Photo: Bluebird

If you were doing search engine and social media marketing six years ago, you’ll remember that one of the most delightful developments to come around in a long time was the addition of tweets to Google’s search results.

Get ready to be delighted once again because Bloomberg reports and TechCrunch confirms that the two companies have once again reached a deal to do just that, include Tweets in Google search results. The addition of Twitter data to Google search promises to present us communications professionals with many opportunities, as well as some challenges.

Before we get to those, though, a bit of history will be instructive.

Google’s Previous Deal With Twitter

In 2009, the two companies reached a deal to include tweet data in Google’s search results. That deal brought the concept of the real-time web to mainstream consciousness with dramatic real-time examples in search results.

At the time, Facebook and Twitter were the new hotness, getting all the press and amassing users. Google watched the popularity of social media soar while it was left with no social network of it’s own with which to compete.

The party that benefited the most from that previous deal was definitely Google.

Google’s core business is search. Google’s search engineers are always on the lookout for signals they can include in the algorithm that will make search results more precise and therefore relevant.

Relevance is what keeps people from switching to Bing and what sells ads. And data from social networks is chock full of relevance signals, ranging from content people share, to the topics they talk about, to the bursts of mass conversations of the type you see while people watch television programs and share status updates about those shows.

The Twitter “firehose” (i.e. all of their tweet data via an API) not only added more content and a new dimension to Google’s search results, it also offered plenty of data to improve the accuracy of those results.

But, as Bloomberg reported, “Ali Rowghani, Twitter’s former chief operating officer, had been against renewing the agreement to keep more control over Twitter’s content and it lapsed” in 2011.

Chart: Google Search Ranking Factors in US

Twitter’s refusal to renew the deal lead to Google’s decision to launch Buzz which turned into Google+, so they wouldn’t have to depend on a third party for those all-important social signals. This point is makes most sense when you consider the role that “PlusOnes” and other social signals play as a Google search ranking factor:

This time around, though, it’s Twitter that has the most to gain from the deal. Google has it’s own social network in Google+ from which to collect social signals. But Twitter’s growth has slowed and it is therefore focused on amassing users, so placing tweets in search results gives them far more opportunities to do just that.

What The Twitter/Google Deal Might Look Like

It will be several months till we see tweets return to Google search, so we can only guess at what that might look like.

Google has learned a lot during the intervening  four years since Twitter closed the spigot, so there’s no reason to think Google will implement the firehose data exactly as they did for the previous deal. But how they did implement it in 2010 was pretty awesome.

This is a screencast I recorded at the time demonstrating how they used tweets about the television show Glee. It was a virtual focus group!

Google had also included a auto-scrolling section of live tweets in search results. Take note of the Pause option next to “Realtime results” in this screenshot:

Screenshot Twitter In Google Search Results mnleg Hashtag
Google Realtime Hashtag Search

Here’s an expanded view of Google’s display of #MNLeg tweets:

Screenshot: #mnleg Tweets In Google Expanded
Tweet Timeline In Google Search

7 Considerations For Marketers & Public Relations Professionals

These are some of the things we communications professionals will likely need to be thinking about and preparing for.

 1) Search Optimizing Tweets

While it should be standard practice to include likely search keywords in Twitter status updates in order to gain visibility within Twitter’s own search results, now we need to consider how the language we use in tweets can give us visibility within Google search results.

2) Topical Experts

Google will no doubt be sending individual tweets through their own Tweet-specific algorithm to display the most relevant, and, likely, the most authoritative tweets for a given search query.

That means that tweets from or retweeted by individuals or organizations considered an authority on a given topic are likely to have more weight in Google’s Twitter algorithm.

3) Breaking News

There’s a reason Facebook added trending topics; it’s because Twitter is the go-to channel for breaking news. If your organization or a client is the subject of a breaking news story, Google search results will have another dimension to consider.

4) Crisis Communications

Likewise, if your organization or client becomes the object of a public controversy Twitter already is a channel where that controversy will likely play out publicly. Again, though, that controversy will have much greater reach through Google search.

5) Culturejacking

Like the Glee example I illustrated in the video above, there are countless events in popular culture that spark massive online conversations. I suspect Google will highlight those conversations in some similar fashion as they did previously.

I’m sure we’ll see ham-handed attempts by brands to hijack those conversations but I’m equally sure the smart people at Google have anticipated that and will have an algorithmic answer to attempts to game their search results via Twitter.

The question is what are the natural cultural events a particular brand participates in?

 6) Visual Communications

During the first implementation of the firehose, Tweets didn’t contain the beautiful images they often boast now.  If Google decides to display those visuals in search results, it should be standard operating procedure to include brilliant images with your tweets (but, then, it already should be standard practice).

Images draw the eye of the searcher, so including those images will be a decided advantage in drawing interest.

7) Social Video

It will be fascinating to see how Google handles tweets that include video.

When people share a link to a YouTube video in their tweet, that video will play directly within the Tweet for anyone who sees it. But Twitter is on the verge of introducing the ability to upload video directly to your account, which turns them into a competitor with Google-owned YouTube.

So, will Google display videos that have been uploaded to Twitter or will it only show YouTube videos?