Search Marketing

Why Google Needs Twitter Search

April 7, 2009
Twitter Search Spam
Image by itsbeach via Flickr

Google’s probably not buying Twitter, despite rumors last week that it might. Whether Google should do so depends on many issues, including the price and monetization potential. Yet it’s increasingly clear that Google needs something like Twitter to fill a gaping hole in its search portfolio that didn’t exist until Twitter exposed it.

The hole is real-time search or live search (lowercase, as opposed to Microsoft’s Live Search). Google’s index updates rapidly, but not fast enough. Right now, Google has a number of assets that vary by how useful they are for recent searches:

· Google Trends: This tool, rather than a search engine, can take a day or so to update. And its utility lies in its information about queries rather than providing information in response to queries.

· Google Search: Often updated within hours, it pulls even more recent content from Google News to stay relevant for breaking stories. The rest of the links for any given query are sometimes recent but often from different timeframes.

· Google News and Google Blog Search: These two are interrelated. Often blogs have opinions and information that aren’t covered by major news sources. Yet just as often, a news story breaks and blogs then respond.

· Google Hot Trends: This is as close to Twitter as Google gets right now, but it’s often unintelligible. While researching this column, “ capital of Iceland” was the No. 1 hot trend, but it wasn’t clear whether this was because of travel interest, searches relating to the country’s economy, or something else altogether. One of the supposedly relevant blog posts it brings up is from 2007.

There’s nothing from Google that perfectly addresses what’s happening right now unless it’s a breaking news story. Meanwhile, Twitter Search is training marketers and consumers that it’s possible to search the content of live conversations. FriendFeed is another contender to watch here, as its beta release places even more emphasis on its live feed of users’ activity from across the Web. Facebook, which is the most popular service for sharing live updates, has no way to search all the updates, and its Lexicon trend tool has limited functionality.

So why does live search matter at all?

· Marketers get immediate feedback. It’s like a Bloomberg terminal for buzz. Just like with financial data, there’s a lot of noise that comes out of it, but those alerts can give marketers an edge for responding when something pressing comes up.

· Consumers can access immediate information. When I was at South by Southwest, I’d search Twitter for a venue or party name to see how the lines were. If the buzz was that it was a half hour or hour wait, I’d go somewhere else. I didn’t care about what the venue was rated on Citysearch, and I didn’t need driving directions — I just needed immediate feedback, and Twitter Search had it.

· It’s candid. For better or worse, people are much less prone to censoring themselves when they’re sharing what they’re doing in the moment. When looking up the Kansas City Hyatt, there’s someone who is “alone,” “hungry,” and “kinda sad.” A glass of Apple & Eve pomegranate blueberry juice led to a good morning in Brooklyn. As for my beloved Sprinkles Cupcakes, I learned that a porn star spoils her pets with the specially made doggie cupcakes (lately she’s been tweeting about cupcakes far more than porn). Whether you’re a consumer or a marketer, this is all very, very real, and sometimes it’s useful.

At some point, Google will presumably want and need a live search component. That feature ties into news, local, mobile, and various other specialized search functions, and we’re just starting to see compelling ways to mine and apply live search data.

That doesn’t mean Google will acquire Twitter anytime soon. There are other ways the relationship can develop, such as Google populating AdSense ad units with marketers’ recent tweets. Startups will also try to beat Google at its own game, like Tweefind ranking Twitter posts by the influence of the tweeter. At some point, though, Google will need live search. When Google’s ready, the question will be whether any scalable live search platform needs Google.

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