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.