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  • Twitter SEO the Tiger Woods Way: How Google Ranks Tweets

    This week the Twitter Friday column expands as a major Twitter SEO topic is on our agenda. Last week Technology Review published an article titled “How Google ranks tweets“.

    In the TR article leading Google engineer Amit Singhal explains ranking factors for tweets.

    Some of the ranking criteria are quite clear and obvious while others remain fuzzy behind Google’s veil of secrecy. There is one big surprise: Google hates #hashtags, or at least some (probably you using too many) of them.

    It seems Google treats #hashtags the way it dealt with the meta keyword tag in the past: Neither do they really count nor do they count in a positive way in case they do.

    In other words: Using hashtags may hurt your tweet rankings. That’s not all of course.

    The perhaps most important news is that it’s not the sheer amount of followers that makes you important in Google’s eyes.

    Also Google doesn’t include all or the latest tweets in into real time search results once those appear. The tweets that get shown have been filtered in a manifold way before they reach your screen. Last but not least: There is specific semantic filtering involved. Selected tweets will appear when there is a significant amount of recurring collocations. A collocation is a combination of words. In the article the example is the search for Obama on Google.com
    Sadly I couldn’t discover any real time results on that query yet to check it out.

    Tiger Woods seems by far more popular or trending than the US president, not for his sports career only but due to his notoriety as a womanizer.

    I’ve tested some of my theories and official rankings factors using his name.
    The Google spokesperson explains that a cluster of tweets combining for instance Obama and Harry Reid may trigger the appearance of tweets actually relevant to a popular Twitter news item or meme.

    Based on the Technology Review article and our knowledge of current (link based) ranking factors for Google before real time search I’d like to extrapolate some most probably useful advice on how to optimize tweets to rank better in Google real time search.

    #hashtags
    As hashtags seem to get treated similarly to the good old meta keyword tags you have either drop them altogether or use them in a manner that seems natural. Just think of regular users using hashtags not you and your fellow SEO practicioners. There might be a few common sense rules of thumb not to mess up hashtags based on that premise.

    • number of hashtags – Don’t use too many hashtags. I’d say not more than 3 but I guess Google prefers just one. This is probably the common most common way people use hashtags.
    • hashtag relevancy – Does your hashtag consist of a word you already used in your tweet or is it an additional term? I presume that based on the meta tag ranking we’re used to with HTML pages only those keywords that are in the content (tweet) will get supported as hashtags. This is a shame from the user point of view as I’d like to categorize some posts as #seo that don’t contain the acronym in the tweet itself. Spammers often misuse popular hashtags to get attention for their unrelated messages or links though so that may make sense from the point of vie of spam prevention.

    authority
    In a way Google replicated the PageRank algo for Twitter. This one is not based on links it seems but depends on the number of followers and their “reputation”. Simply put: Even in case you get followed only by a few people but they include Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan and Robert Scoble you’ll get lots of Google Juice for your tweets.

    • number of followers – OK, the number of followers counts, most probably in a similar way that the number of backlinks you have counts for websites. So that 10k low qaulity followers migt probably be worth the same amount of juice as one really reputable follower
    • reputation of followers – It’s not clear how Google determines reputation beyond the sheer number of followers and their respective reputation. You might want to take a look at the influential users over at Topsy to get a glimpse of who might be deemed reputable or influential. I guess that every sign of authority counts: Number of retweets, replies, favorites (how often your tweets got saved as a favorite), list inclusions, etc.
    • average usage – Most probably Google will prefer real people to automated bot accounts. So I’m sure that a Twitter user who never replies and keeps on posting links or self-promoting won’t get a good reputation.

    filtering
    As in the Obama example explained filtering will mean relevant clusters. Such memes that get hot will determine whether real time results show up and which ones. So in theory it doesn’t suffice to mention Obama all day over and over just to get accidentally shown in real time results once Obama is a hot topic again. You have to be part of the currently relevant cluster to show up. Also you have to

    • relevant clusters – “haiti disaster relief” (without quotes) is one such cluster. Haiti has been linked to disaster relief for obvious reasons.
    • topicality – In future irrelevant tweets will probably get filtered. For instance someone who would add a popular keyword to his otherwise non-related tweet. Currently off topic tweets still work in many cases.

    geo-location
    Google is also keen on localizing tweets by finding out where you are and how far away the people who tweeted something are from you. So you’ll rather get to see the tweets of neighbors than those living at the other end of the world.

    To prove or disprove the suggestions above I tested some them on the Google.com results for Tiger Woods. I was quite surprised to find out that some of the above ranking criteria do not work very well yet. I was literally able to hijack the results. I added 5 tweets in the course of a few minutes. Most of the were rants, others were completely irrelevant. It was intriguing to see which keyword combinations got included in real time results and which did not:

    Showed up in Google real time results:

    1. simple rant tweet – “Tiger Woods seems more important than Barack Obama again. Idiocy of crowds
    2. slightly off topic tweet – “The Tiger Woods way of doing Twitter SEO: Cheat Google real time search like [he] did with his wife ;-)
    3. three #hashtags in a row – “Hello Google: This is #tiger #woods #spam Don’t show it!” (#tigerwoods works as well)
    4. @keyword – “@tigerwoods Buy less Viagra!
    5. off topic exact match homonymous tweet – “OK, last tweet: Tiger woods and jungles are a dangerous place not only for women.

    Didn’t show up in real time results:

    1. off topic no exact match homonymous tweet – “Just testing: In the Indian woods you can meet a tiger
    2. off topic slightly no exact match homonymous – “I love tigers, woods and SEO testing. What about you? ;-)
    3. keyword in domain name tweet – “New blog idea: tigerwoodsseo.com ;-)

    So as you see Google is not as good as it promises and I’d like to see it. Who am i to complain though? Nonetheless I guess Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts have some homework to do over the weekend. They haven’t even filtered the “buy viagra” tweet…

    Many thanks to Twitter users @scottmcandrew and @matthewdiehl who have supported me while I was testing for this post.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    I help people with blogs, social media & search. I help you succeed on the Web. I've been online publishing for 15 years. I started back in 1997.

    12 Responses to “Twitter SEO the Tiger Woods Way: How Google Ranks Tweets”

    1. Great post. I think Google’s implementation of Real Time was rushed and we’ll see it change quite a bit over the near future. Will be watching it right along with you. Thanks for the shout out!

    2. Surprised to see what made it through to real time search box, especially the #tiger #woods #spam #hashtags which clearly, concisely stated it was spam and Amit specifically cited them as a key indicator of irrelevancy.

      Google RTS is still an infant and has a lot of growing up to do.

    3. Cal says:

      Definitely want to please Google. Very good info. about #hashtags, limiting them to a very few, very seldom, because I can’t imagine how hot google’s sandpit would be, having experienced Twitter Wood a time or two, following too many at one given time.

    4. Joe says:

      Great article, thanks for testing & giving the Google engineers more homework. when you add backlinks to your website, do you think it ranks better if they’re no follow links. Thanks

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    10. very useful tips.username also important

    11. Carroll B. Merriman says:

      Great article as always!

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