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Where Search and Social Media Collide: Real-Time Search and Twitter

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The Search world is all atwitter with talk of social media. Google has thrown its hat in the ring with Buzz. Multiple search engines are incorporating tweets and Facebook status updates into search results. Things are moving pretty fast, becoming real-time.

So where and when do search and social media collide? These days, it seems to be everywhere... and right now. One's first inclination might be to get the heck out of the way and see how it all shakes out. But can you really afford to? You'll miss all the fun, not to mention some of the opportunity.

The online industry media is already exploring the intersection of search and social. And so is our distinguished panel of experts. Before we learn how best to deal with real-time search and Twitter, let's meet them:

Moderator:
Aaron Kahlow, Chairman & Founder, Online Media Summit

Speakers:

Rand Fishkin, CEO, SEOmoz.org

Harry J. Gold, CEO, Overdrive Interactive

Mike Mothner, Founder & CEO, Wpromote Inc.

This was the best session I've seen so far. Every presenter was engaging. Every presenter shared relevant and actionable advice. The self-promotion was minimal. And the moderator kept everything on track. So far be it from me to derail things in the recap.

What are the Search Engines up to?

Rand opened the festivities with a quick outline of what the search engines are up to. Google is implementing personalization for searches. He used the search term "The Titans" as an example. The first search brought up pages about Greek mythology. But after performing several searches related to professional football, another search on "The Titans" brought up links related to the Tennessee Titans football team. Search engines are also incorporating information from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. They've recognized that this data is needed to improve their algorithms. It also works nicely in search results where relevant. Tweets, posts and other tidbits from one's social circle are now mixed into SERPs.

Search engines will continue to get smarter, as they figure out how to parse out the more trustworthy sources of social media information. But companies still have some influence. His advise: make content that appeals to social users, and then nudge them to push it out to others. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Social norms. People like to feel part of a group, so tell them that users like them joined your Facebook or other social group.

  2. Choice architecture for sharing. When pushing out content, give exact options on what to do, such as "Share on Facebook" or "Share on Twitter."

  3. Limit those social/sharing options to just a few.

  4. Give content that rewards users. For example, a widget that shows all the nice things people have said about you makes visitors feel all warm and fuzzy.

  5. Compliment/interact with sharers. A connection forms a bond.

What is Real-time Search?

Harry followed up with a quick clarification on what qualifies as real-time search. Using Google as an example, do a search, show options and then click on [Latest]. The information scrolling by is real-time; everything else is just really current. Regardless of the distinction, it's impossible to optimize for this page. Unless you're a super celebrity, it's hard to create hot topics. The best approach is to stick with the keywords that describe your product.

But there are ways to maximize exposure. Many Hot Topics are seasonal and predictable (The Emmys and March Madness, for example). Companies can follow Google Trends, base content on seasonal events, and catch the wave of popularity as it swells. Look at what can be counted on to pop and build around it. Google loves new content, especially with the incorporation of social media. Create it and push it out to the various social media outlets.

What is the Future of SERPs?

Mike was a last-minute replacement, but he definitely belonged on the panel. He made an interesting point about how real-time search is changing the look and feel of SERPs. Companies that worked hard to gain rankings for commercial search terms may find themselves pushed down the page by real-time search results. This could be huge, from an SEO point of view. Real-time search also expands the reach of social media. Interactions in the Twitter-sphere now have much larger reach. Reputation management just got a little harder.

Although it's near impossible to optimize for real-time, Google uses certain factors to determine what appears. They are:

  • Authority, based on the number of followers/retweets the tweeter has.

  • Hotness of topic / clustering of tweets.

  • Semantics, as in it doesn't look like spam.


Search engines, as Rand also explained, will continue to refine their algorithms. This is only the beginning.

Even the answers to questions posed by the audience were revealing. Here are two ways to expand a tweet's reach:

  • Say "please retweet" in the message. This has been shown to lead to more retweets.

  • Retweet nice things that people tweet about you.

And here are a couple recommendations for optimizing a tweet's exposure:

  • Include keywords in the title of what you're linking to, not in the tweet.

  • Tweet at optimal times, such as early afternoon on Mondays and Fridays, EST.


This guest post was written by Norm Elrod, who is a Digital Media Consultant and freelance writer who contributes to Search Engine Watch, SmartBlog on Social Media and AOL. He blogs about his experiences in the job market at Jobless and Less, which has been featured in The New York Times and on NY1. His marketing and editorial experience includes positions with Acronym Media, The NPD Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Norm holds a BA from Franklin & Marshall College and an MBA from Fordham University. He lives with his wife and two cats in Queens.

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