Google Real-Time Search: The Bang that Whimpered
Google real-time search launched in December, 2009, and the SEO industry was wild with excitement. Then, the prominence of real-time results diminished, and the excitement fizzled out. Does real-time search matter – and what should business owners do to address it?
Since Dec 10, 2009, Google has been displaying real-time results within its standard search results. You can see examples of this by searching for popular terms such as “Miley Cyrus” or “George Clooney.” Here’s an example of a real-time result displaying on the top page of results for “toyota recall” on 1/21/10:
In its first week or so, real-time search results were displaying for a wide range of search queries. Since then, however, Google has significantly scaled back the prominence of real-time search results. While the real-time search results were flowing, we got a good idea of how it works. Here’s what we think you should know to prepare your strategy for the inevitability of its wider return:
HOW IT WORKS
- Google displays recent posts from Twitter, Friendfeed, and similar sources, as well as breaking news and recently updated websites. Currently Twitter is dominating these results. Live Facebook updates are expected to join in the future.
- Real time results appear to be displayed for search queries that qualify as “real-time-worthy”, which is similar to the process Google uses in its determination of which queries should display News, Images, Video, Local, etc. results. This is probably influenced by the volume of Twitter content as well as volume of search queries. As an example, real times results are not displaying this evening (1/25/2010) for “H1N1 vaccine” but they are displaying for “hope for haiti” We believe this is because there are not enough tweets, search volume, or other signals to trigger real time results for “H1N1 vaccine.”
- We have only observed tweets displayed up to a maximum of about an hour. If there are a larger number of tweets on a topic, then individual tweets are displayed for shorter amount of time.
- There is a very short (1 min) lag time between when a tweet is posted and when it is displayed on Google.
- Google has stated that it uses similar “signals of quality” for real-time content as it does for web search; however, there does not appear to be a high barrier for tweets to be included. Twitter accounts with only a few followers are included in the results.
- An individual Twitter account is not listed multiple times for the same query (in other words, you can’t keep automatically tweeting the same phrase over and over again to get listed).
- Links that are included in a tweet are expanded and clickable in Google’s real-time results.
- Hashtags in search queries may trigger real-time search results (for example, when we looked today, “detroit” does not trigger real-time results, but “#detroit” does).
- Google will favor the “primary” tweet over any retweeted or aggregated copies.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU
- If your target keywords include highly “buzz”-related terms, such as current news events, celebrity names, or other entertainment keywords, real-time search results will probably display for some of your target terms. Incorporation of real-time search results may increase the visibility of tweets, news, and other online word-of-mouth about your business.
- We don’t think that increasing the volume of your own Twitter-stream activity will be a strong contributor to increased presence in real-time search results. It may also turn off followers. Instead, your Twitter strategy should focus primarily on encouraging others to tweet about you, your business or your product.
- Although we do not think that optimizing or increasing your Twitter posts will have a major effect, we do recommend some finessing of your current Twitter activity:
— Timing of tweets becomes more important, because a tweet that occurs at a time when nobody is searching will not be seen.
— Because Google expands all links that are included in tweets, include links to your site in your tweets whenever appropriate.
THE LAST WORD
For now, real-time search is a small factor in the Google results mix, but be prepared for it to gain in prominence. Real-time search won’t be easy to game, and probably shouldn’t be gamed. The best way to improve your site’s presence in real-time search is to improve the buzz and online word-of-mouth around your business or product. And that’s just good online word-of-mouth strategy, isn’t it?
Readers, have you seen anything in real-time search that has really surprised you? Do you ever click on those real-time listings?