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Digital Marketing & Social Media Blog

Will Google Slam the Door on ‘Doorway Tweets?’: What Real-Time Search Means for You

in Search Marketing

Image by moralehazard via Flickr.
Image by moralehazard via Flickr.

Hello, Real-time Search

If Google’s newest blended results feature is any indication, the rapid pace of search innovations shows no signs of slowing. The feature, dubbed “Latest” by Google, incorporates real-time data sources into search results.

Google’s algorithm may trigger this blend of universal search type for any given keyword, but most notably for timely phrases like “health care reform,” “Olympics,”“Brittany Murphy,” or other terms being frequently and actively used in real-time content generation.

Caption
A search for “Obama” reveals the latest tweets related to this keyword, including one from user @in_golfing that includes a doorway or link to Yahoo! News.

But even if real-time results do not appear by default when a user performs a search, these results can always be viewed by clicking “Show Options” at the top of the search results page and then selecting “Latest” from the left-hand sidebar. Google has said this new feature will “bring search results to life” through a real-time content stream aggregating the most relevant updates from microblogging platforms like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as recent news articles and blog posts.

Caption here
Users can always access the latest real-time search results by clicking “Latest” in the Options sidebar.

Searches in the “Latest” view update automatically (there’s no need to refresh the page), so users now have access to a real-time feed of live updates around topics of interest to them from within Google. And of course, even for Google users not specifically looking for real-time updates, this content now frequently appears in search results.

Ranking Real-Time Results

Google’s relevancy algorithms determine where to rank the real-time results compared to all of the other results on the page; for some queries, the real-time results rank first, making them the most prominent listings on the page.

The aggregation of real-time tweets in the SERPs (via Twitter accounts – and more) creates both progress and confusion for searchers and marketers alike. With SEO, marketers always look for creative and new ways to drive traffic to web pages and/or suite of domains they control.

In years past, industry insiders used the term “doorway pages” to describe web pages created expressly for misleading searchers to a site they have no intention of visiting. This method of spamming redirects visitors without their knowledge or consent. If done responsibly, some argued a doorway page provided value for searchers, if they were directed to a valuable page of a Web site. But, in the end, these pages were clearly abused by some marketers, spammers and automation tools, thus creating an influx of SPAM for the search engine spiders to battle.

In light of the recent developments in real-time search across the engines, I’m predicting a new industry term: “doorway tweets.” Just as it was in the era of HTML doorway pages in 2000, text content is still king to the engines; and, therefore, text-based tweets – both informative and malicious –have a good chance of making their way within the results pages.

I wanted to see if I could legitimately promote a major brand like the AARP via my text tweets. So I posted a relevant and straightforward tweet that included a link to an aarp.org article along with keywords aligned with the article’s subject matter (in this case, the article was about health care reform).

Above: New tweet example.

The test worked as I expected. As I flipped over to Google to execute a query for “health care reform,” seconds later I found my tweet scrolling in Google’s latest result window. This Universal result type is simply a blip on the radar; appearing for maybe 30 seconds in the standard Google web results (see snap shot of result below).

Nonetheless, for a growing set of savvy Google users, this blip might last longer. Enhanced filtering options for “Latest” displayed my tweet for a longer duration. Under this filter option, a tweet may have lifespan of a few minutes or longer, though it will eventually scroll out of the “latest” ten results. Visibility duration simply depends on volume or frequency of other real-time content creation, inclusive of keywords in tweets, blogs, news, and other sources Google leverages herein.

In addition to the non-brand or generic keyword in my tweet like “health care reform,” I also included the brand keyword “AARP,” which also got simultaneous real-time traction. You can see by the timestamp in the latest result for “AARP” that it has been available for at least 9 minutes.  Therefore, one tweet might be generating real-time results for multiple search queries if you’ve crafted your tweet strategically.

Clearly this is powerful and potentially challenging for marketers.  A brand’s natural search presence is now potentially impacted by all tweets mentioning the brand, its target keywords, and in many cases these real-time results appear in main results on the Google SERPs .

Wild-Wild West

The examples above, thought limited, are legitimate ways to demonstrate how Twitter is now influencing what Google displays in its latest results.  Which tweets are showcased in the SERPs likely depends on which content Google algorithms consider valuable.

Clearly the search engines will need to draw some boundaries, specifically for those Tweeters that aim to heavily influence this new set of search results.   I suspect Google will update us quickly as these questions loom in the minds of many.

Plenty of search experts have pointed out various flaws in Google’s shiny new “Latest” results.  So, if Google and Bing set boundaries with regard to these types of results via Twitter, we can expect online marketers (white hat/black hat/gray) to start pushing the limits, creating these “Doorway Tweets” if abused.  So the question remains, when will the search engines give us some rules or guidelines to this wild-wild west?

Google example
Google example

Bing example
Bing example

Anonymity & Automation

I refrained from adding screenshots here to keep my aliases private, yet subsequent testing proved that posting “tweets” from totally anonymous and totally new Twitter accounts (under two minutes old) also provided the same traction as a more established twitter account like my own.   At a year old, my own Twitter account offered some potential quality indicators Google might consider before sharing any of my real-time blurbs to their own searcher base.

However, at the time of testing, my account did not seem to be weighted any differently than those anonymous accounts that were hastily created. In addition, automated tweets (sent via API) did not create any problems for gaining visibility in Google or Bing.  I would suspect this is an area that Google or Bing can quickly repair now that they have gone to market.  Don’t be surprised if they have not already done so or begin put more rules around using tweets that include a “from API” status.

However, to test automating from the anonymous account, I simply created a database of highly optimized “doorway tweets” targeting both brand and non-brand keywords, aligning hyperlinks (tinyurls) for each, and leading with a destination URL of my choice with tracking added.

Note:  The target URL in each tweet, even those converted via a URL shorter, can carry tracking parameters for your analytics tool.  For example, your hyperlinks could look something like this:

Cranking out a new tweet every two minutes for an hour, I created ongoing visibility and rankings in Google and Bing’s Latest results.  Yes, these did eventually fade into the sunset, but without any guidelines, automation could sustain relevance at any interval “from API” and a database of tweets.  Wow, did I just cross a line? Not sure yet.

In the wild west of HTML, it is difficult to tie back abusive spam patterns to a particular user account. But with the real-time Twitter-stream, everything is tied to user accounts. This should make fighting Twitter spam a bit easier for the search engines than it is in HTML, because they can penalize particular user accounts that go over certain thresholds without penalizing entire Web sites.

Conclusion

Reputation management becomes a large consideration if the engines continue pulling from Twitter and other user generated sources like Facebook with limited quality assurance.  Let’s remember, this worked from a totally anonymous account.  Expect Google and Bing to get their hands around this problem soon and improve guidelines and quality factors for tweets and UGC sources they consider in their own real-time results.

If the engines are indeed okay with API tweets being included into real-time search, we could certainly see an age of “Doorway Tweeting.”  Brands will be best served if they act proactively and vigilantly moving forward, starting with leading an evaluation of how tweets from their current and active Twitter accounts are influencing real-time search results at present.  Among other considerations, brands will also want to think about investigating the frequency of tweets, as well as the search keywords and hyperlinks in tweets.

For marketers, these top SEO Twitter tips have just become more important as Bing and Google pull more “real-time” Twitter data vs. just using their crawlers to go find tweeted data posts.

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