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The secrets of real-time search success

The secrets of real-time search success Rick Egan

In December, both Google and Bing announced partnerships with Twitter to include tweets in their search results, and tweets began popping up in results on both search engines by the middle of the same month. While there has not been much discussion about Bing's use of Twitter, Google has captured a lot of attention because its Twitter feed is included prominently alongside other search results.

Real-time search has been a hot topic for discussion in the search engine optimization (SEO) world since Twitter started catching fire in 2009, although I think many SEOs thought the reality of real-time search was farther off.

Defining real-time search
Let's start by taking a look at what is included in real-time search results and where these results will be shown. Real-time search results are an extension of Google's Universal Search Results, and are triggered algorithmically based on query volume. When a topic or keyword reaches a predefined frequency, then Google's algorithm automatically begins using the real-time search page. 

Real-time search results include news headlines, blog headlines, and a scrolling widget with social media comments along with Google's regular results. Time stamps are included with all of these additional pieces of data so that users can choose the timeliest results. Social media comments currently come from Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku, MySpace, and Identi.ca through API data feeds. News and blog headlines are based on fetched results found through Google's normal crawling cycles. Blogs and news sites that publish regularly are normally crawled many times per day due to the frequency of new content added. 

While Google does not publish the algorithm for how it determines the ranking of this real-time content, the company has made some broad statements on how the algorithm works. Google publicly stated that social media profiles are scored based on the quality of profile, following a similar methodology to what the search engine does with links. Basically, the more friends or followers, the more trusted the profile. Those with more trusted profiles have a better chance of having their comments included within the social media widget.

A search for "Kurt Warner" on Jan. 29, the day he announced his retirement from the National Football League, produces the real-time search results seen below.

At the top of the page are news results from one hour before the search, with a link to 1,167 additional news articles for those who would prefer to specifically read news articles. 

The next three results are typical search results, with a Wikipedia result, Warner's official site, and his NFL.com page.

In the fourth position on the page is the social media widget. The widget contains a running list of social media mentions of Warner's retirement. The remainder of the page is a mixture of news, informational, and memorabilia sites relating to Warner.

These real-time results will likely stay in place for a few days, but once the online chatter dies down, the page will likely return to the regular search results. A search for "Kurt Warner" two days later showed that once the initial chatter died down, the real-time search result box was no longer being returned, and a more traditional result was in its place.

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The impact to online marketers
Now that we know a little more about the mechanics of how real-time search works, let's take a look at what websites can do to increase their chances of being included in these results.

The first important piece for publishers is to make sure that they are producing content with an emphasis on keywords. Since these results are skewed toward exact keyword matches, it is important that keywords are used in the headline and are in line with what people are typing in the search box. There are two tools you can use to get a better idea of how you should be forming your headlines: Google Keyword Suggest and the Google Trends Hot Topic feature. Both of these tools can be used to identify keywords in close to real-time.

Next, it is important to create a strong community within several social media sites. The followers and friends you accrue on these sites are the ones who will be sharing your content with their networks, and it is their comments that will likely be included in real-time results within Google's social media widget. Remember, the sites with content included in the widget are Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku, MySpace, and Identi.ca.

The last thing you can do to improve your site's chances is to focus on some basic fundamentals of SEO, such as making sure that your site can be easily crawled by the search engines and that you are being linked to by other sites on the web.

Sites that are well-optimized for SEO are typically going to be crawled faster and more frequently, which will increase your chances of getting visible placement within the real-time results.

Tips for getting included on real-time search results:

  1. Use keywords in your headlines.

  2. Create content based on timely events.

  3. Get involved in social media.

  4. Develop a good network of friends and followers in social media.

  5. Promote conversations in your online communities.

The future of real-time search
Real-time search is still in its infancy on the major search engines, but so far it appears to be improving the quality of results for timely events. Under the old results, a search for "Kurt Warner" right after his retirement announcement would have yielded results about his career, older news articles, and memorabilia websites. The new real-time results provide a search result page with breaking news articles, social media chatter, and blog postings along with other relevant information. 

These enhanced search results are a big improvement for users and improve one of the major flaws in Google's algorithm. Real-time results also offer additional opportunities to websites and marketers by providing additional spots for timely results to appear in search results -- spots that were previously only available to certain sites. 

The addition of news headlines and the social media widget have created two additional opportunities for sites to get a link on the first page of Google. This should afford new opportunities to sites savvy with their use of keywords and a good presence in social media, giving them more shelf space in search results whenever timely events take place.

In time, we may see these types of results become the norm for Google search results. In the near term, real-time results will only be used to resolve a significant flaw in the algorithm -- timely content getting buried beneath established results due to the heavy reliance of inbound links. 

These results in their current format are still more susceptible to spam, so they will likely continue to be produced based on online chatter rather than as part of everyday results. As Google improves its algorithim and improves the relevance of real-time results, we should see the inclusion of latest results become more of the norm, rather than the exception.

Rick Egan is senior director of SEO and social media services for The Search Agency and a regular contributor to The Search Agents blog.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Roxanne Alexander

2010, February 09

Good article. Do you have any idea of how much "chatter" there needs to be before real-time search results from Twitter get picked up by Google?