Last year, there was a lot of buzz around real-time search, but so far there appears to have been less enthusiasm this spring. In recent discussions at search events, several people have told me that the service has been a flop and hasn't really changed our industry.
Clearly, Google feels they need to provide real-time search to improve the relevancy of its results for breaking news, topical stories/events, and popular queries. But is it something online marketers need to be concerned with?
For anyone not in the industry, a real-time search service allows you to look for information online as it's published, meaning you can watch updates as they are made.
Normally, search engine spiders will crawl a Web site periodically, meaning it can take some time to find new content through a search engine. News and blog content is picked up much quicker, but it still relies on that content being written and published online, so there is an obvious time lag between how quickly a tweet and a blog post or news article can be written.
However, when it comes to rapidly-written, rapidly-published updates such as tweets on Twitter, there's little point reading them five hours after they've been made -- the situation could well have changed. You need to see them as they happen, and that is what real-time search allows you to do.
What the Search Engines Offer
So which search engines actually offer real-time search? Well, Bing moved quickly, partnering with Twitter to a results page just for that one platform.
If you'd like to see it in action, just try typing in a trending topic from Twitter into Google and you'll normally quickly see a scrolling box of real-time search results appearing. Because of the frequency of tweets you're likely to see the most recent updates every few seconds.
The screenshot above shows the telegraph.co.uk benefiting with additional traffic from a real-time search result (via Twitter) for a topical query on budget.
Beneath that, Bing shows the links relating to your search that are being shared the most -- effectively, it's the closest thing we have to peer-reviewed search engine results.
Google's offering came a little later, but it's a competitive live-search service. When you run a search for a popular term, you can see loads of stuff. There are generic search results, but there are also news stories, plus breaking news if relevant.
You can also click Options and Latest to watch real-time results as they come in. These are updated with Facebook comments, MySpace content, FriendFeed, Jaiku, Identi.ca, and Twitter.
Yahoo has also signed a deal with Twitter; it will pay the microblogging site so its users can access their Twitter feeds actually within Yahoo properties, as well as see real-time updates in search results.
What Does it Mean for SEO?
Any online marketer needs to provide the content that's in demand. So, get active on Twitter and other social media platforms (although, mostly Twitter, at least at the moment).
Don't spam -- you need to protect your reputation, as well as get brand mentions.
Keep up organic optimization efforts like blogging, and promote these articles through Twitter and other social media. If an online buzz is created around something you've written, then you'll benefit from real-time search. As always, quality matters more than sheer numbers.
Of course, one issue with real-time search results is that they can force natural results further down the page -- certainly with Google. That means many firms will be tempted to plough more of their resources into PPC, to help them secure a more prominent place in the SERPs.
However, companies have to remember that people trust the organic search results more than paid advertising space. Devoting some time to both the natural results and PPC will always be the best way to attract the maximum number of visitors.
Real-time search isn't popular with everyone. Many SEO experts have complained that it values quantity over quality -- just be the most recent person to Tweet around an issue if you want to secure a top listing in the search results.
Many people think it's effectively enabling real-time spam. That is a real danger, to an extent. This is an issue, but as the service grows in popularity, expect the engines to invest more money in keeping the results clear of valueless content. Somehow.
What Else Should I Consider?
Real-time search has many more implications for online reputation management than it does for optimization efforts.
As Twitter starts to buzz with indignation or amusement when a company screws up, that buzz isn't contained to the micro-blogging platform. It's spilling out into the search results, meaning even people who don't use services like Twitter will see them.
That makes it imperative that companies monitor online buzz, and react swiftly and decisively to any criticisms.
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