drop down the page once the spotlight moves away from Twitter?

over 6 years ago

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Lars Tong Strömberg

How about 3rd party twitter applications such as TweetBrand which lets you change the source parameter? Possibly also a ranking factor?

http://tongstromberg.com/2010/01/07/twitter-advertising-tweetbrand

over 6 years ago

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Sarah

This is a great article and goes a long way towards analysing Google's search ranking.  It's interesting to see it laid out in this way.

It does make me wonder though if they are going to change their search ranking algorithm to take into account the retweets or links from social media sites in their standard web page algorithms.

What do you think? Are we going to see the most influential Twitter people ending up with better SEO for their sites and those people that they link to getting better site SEO?

over 6 years ago

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brettreasure

It doesn't make sense that keywords in links would improve pagerank (twank?), since every experienced user links using bit.ly or similar services. If your tweet contains a keyword that the page ranks highly for, that might be of value though I expect more so for the page you're linking to than the tweet itself.

Your comment about ratios confused me. A close correlation between followers and followed is a positive indication; it means people follow you back. If you follow many more people than follow you back, that would be a bad thing and likely to be penalised IMO.

over 6 years ago

Simon Sanders

Simon Sanders, Head of Content at Pulse

Excellent article - three further things that cross my mind here. The third one, might be the most important and interesting one, cause for more debate...

1) Whether Google will consider self-referential tweets (e.g. posts that just say things like 'my latest post' or 'new post' are regarded as self-puffing.

2) How RTs are treated. Arguably RTs show that the content is regarded as useful, or relevant. Perhaps certain RTs from rated, trusted, ranked (etc) Tweeters might be more likely to be provided as results

3) The effect of link-shorteners. It's entirely possible isn't it that Google may decide that a Tweet using a Google link shortener is of more value than say a bit.ly, a tiny.url or a cli.gs etc. They would argue that using goo.gl address to shorten means that they can guarantee... 

Stability – ensuring that the service has very good uptime
Security – protecting users from malware and phishing pages
Speed – fast resolution of short URLs

(this is their blurb)

...and that even if one of the other services went down forever, they would always be able to guarantee no broken links.

They would also have the data, metrics etc about who, when, etc clicked on the links... 

over 6 years ago

Mike Stenger

Mike Stenger, MikeStenger.com

Interesting findings Chris. I don't pay a ton of attention to SEO when it comes to social media because I think it takes away from engaging and doing what you should be to build an effective presence. Nonetheless, interesting questions you raised and curious to see how they pan out in testing. By the way, I'm not saying SEO in social media is ineffective, just something that if you focus too much on, it might bite you in the ass so to speak

over 6 years ago

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Patrick Murphy

That is interesting about the Hash tags, where are they going with this.  And I have the same question, why is Google giving up valuable space to feeds?  Also since the feed is live, is it worth your while as your twitter will only be there for a short period of time?

over 6 years ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido LimitedSmall Business

Interesting reading although Im not 100% sure that I agree with all of it. I've noticed recently that some of our tweets have not been picked up on Google at all but when they are retweeted they are. The retweeters (if that's a word) have fewer tweets, fewer followers & newer account so I don't understand why they show up and we don't.

Guess we all have to sit here and keep reading the research to find out more...

over 6 years ago

Chris Surovick

Chris Surovick, Internet Marketing at www.collegiateliving.com

The only part that seems like an issue is that even if you get your feed live on google page 1, it will not be there very long at all...how will this affect the amount of time and attention one gives to getting their tweet on page one? Right now, does not seem worth the aggravation.

over 6 years ago

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Tammy from TweetBrand

Yes very curious to hear whether or not tweetbrand will impact it Lars - even though me and my partner created it we really don't know how it effects SEO... yet

over 6 years ago

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billy_nexp

It's an ultimate informative article. Can you tell me something more about hash tags like how to create them and what are the use and advantages of hash tags?

over 6 years ago

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Internet Marketing Company

Its interesting how when the tool first came out it used to post any of the recent tweets, and the industry thought it was going to be used by spam a lot. Now with all the new rules in place it seems to refresh but less quickly. Very interesting too about hashtags, didn't even consider those being a factor.

over 6 years ago

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Simon Carr

So, from reading this I am gathering that Google has finally realized it needs to compete with social media tools... and they are doing this by indexing twitter, facebook etc.

I think this is a good thing, but I still don't understand how 'reputation' is formulated... Because without that, there are plenty of 15 and 16 year olds who have 5,000 facebook friends.

over 6 years ago

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Chris

I agree that is a good thing that Google is using data from Social media like Twitter, but is there a risk for someone to lose points from an other user that uses spam methods?

over 6 years ago

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live search engine

As the Twitter is now becoming great in social media it is very good in tie up with Google.

over 6 years ago

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trx6

also the text "follow back" in your twitter bio or location could be a negative factor.

over 6 years ago

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Mark

over 6 years ago

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L. B.

I understand how this article addresses how Twitter will affect real time search results.  However, I'm wondering how it, or if it even, does affect organic search rankings.  Does anyone know?  Or will it current affect real time search results only?

Thanks!

over 6 years ago

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Anonymous

Real time is not just Twitter! There aren't Facebook results yet although indexing is happening. Nobody uses Twitter, do a search for active users and you'll find that all the content comes from about 2 million active users today - start by looking at the harvard business review. Please stop coming up with this rubbish and investigate the real facts and do a bit of serious journalism. Because you label yourself a blog doesn't mean you should be able to get away with this. Lol! 'How Google Indexes Real Time' is how you label it and your link is to an article only about Twitter. It seems you are even aware of your incredible lax standards.

over 6 years ago

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steve

That is interesting about the Hash tags, where are they going with this.  And I have the same question, why is Google giving up valuable space to feeds?  Also since the feed is live, is it worth your while as your twitter will only be there for a short period of time?

about 6 years ago

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get twitter follower

yes, twitter is better that facebook i think. everytime i search in google, real time result from twitter also be there.

over 5 years ago

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Reseller Web Hosting jaipur

The retweeters (if that's a word) have fewer tweets, fewer followers & newer account so I don't understand why they show up and we don't.

about 5 years ago

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amrit able, SEO at BPO

Show the search engine rank schema member advertising box on your site . On have to be willing to play the SEO game. Today, search engines are calling the shots when it comes to which websites www.seocompanyplannings.com/

over 3 years ago

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