Google Reveals Factors for Ranking Tweets

    January 17, 2010
    Chris Crum

It’s ok to say "no" to Twitter if that’s your thing. There’s a chance that it just doesn’t fit into your strategy or help you achieve your goals. That’s cool. However, if it is your thing, you may be interested in how Google ranks tweets. That is if search marketing is your thing.

Do you see Twitter as important to an effective search marketing campaign? Share your thoughts here.

Google and Microsoft almost simultaneously announced deals with Twitter a few months back, that would give the companies access to tweets in real-time to fuel their respective search engines’ real-time results. Microsoft immediately launched their version, but it was separate from the regular Bing search engine. Google waited a while, but eventually started incorporating real-time results right into regular Google SERPs (including not only tweets, but various other sources).

After the Twitter deals were announced, Bing came out and said, "If someone has a lot of followers, his/her Tweet may get ranked higher. If a tweet is exactly the same as other Tweets, it will get ranked lower."

Amit Singhal Google was not as vocal about how it would rank tweets and other real-time results, but the company has now shed a bit of light on that via an interview with MIT’s Technology Review. David Talbot interviewed Google "Fellow" Amit Singhal, who has led development of real-time search at the company. According to him, Google also ranks tweets by followers to an extent, but it’s not just about how many followers you get. It’s about how reputable those followers are.

Singhal likens the system to the well-known Google system of link popularity. Getting good links from reputable sources helps your content in Google, so having followers with that some kind of authority theoretically helps your tweets rank in Google’s real-time search.

"One user following another in social media is analogous to one page linking to another on the Web. Both are a form of recommendation," Singhal says. "As high-quality pages link to another page on the Web, the quality of the linked-to page goes up. Likewise, in social media, as established users follow another user, the quality of the followed user goes up as well."

But that’s only one factor.

Do you commonly use hashtags in your tweets? If your goal is to rank in Google’s real-time search index, you may want to cut down on that practice, because according to Singhal, that is a big red flag for a lower quality tweet. This seems to be part of Google’s spam control strategy.

Another noteworthy excerpt from the interview:

Another problem: how, if someone is searching for "Obama," to sift through White House press tweets and thousands of others to find the most timely and topical information. Google scans tweets to find the "signal in the noise," he says. Such a "signal" might include a new onslaught of tweets and other blogs that mention "Cambridge police" or "Harry Reid" near mentions of "Obama." By looking out for such signals, Google is able to furnish real-time hits that contain the freshest subject matter even for very common search terms.

Well, we certainly know more about Google’s strategy for tweet ranking now, but there are still plenty of questions about it. What is Google’s stance is on Ghost Tweeting? Are Google’s ranking factors a good reason to create and follow more Twitter lists in hopes for gaining more reputable industry followers?

The factors mentioned aren’t the only ones Google employs. It’s not like Google is going to tell us everything. It also helps to keep in mind that real-time search spans far beyond just tweets. Still, Twitter is clearly a big part of it, and even the significance of tweets themselves will evolve in time.

Google says it hopes to factor in geo-location data (with regards to tweets) into the real-time search results at some point. Google and Twitter engineers frequently collaborate on  real-time search, which Google itself says is evolving.

By the way, it stands to reason that Google’s strategy for ranking tweets probably shares similarities for how it ranks content from other sources drawn from for real-time search.

Is ranking in Google’s real-time search important to your strategy? Discuss here.