Social Media

SEO: Google Plus Twitter Equals Stronger Search?

Amid the ruckus of Twitter’s lower-than-expected Q1 earnings and rumors that Google may buy Twitter, search marketers gained a little more insight into this year’s agreements between the two Internet companies.

In February, Google and Twitter penned a deal giving Google access to the “fire hose” of Twitter’s public data, generated by its 300 million users. Without this, Google has to crawl Twitter’s public profiles and tweets to index them, slowing Google’s time to discover new content and making real-time rankings far less likely.

With the February deal, all of Twitter’s profile information, tweets, and other public data are available to Google in real time. Since the announcement there has been much speculation on how Google would integrate the information into its web search product. Twitter’s CEO said we would see the results in May.

This week, the companies announced a second deal related to paid search and display advertising. Twitter’s ad inventory will be available through Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager. In addition, Twitter advertisers that use DoubleClick will be able to measure conversions attributable to views and other actions on Twitter.

The DoubleClick piece of the deal has the potential to increase Twitter’s visibility dramatically, making sponsored tweets an easier piece to integrate into an overall campaign than before. In addition, advertisers that wouldn’t have previously thought about running sponsored tweets will now be exposed to that option with every campaign. With Twitter’s ailing earnings report still top of mind, this news comes at just the right time.

As an SEO professional, I’m far more interested in the organic search aspects of Google’s impending integration of Twitter data, reportedly coming to light in May.

Potential Impact on Organic Search

With Twitter’s fire hose back in place, Google will have instant access to every tweet as it is posted, and every user profile as it’s created or updated. This data sends some very strong signals for organic search.

  • Topics. Google will be able to algorithmically compute trending topics and suddenly spiking events in real time without relying on Twitter’s public lists and calculations. It could be used to support news algorithms as well as to surface breaking events and other popular topics in web search.
  • Engagement. Google will be able to see what is being shared, who is being shared and who is sharing it, across 300 million users. How often tweets are retweeted, quoted, favorited, or just clicked through – all of these signify differing levels of engagement beyond simple impressions. It’s easy to spam impressions – generating a large quantity of tweets that link to something and forcing them in front of an audience. But it’s nearly impossible to fake engagement on a broad scale.
  • Authority. Engagement multiplied by reach also signifies authority. Twitter users with consistently engaging content who also have either many followers themselves, or followers that are themselves authorities, are authorities. The topics discussed and the content created by authorities are more credible to Google, and will probably also have higher engagement levels as well. Google’s reigning measure of authority — external links — could also receive a boost from the Twitter data, with the number of Twitter links to a piece of content contributing some small level of authority, despite the fact that Twitter strips that authority from its outbound links to discourage link spammers.

Perhaps in aggregation with all of the other authority and engagement metrics, Google will find enough algorithmic value in the quality of those outbound links to begin factoring them into a signal for search results. We know Google will see the links; whether the links have any more value than today or not as a ranking signal remains to be seen.

  • Personalization. Google can use this data not just in aggregate, but also on the individual level to personalize search results. When Twitter users associate the same email address with both Twitter and their Google account, Google will be able to hash public Twitter data with Google search results.

If you follow, share, favorite, or tweet content on Twitter, that content and other content from related users will probably show up in your search results in the future. You engaged with it, you must think it’s relevant. Or people like you, or related to you in some way according to Twitter or Google data, think it’s relevant. The potential reach of this deal for personalization is mind boggling.

  • Real time. Google can factor all of that information gleaned from Twitter data into its search results in real time. Trending topics, engagement, and authority rise and fall over time. Today’s Internet sensation is tomorrow’s forgotten distraction. Hopefully, engagement and authority last longer than topical popularity. But if a user’s only engagement and authority metrics are tied to that topic then as it wanes so will that user’s algorithmic importance. Google will now have more real time signals than ever before to determine the rise, and fall, of each user’s value to its search results.

The Twitter deal is a goldmine of authentic human behavioral data, the Holy Grail in Google’s quest for the “real.” In order to serve the most relevant search results possible, Google wants information from real live humans speaking real language in real time, preferably with identity and measurable authority. Their algorithms are geared toward discovering this automatically, and they employ a team of human spam detectors to manually fight hard-to-detect forms of unnatural optimization techniques like keyword stuffing and link building.

Twitter, and social media in general, is reputedly harder to cheat algorithmically. Spam patterns are more easily detectable in social media, especially when you have access to the fire hose of data. It’s closer to “real” and it’s definitely real time. It’s no wonder, then, that Google has tried to align its web search product with social media input.

About Twitter and Google

Why did Google choose Twitter? Social giant Facebook has a rocky relationship with Google, ranging from hostile to barely tolerant. Google will not likely be brokering a similar deal with Facebook anytime soon. Twitter is the next largest and most established text-based social media platform. Other social media sites might be growing faster, but Twitter is a safer bet and a known entity.

Google and Twitter previously had a fire hose deal in 2009. It expired shortly before Google launched Google+ in 2011. With Google+ largely disbanded and its components melding into other Google products, Google looks to Twitter once again for that stream of authentic data. This month we should see how Google plans to use Twitter’s data the second time around.

What does Twitter get out of their deal with Google? Besides a licensing fee, Twitter could in theory gain more exposure in Google’s search results. The extent of that exposure remains to be seen when the integration rolls out some time this month, but that increased exposure would potentially mean more visits and more new users for Twitter.

In preparation, Twitter has released a new “logged out” experience on its site to display to users who aren’t currently members of Twitter or who haven’t logged in yet. The new home page is basically an exploration experience filled with hashtags, trending topics, and paths to explore, such as “country music” and “cute animals.” To see it, head over to Twitter and log out.

Preparing for Google’s Twitter Integration

Without knowing what form the Twitter integration will take, it’s hard to be sure what actions today will set you up for success. We do know that Google’s real time access means that every public interaction you have or your customers have with you is immediately available to Google. Google will see and may include in search results:

  • Your amazing tweet during an event that gains huge engagement and boosts your authority.
  • Your customer service or products, and whether their followers chime in to second the complaints.
  • Your response to the customer and whether that response earned respect or further criticism.

Remember, whatever Google “sees,” it may choose to show others in search results. Think of the Twitter integration as a potential amplification of activity on Twitter — positive or negative. Negative reviews and press may spread from Twitter to reach more eyeballs in Google rankings. And positive news and successful tweets may likewise be amplified across topically relevant Google searches.

Google may choose to use the data almost entirely behind the scenes algorithmically. If that’s the case, individual tweets may not show up much in search results but may increase the likelihood that traditional web content relevant to those tweets is more likely to rank higher.

Or Google may choose to show individual tweets more frequently in search results when they’re relevant to the search query. If this happens, my guess is that it will most likely be primarily a part of Google’s personalization. Google’s research has shown that personal recognition is tied closely to the value of showing social posts and images in search results — i.e., you don’t care if someone you don’t know shared a tip on the best tires for your car, but if your friend or acquaintance shared it you’re more likely to click through to that content.

Google could even choose to display the most recent tweet from a brand alongside Google+ posts in its Knowledge Graph, that section of descriptive content in the upper right corner of results for branded searches.

The point is that, depending on how much influence Twitter data ends up having on Google search results and where it’s displayed, Twitter may become an important social channel for your SEO strategy. How important a factor it is remains to be seen.

You can start by developing a Twitter strategy if you don’t already have one. Claim your profile at least defensively, because relevant profile names will become increasingly more scarce. If you have a Twitter strategy, take a good look at how it’s performing and a fresh look at your engagement and sentiment metrics and consider if they’re at the level that you would want to see them amplified at on Google’s search results.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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