'Old School' SEO Can Address Google's 'New School' Real-Time Search
Seems odd to call SEO (search engine optimization) 'old school,' but given the fact it's been around for over tens years, that's considered dog years online for "ancient." Now how does that 'old school' religion work with today's real-time tweets? Will the old axiom apply - if it ain't broke, it don't need to be fixed?
As soon as the real-time search deal was solidified between Google and Twitter, Google's algorithm went into overdrive to interface tweets into their search results. However the ranking of tweets remained nebulous with the initial roll-out. The first assumption was that ranking would be based on number of followers. While Bing took that approach, Google took another tact. One that SEO experts are very familiar with.
According to Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, "a fundamental Google strategy for identifying tweet relevance is analogous to that used by Google's PageRank technology, which helps find relevant Web pages with traditional Web search." Under PageRank, Google judges the importance of pages containing a given keyword in part by looking at the pages' link structure. The more pages that link to a page--and the more pages linking to the linkers--the more relevant the original page. Link-building is one of the mainstays of the SEO business, and one that companies pay thousands of dollars a month to be on top of.
So taking that same 'old school' logic, " in the case of tweets, the key is to identify 'reputed followers," says Singhal. Similar to page content, tweets allow a user to earn reputation and also give reputation. So differing from just the number of one's followers, if lots of people follow you, and then you follow someone -- then even though this (new person) doesn't have lots of followers, his tweet is deemed valuable because his followers are themselves followed widely. Singhal says, it is "definitely,definitely more than a popularity contest."
Again similar to a high-quality page linking to another page, one user following another 'reputable' user will earn a higher ranking. You become known for the company you are keeping, so of speak. Which makes sense as that formula works in the real world as well.
Essentially, Matt Cutts from Google says they will treat links the same whether they are
from Facebook or Twitter, as they would if they were from any other
site. It's just an extension of the PageRank formula, where its not the
amount of links, but how reputable those links are (the company uses a similar strategy for ranking Tweets themselves in real-time search).
Another 'Old School' SEO tactic is the combination of keywords. Certain keyword combinations earn higher rankings because in essence the whole becomes greater than its parts. For instance, if some one was searching for the "James Hotel," they might end up with a ton of miscellaneous SERPs (search engine results pages) of hotels around the world named the "James" - whereas, if they searched for the "James Hotel" and "Chicago" they could narrow their search to the types of results the are really searching for.
This same technique can now applied to keywords in real-time. Built into Google's new real-time algorithm, more weight is given to keywords that are being talked about as they are happening. For instance, last week if you search for "Obama" and "Harry Reid" separately you would most likely end up with a myriad of different types of new and dated results. But if you combined these keywords together, you would surface the 'rascist remark' issue that tied these two men together in a breaking news cycle that was most real-time.
Hashtags, while promoted heavily by Twitter and Twitterers is actually a 'red flag' for Google. While they denote the importance of a certain topic (e.g. #Obama), "they also attract spam-like content," notes Singhal. Some users will add hashtags at the end of their tweet to encourage people to retweet their tweets, whether or not the tweet actually has anything to do with that hashtag. This is analogous to the 'Old School' unethical 'black hat' tactic of "keyword stuffing" or loading up a page with multiple keywords that didn't necessarily pertain to the subject matter of the page in an attempt to stimulate a higher ranking. Over time, when detected, Google's algorithm would demote the page rankings of this content. Google is now determining that hashtagged words fall into that same category
Sometimes called 'parasite marketing,' a famous case involving the furniture company HabitatUKused this tactic last year, by including the hastag "Mousavi" (i.e. #Mousavi) at the end of their tweets based on the topical news story of the time that was flooding the Twittersphere. Foolishly, the person handling the Twitter account for this UK firm thought he would receive more attention from his branded tweets if he included a hashtag of a word people would associate with the Iranian Election Protests. Needless to say the individual was fired in the real world, but HabitatUK had to spend a good six months rebuilding their reputation in the online world.
So for this reason and until a better method is determined, "Google modeled this hashtagging behavior in ways that tend to reduce the exposure of low-quality tweets.," by giving them less weight.
Based on geolocation becoming the next shiny thing to occupy our minds and affect real-time search, Google hopes to improve the relevance of search returns in all contexts by adding geolocation data, which can be added to postings sent from smartphones (currently the Nexus One and iPhones are the only two that have geolocation).
So with so much 'Old School' SEO techniques in play here, I think SEO firms that have been working in this field for the last ten-plus years will be able to adapt to optimizing accordingly. The trick here however is instead of content, it is now important to figure out how to improve tweet rankings when individuals are involved. Does an SEO expert analyze "influencers" and encourage their client brands to follow certain members of the elite Twitterati? Does one discourage the use of hashtags altogether? Do SEO professionals have to encourage brands to add content to their tweets on topics that are most topical or trending throughout the course of the day? And how do the handle the intricacies as how best to improve and/or optimize local searches on cell phones?
'Old School' will be a comfort zone for some. But applying it to the new real-time universe is still going to be a challenge. While the SEO basics can still be applied, it's now important to learn the nuanced differences between the old and new and understand how Google is filtering out the noise and the superfluous to surface the most authoritative real-time results. Ah, that's the rub!