Google’s Twitter Update Is About To Hit
Here’s what businesses should be thinking about
We learned in February that Google and Twitter struck a new deal that will see Google indexing tweets in real time. Initial reports indicated that tweets would become visible in Google’s search results as soon as they’re posted, starting in the first half of this year. Now, we’ve got a more specific timeframe.
In a conference call to discuss Twitter’s earnings, CEO Dick Costolo revealed that the integration will begin its roll-out next month. Given that April is just about over, that could potentially be as early as this week.
“I don’t have a specific date for you, but now I can at least give you a specific month,” said Costolo. “And that Google deal is all about…that relationship is about driving our total audience strategy. The goal is that people consume content and engage with that content whether they log in or not.”
Twitter Needs More Eyeballs
Since going public in 2013, Twitter has faced immense pressure to grow its user base, and that growth has been quite slow. While the company did manage to add 14 million users over the last quarter, it only just surpassed its 300 million monthly active user milestone. For comparison, Facebook just reported 1.44 billion. Twitter has been exploring different ways to grow its MAUs, and much of that has been focused on improving the experience for logged out users.
Earlier this month, Twitter launched a homepage redesign. For logged in users, the homepage remains the user’s home timeline, but for logged out users, it’s now a user-friendly directory of categorized content. Twitter has for all intents and purposes turned its logged-out homepage into a news site.
The Google deal is another way (and likely a pretty significant one) to get people to realize more value from the service even if they’ve not been frequent users in the past. The narrative around Twitter’s stock every time the company reports its earnings is always shareholder disappointment, so the importance of the Google deal cannot be overstated from Twitter’s corporate perspective.
The two companies, as you may know, used to have a similar relationship, but when the original deal expired, the companies were unable to reach an agreement to keep it going.
“I would say that the way we think about the Google deal now without again — without going into any of the details distinct from the kind of relationship we had in the past is that we’ve got the opportunity now to drive a lot of attention to an aggregate eye balls if you will to these logged out experiences, topics and events that we plan on delivering on the front page of Twitter,” Costolo said on a previous earnings call ahead of the new homepage roll-out. “And that’s one of the reasons this makes a lot more sense for us now.”
What’s in store?
Little is known about why exactly that relationship fell apart, but the most logical explanation is that the pre-public Twitter thought it was worth more than what Google was willing to pay for access to Twitter’s firehose of realtime tweets. Google had even built a feature for its search results pages -Realtime Search – around the deal. It used to display a box of scrolling realtime results, which included tweets as well as content from other sources, on search results pages for newsy queries.
Once the Twitter deal went away, so did the feature, making it clear that the tweets were the only real valuable part of that. This also illustrated how valuable the deal was for Google, as its absence highlighted a failure of Google’s stated mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. With so much of the world’s information now flooding the internet in real time, Google could hardly make good on that mission without the access it once had.
Google isn’t expected to implement tweets the same way it used to when the new integration goes into effect.
“I don’t think that this is what Google is looking for,” search marketer Eric Enge recently told WebProNews. “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,” he added. “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.”
We’ll see if either company makes a big announcement about how Google will handle tweets or if we’ll just start seeing the tweets surface more.
How Google has been using tweets
Earlier this year, Enge and his firm Stone Temple Consulting released some findingsabout 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.
The findings suggested that Twitter accounts with larger follower counts are getting more tweets indexed, though it may be only a correlation. Enge said 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 noted, more value is clearly being placed on the authoritative accounts.
Out of the accounts with over a million followers that the research looked 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 said 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 said 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.
“What our study showed is that Google currently places minimal impact on freshness of tweets today,” Enge told WebProNews in February. “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.”
Your reputation on the line?
Businesses may have reputation-related issues to be concerned about when the deal takes effect.
“The biggest challenge and opportunity for businesses using Twitter for customer service is that every interaction is now amplified,” Conversocial CEO Joshua March told us last month. “Whether that’s a complaint from a customer or the company’s response, the agreement between Google and Twitter places a greater spotlight on each interaction.”
“When a customer is searching on Google for a business, Tweets from customers about issues or bad service experiences could be on the front page,” he said. “If businesses have a social first approach to customer service then they can tackle these quickly and head on, creating positive engagements that will show up instead. This deal has the potential to accelerate the kind of service-related Twitter crises many brands have already experienced.”
The key word there is potential. Until we see Google’s approach to the integration, any of this is only speculative. However, these are important points for businesses to keep in mind as the integration approaches.
“For companies with a social first approach who are committed to delivering excellent, fast and authentic social customer service, the agreement between Google and Twitter has the ability to spotlight them, and make it very obvious to customers that they care,” said March. “Companies that have successfully integrated various social media into their customer service DNA should be very excited by the agreement. In addition, previously addressed concerns are now searchable, allowing customers to potentially self-help.”
Businesses are going to have to consider that any tweets related to their brands could become more visible, as could tweets from employees. In fact, even beyond the Google deal, Twitter is doing other things that could inflate visibility through search.
This goes beyond Google
Google already has a firehose deal in place with Bing.
Twitter is also working with Apple. During Tuesday’s conference call, Costolo said, “And finally, we are also working with Apple to surface great Twitter content and accounts directly in Spotlight Search on iOS and OS X, that also makes it easier and quicker to find great things on Twitter. So I would sum up by saying, there is absolutely an opportunity to go and monetize that attention and traffic. We want to make sure we iterate on the experiences to get them right first.”
Update: Apple’s spotlight search is reportedly already surfacing Twitter content.
Twitter clearly wants (and needs) to have its content surfaced as much as possible, so look for it to find other partnerships to fuel this as well.
The company is also experimenting with its own search interface, which could emphasize the power of that to more people as it continues to court and retain new users. We recently looked at a redesign it’s been testing, and while Twitter would not confirm that it will roll out to all users, it’s clearly an improvement from the existing interface, so I would be shocked if it doesn’t.
There’s not much change in terms of functionality, but the way things are laid out and labeled are significantly improved, and could draw some new attention to Twitter Search. For a deeper dive into this interface, read this.
Twitter also recently started indexing every public tweet from the last 8 years, so there’s that too.