What Google’s Real-Time Search Means to SEO, PPC & Reputation Management

    December 28, 2009
    Chris Crum

It seems that over the course of the entire year, we’ve been waiting for Google to get real-time search. Now it’s here. If you have ever had a hard time finding a direct relationship between social media and search engine marketing, it doesn’t get any more direct than this. Real-time search results (from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other sources) right in regular SERPs.

Do you like the idea of real-time results in Google SERPs? Discuss here.

While "real-time search" has certainly been a buzzword this year, the concept itself has been around for a while longer in some capacity. Sure, the concept of searching Twitter has been around for quite some time now, but even as far as Google is concerned, freshness has been a factor of great interest.

"Google has been working on real-time search for years," as Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb points out. "In the spring of 2006, the story goes, Google launched Google Finance onto the Web and was promptly dismayed to find that the service didn’t appear in a Google search for its own name later that day. It was after that, and a few other similar experiences, that Google engineers created an algorithm called QDF, or Query Deserves Freshness. QDF determines when results for a query need to be augmented with the newest content available, in addition to the content with the highest PageRank."

"Search users are utilizing results that show up because of it everyday," says Dave Snyder at Search Engine Journal. "However, in terms of rankings QDF can have huge impacts on the SERPs. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the real time search data pouring through was that Google is getting a massive amount of real time link data without the issue of a crawl. I am convinced they will be utilizing this data to help shape SERPs for terms that are trending or based on timeliness."

The Potential for Abuse

Snyder also makes a good point about spam. "Seriously, any new feature that Google rolls out is a playground for SPAM," he says. "My head is spinning thinking of all the cool/evil implications of the service. I am sure lots of people are going to be testing how Google is choosing the results coming in the box. Some people might ask the importance of coming up for a mere moment in that position, but the sheer amount of traffic generated for a trending term can make even a 30 second window profitable."

Update: Sidenote: Watch the following interview with Rae Hoffman, who talks about some real spam problems with Google’s Real-Time search results. She highlights some issues that can even be a threat to safety.

The nature or real-time search reults showing content as it is created leads to questions of accuracy of content as well. It does bring up questions about Google showing results that are quite possibly just inaccurate, but in a prominent place on the first page. Google’s Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, Marissa Mayer told TechCrunch that she uses real-time search a lot, and that she trusts the content "most of the time, even if they’re public and not coming from friends." Do you trust the content? Comment here.

Marissa Mayer of Google

When asked whether or not she thinks Google can solve the problems of filtering, the virality of rumors (true or false), and mob-forming in real-time search, she said, "Hard to say. We can’t simply apply the PageRank algorithm to content shared in real time, but we look at the ecosystem and detect signals we can use to reveal authority, for instance. It’s difficult, but there are data points out there that can be used for filtering."

Will Real-Time Search Results Drive PPC?

Much like with Google’s recently launched (for everyone) personalized search results, or any other universal search results for that matter, the addition of real-time results is just one more element that can add to the challenge of getting organic results to show up high on the page. As iEntry CEO and WebProNews Publisher Rich Ord noted when talking about personalized search, this could give marketers more cause to focus on PPC, where they have more control over their campaign. This notion seems to be becoming a more common theme.

"I certainly think this will have a more profound impact on results sitting below the Twitter feed and those above," says Peter Young of Holistic Search, as quoted by MediaPost. "The scramble for the top positions will become fiercer. That may mean more people invest in PPC to gain more control of their presence."


Few Organic Listings at the top

Notice how few organic listings are at the top of the page.

Tips for Getting in Real-Time Search Results

There are ways to take advantage of real-time search functionality without spamming. In fact, these ways really involve a number of principles that are already staples of social media and search engine marketing in general. Allow me to reiterate some tips I gave in a previous article for getting found in real-time searches.

Note: These I wrote these tips more based on Twitter search, they do not take into account any back-end algorithms Google may use in selecting the real-time results they display. However, the concepts behind them should still generally be relevant.

1. Use Keywords

This seems obvious, but use keywords in not only your content, but in your titles, and your updates. If you’re writing an article, you have to consider what people are going to include in their updates if they share it on a social network, whether this be Facebook, Twitter, or anything else. More often than not, they are going to include the title. If the right keywords are in the title, then those keywords are also more likely to appear in any ensuing tweets, Facebook updates, etc. If someone searches for those keywords, they will be more likely to find your content in real-time search results as they are created. The same goes for your own Tweets/status updates. Even if you are not sharing an article, if you want your update to be found, use relevant keywords. Again, obvious, but true.

2. Talk About Timely Events

Mentioning events that are current  can put you directly into the results for any searches having to do with that topic, provided the right keywords are in play. This is a method that could and (surely is) being exploited by spammers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide legitimate conversation and simply put yourself on more people’s radars, without throwing links at them every time.

3. Have a Lot of Followers

If you have a lot of followers or friends on social networks, or even just readers of your blog, you are going to get more people sharing your content. The more people sharing your content, the more impressions of your content will be making their way into real time searches. There is no easy way to instantly get a bunch of legitimate readers/followers. It will take some promotion. Provide useful content that people will link to and it will spread virally. Provide clear ways for them to follow you (like links to Facebook pages and Twitter accounts on your blog).

4. Promote Conversation

Whether on your blog or on a social network, spark conversations. Talk about topics that people are interested in. This is tied to number 2. The more conversations you are involved with, the more retweets (and equivalents on other networks) you are likely to get. And again, this potentially means more impressions in real times search results.

5. Include Calls to Engagement

Use buttons for sharing your content on different social networks. If you have been into marketing through social media, there’s a good chance you’re already doing this, but it will also cater to sharing and possibly increased visibility in real-time search results.

Reputation Management Concerns

The introduction of real-time search results into SERPs does bring up some new and interesting reputation management concerns. It does after all thrust whatever people are saying at any given moment right into the forefront. David Whitehouse, writing on Dave Naylor’s blog, suggests that the move will force more companies to get Twitter accounts and actively particpate in social media.

"The reason?" he says. "Well, check out the Amazon query for a few minutes and I am sure you will see a complaint (as well as around a hundred offers!) – if Amazon doesn’t respond, it would reflect badly upon them." (Note: at the time of this writing, a query for Amazon is no longer delivering real-time results. This indicates that it is based on the amount of conversation at any given time).

Not a bad point. In real-time search results, you may show up at the top of the results page, but that may or may not be a favorable result. Of course there is a good chance a query for your brand will not return any real-time results unless that option is activated. It’s not yet clear exactly what criteria Google uses for displaying these results, but it probably helps if a whole lot of people are already talking about the keywords used in the query.

Wrapping Up

In any regard, real-time search results in SERPs means you can’t ignore social media. The more you engage in social media, the better shot you have at hitting high placement on Google SERPs that display real-time results.

While real-time search presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses, it’s here whether you like it or not, and it’s right where it matters the most – on Google. As Kirkpatrick noted, it’s going to introduce millions of people to the concept of real-time search for the first time. You can bet that you will see similar features appear on Yahoo and Bing. Wait until Twitter opens up that firehose to everyone, if you even have to wait that long. More deals will probably be made and APIs made available. Wait until practically everything from the real-time web becomes available in each of the search engines in actual real-time. We’re bound to get there sooner or later.

What challenges do you see coming from mainstream real-time search? Opportunities? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Articles:

> Tips for Getting Found in Real-Time Searches

> Google Makes a Second Real-Time Search Announcement

> Yahoo Rolling Out Something Kind of Like Real-Time Search

> Facebook/Twitter Use May Now Mean More For Google/Bing Rankings

> How Does Bing Rank Tweets?

> Yahoo Showing Tweets For News Results

> Twitter to Spray Developers With the Coveted Firehose

> Showtime For Real-Time With Google

> Can You "Rank" in Google if Everyone Has Different Search Results?

> New APIs Should Help MySpace Stay Relevant