News came out last week that Google and Twitter have struck a new deal to put real-time tweets back into Google's search index. The companies aren't providing much in the way of details about the deal at this point, and it's possible that they never will, but they did confirm the deal, and indicate that it will go into effect in a few months.
Do you expect to benefit from the deal? Tell us what you think about it in the comments.
Years ago, when the two companies had a similar relationship, Google had a search feature called Realtime Search, which displayed a set of scrolling results at the top of the search results page on some queries (typically newsy ones). The feature didn't rely solely on Twitter. It incorporated other sources, but it was clear that Twitter was the one that really mattered, especially when the whole feature went away upon the expiration of the companies' initial deal.
Ever since that fell apart, Google has been lacking in the real-time department. In the early days of Google+, it seemed like Google thought it might be able to replace Twitter with its own real-time content, but obviously that never materialized to the extent of what Twitter has to offer. Meanwhile, Google would continue to index tweets in its regular search results, but it would never be able to index them in real time, and the ones it did index would only be a small percentage of the larger tweet pool.
Eric Enge's Stone Temple Consulting released some new findings about how Google indexes tweets currently, which provides some insight into how things may change when the new deal goes into effect. His team analyzed over 133,000 tweets to see how Google indexed them, and found that about 7.4% of them were actually indexed, leaving 92.6% completely left out of the search engine.
That tells us a great deal right there. Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." As we've discussed in the past, Google is essentially failing that mission without Twitter's firehose. Today, the world's information is coming at us in extremely rapid fashion, and as far as public information goes (Facebook is working to do more with the non-public stuff), Twitter is the best provider of that rapid-fire info. How can Google possibly succeed in its stated mission if it's only organizing a little over 7% of that information?
Stone Temple's findings suggest that Twitter accounts with larger follower counts are getting more tweets indexed, though it may be only a correlation. Enge says he doesn't think Google is looking specifically at follower count, but that other signals are affecting which profiles get indexed more (i.e. links to those accounts' profiles). Either way, he notes, more value is clearly being placed on the authoritative accounts.
Out of the accounts with over a million followers that the research looks at, there were 13,435 tweets with 21% of them being indexed by Google. Out of 44,318 tweets in the 10K to 1M follower range, only 10% were indexed. For 80,842 tweets from accounts with less than 10,000 followers, just 4% were indexed.
Stone Temple says images and/or hashtags seem to increase a tweet's chances of getting indexed with percentages registering higher than average. Mentions, on the other hand, register negatively. It also points to another of its studies, which showed that links from third-party sites have a significant impact.
"Google still loves links. 26% of the tweets with an inbound link from sites other than Twitter got indexed. That is nearly 4 times as much as the overall average rate of indexation," Enge says in the report, adding that link quantity correlates highly with a tweet getting indexed.
They found that out of 21 accounts and 91 tweets with with over 100 inbound links, 46% were indexed. The number goes down the less inbound links there are. Those with less than ten links only saw a 7% index rate.
Be sure to check out the research for additional findings.
Following the release of this research, we did a Q&A with Enge:
Do you think Google will re-implement the kind of real-time scrolling results feature at the top of search results like it used to have with its old Twitter deal?
Enge: Not really, I don't think that this is what Google is looking for. I suspect that the UI impact will be minimal, but that more tweets will get indexed. However (and this is a big however), what will really be interesting to see is if Google uses tweet data to help drive personalization in one fashion or another. One simple way to do this? Simply favor content that people link to from their tweets in future related search results.
This type of prioritization is similar to what they do with Google+ already. This is just speculation on my part, but I think it could be a huge win for Google if this deal gives them enough visibility to allow them to do that.
Under the deal, do you think we'll see a lot more brand new tweets appearing HIGH in search results? Do you expect the freshness of a tweet to be heavily factored into Google's ranking signals when indexing tweets?
Enge: Great question. What our study showed is that Google currently places minimal impact on freshness of tweets today. Perhaps when crawling needs to be done to discover them it's just not worth it, and it might be that the new deal will change that. However, I suspect that it's not the tweets themselves that Google really values the most, but the content they link to that Google wants to discover more quickly. That said, if they see a tweet getting major engagement, chances probably would go up that this tweet will show up higher in the results.
The study suggests that tweets with images and/or hashtags have a better shot at getting indexed, and those with mentions have less of a shot. It's acknowledged that this may or may not be simply a correlation. What does your gut tell you?
Enge: I think it's real. Bear in mind that the study we published in December on Twitter engagement also shows that images and hashtags have a positive impact on user engagement. This means that people see them as more valuable, and Google wants to place more value on the content that users value the most. So, my gut tells me that this is actually a causal situation, not just a correlation.
When the study is talking about the impact of 3rd party sites linking to tweets as something Google likes, are we talking primarily about tweets that are being embedded on these sites, just plain old links, or a combination of the two?
Enge: As you may know, there are many sites out there that simply replicate lots of tweets on their sites. I am not sure what value they serve, or if any people actually visit such sites. But, some of the links tweets get come from such sites, and my bet is that Google ignores those.
However, there are other sites that may reference tweets within a blog post or article, and link in a clean traditional web link based fashion to the URL for the tweet itself (what you referred to as "plain old links"). It is these links that I believe that Google is placing a high value on.
How do you expect Google to react to promoted tweets? Let's say Google indexes your tweet when it's organic, but then you decide to promote it? At that point, Google is basically indexing an ad. Will Google shy away from indexing promoted tweets altogether?
Enge: If a promoted tweet gets a ton of engagement, as well as external links, I think that it might still get indexed and rank, but I'd expect that the threshold will be higher than it is for organic tweets. I don't have any science for that answer, but it is my sense as to how they will treat it.
Your site uses "tweetable quotes" throughout its content. Has this been particularly effective for increasing Twitter traffic? Have you measured this specifically or are you familiar with any studies that have?
Enge: Mark Traphagen pushed us into doing this, and makes sure all of our posts include these. He also tracks it very closely. Within 5 hours of the Twitter indexing study going live today, 67 people have already used the click to tweet boxes to generate tweets, and this has driven 207 unique clicks to the article. Pretty valuable I'd say!
Would you recommend sites use this more in light of the Google deal?
Enge: Yes! People do respond to the click to tweet boxes and that helps us get more tweet-love for our articles, and more visits. We use ClickToTweet.com for this, but there are other good services out there. Note that to make this look nice, Mark figured out a process to take the ClickToTweet link and embed it in an image as well.
All great stuff to know. Enge gives us some incredibly valuable insight as usual. Again, don't forget to check out Stone Temple's study.
Are you looking forward to seeing Google indexing Tweets in real time again? Let us know in the comments.
Image via StoneTemple.com