Jason Calacanis, by David Sifry via FlickrI wrote a post last month called ‘Why should brands own their own social media profiles’, where I called out Coca Cola for not bothering to sign up for @coke and @dietcoke on Twitter. But there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye.

Earlier today, I spotted a note on Twitter by Rory Brown that simply said: “I really like the concept behind @answers. Mahalo may have a winner there.” 

Mahalo Answers was launched in mid-December 2008 as an extension of Mahalo, the human-powered search engine. It’s like Yahoo Answers and LinkedIn Answers, and it works well. It even uses Twitter as a capture and response channel: you can ask questions and receive replies via Twitter. It also automatically posts questions asked via the website to Twitter. In short, it’s excellent.

Business models aside, Mahalo might have a winner in selecting ‘answers’ as its Twitter username.

Mahalo’s strategy here might be slightly forced, in that it doesn’t own @mahalo (somebody living in Tokyo got there first), and there is also an account called @mahaloanswers, which doesn’t look like an official one. 

Nevertheless, owning @answers on Twitter has a certain ring to it. 

So does @questions, which I immediately tried to register. But it was taken. Jason Calacanis beat me to it, for that is also owned by Mahalo. Nice work.

Is it worth signing up generic words?

If you wear your social search optimisation hat, it could be a great idea. User profiles on social media sites like Twitter (and Digg, YouTube, etc) can rank very highly on search engines. Think about all those words you’d have loved to have bought the domain for! Toys.com sold for more than $5m last month.

So let’s take a look at Google, to see if there’s any merit to this as a search strategy.

The search stuff

The beauty of answers-based websites is that the question asked is a) often featured in the page title, and b) people often type in questions as search queries. Pages mirror search queries, and sometimes exactly. What could be better?

As such, a site like Mahalo is well-placed to benefit from lots of search traffic. Questions asked on Mahalo feature on the first page of Google after just one day, such as ‘Which is better, Coke or Pepsi?’ (ranked in sixth place). It’s niche, long-tail, and very relevant to the searcher.

But to put it on the map for a broader search on ‘answers’ (which is also a brand term in this instance) is going to require more than a liberal sprinkling of Jason’s magic. It will at the very least take time, surely?


Before I looked at Google to check out the results, I imagined that Mahalo would not appear in the top 50 for the word ‘answers’. I figured that the word ‘answers’ on Google would be very popular. 

In fact, it is hellishly popular… there are 392,000,000 possible pages listed. A tough nut to crack.

I was wrong

Mahalo Answers is ranked in 44th place for a search on ‘answers’. That’s some going, and proves that the website is well-optimised, and has secured a bunch of links. The Jason Effect strikes early. 

But then you know what they say about not being on the first three pages. Maybe there’s another way…

I was right

Yep, there is another way. The Twitter @answers account is actually doing (much) better than the Mahalo Answers website, in Google terms, for a search on the word ‘answers’. 

In fact, it is doing so well that it is ranked at the top of the second page of search result, in 11th place (at the time of writing, and after less than three months of action).

That, frankly, is staggering. Praise be.

An effective shortcut

As discussed, the word ‘answers’ isn’t necessarily what people are going to type into search engines, but this proves a point. It proves that you can gain a lot of traction in Google from owning a generic term as a user profile on Twitter, and a lot more than you can manage from your own website (at least in the short term).

Normally people buy paid search ads as a stopgap, when your organic search results are not yet established (or not there at all). But it appears that social media can help you avoid eating into your marketing budget.

All Mahalo has really done here is:

  1. Register ‘@answers’
  2. Set up the feed
  3. Design the Twitter page
  4. Promote
  5. Integrate
  6. Commit
  7. Avoid spending unecessary budget

It is working out very well, and looks like a smart move from where I’m sitting.

It’s certainly one to watch, and one to take note of. We’ll add it to our soon-to-be-released Social Media Business Case (sign up for a free Bronze account to be kept in the loop, or follow me on Twitter for an update when it is published). 

Cue lots of playing around on tools like this.

PS – I still think you should *also* own your brand terms!