Ultimate Beginners Guide to Real Time Search

Posted by in Search Marketing (SEO) on May 26th, 2010 0 Comments

Google are normally pretty tight lipped about their strategic direction, but in an interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer for The Guardian showed surprising candor. said,

“We think the real-time search is incredibly important, and the real-time data that’s coming online can be super-useful in terms of us finding out something like, you know, is this conference today any good?” Mayer went on to say, “[T]here’s a lot of useful information about real time and your actions that we think ultimately will reinvent search.”

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So if you weren’t already concerned and captivated by the potential of real time search Google’s interest should convince you.

So what is Real Time Search? What does it mean for marketers? How is in affecting the search results and what can you do about it?

Hopefully this beginners guide will answer a lot of these questions.

Real Time Doesn’t Just Mean Twitter

It’s a shame, but a lot of people fall into the trap of when they talk about real-time search they just mean searching Twitter Tweets, actually it’s far more important than that.

It’s getting easier for everyone with internet access to publish content. This ease of production is making the content more topical. If it only takes you a few seconds to publish something you are going to cover what happens as it happens.

This presents a huge challenge to the current search paradigm. Google indexes what has been said, real time search deals with what is being said.

It’s one of the few chinks in Google’s armour and therefore has received a significant amount of attention. But let’s look beyond the hype and understand what we are dealing with.

There’s been much made of Google’s Real Time Search One Box but actually Google’s been making steps towards real time for some time. The three most well known of these tweaks are Caffeine, PubSubHubBub and Query Deserves Freshness (QDF)

Google Caffeine

Most search bloggers over-stated the significance of Google Caffeine changes which were mostly back end infrastructure changes. They are significant as a step towards real time though as it reduces the load and resource required to spider content, absolutely essential if you want to be spidering every piece of content being created online.

PubSubHubBub

A similar connected move is Google’s ongoing involvement with PubSubHubBub. The crazily titles protocol is an extension of RSS and Atom feeds where the onus switches from Google constantly checking for updates to a website pushing when an update takes place. Again reducing the burden.

Quality deserves Freshness

Another real-time play has been having a significant impact on natural search results for some time is know as Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) Though slower than real time QDF is a concerted effort by Google to up their speed and and make their results more topical.

QDF rewards recently published or indexed content with higher search rankings because they believe the content to be topical. However as the content becomes less topical its rankings correct to a position more reflective of the pages traditional algorithmic signals. This has been know by a variety of my favourites are the ‘Google Honeymoon Period’ or ‘Reverse Sandbox’

QDF is an interesting and complicated topic in its own right so I recommend having a look at

Real Time in the SERPS

The most obvious indication of the Real Time Search has been Google’s introduction of a scrolling one-box which is triggered when Google determine a peak in real time mentions that correlates with an increase in corresponding search volume. You can read more about it’s introduction at Search Engine Land.

It pulls content from a variety of sources though given the traction of Twitter a significant majority of it’s content comes from that source. Also it pulls results from the list of sources below.

  • Twitter tweets
  • Google News links
  • Google Blog Search links
  • Newly created web pages
  • Freshly updated web pages
  • FriendFeed updates
  • Jaiku updates
  • Identi.ca updates
  • TwitArmy updates
  • Google Buzz posts
  • MySpace updates
  • Facebook fan page updates

So if you wish to attract traffic to your site using Real Time Search rankings you should have a strategy in place to be hitting as many of these touch points as you can.

In Google’s implementation it’s interesting to note that they are expanding shortened URLs, showing the original source of any links in realtime mentions. This is useful as the URL often acts as indicator of trust in the eyes of the user.

But users like it

By it’s very nature, the transitory nature of Real Time Search results make it very hard to measure their popularity with searchers but early tests like this one featured on GigaOM seem to suggest that on many search queries they are receiving significant attention from searchers.

It may be a bit weak from a statistical point of view but data from Comscore and Hitwise seem to imply that the roll out from Google has lead to more traffic from Google being sent towards Twitter despite the fact in most case Google are showing the Tweet in it’s entirety.

Measuring Real Time Search

As with any new development there seems to have been a lag between the role out and the ability to measure this as a source of traffic in the major analytics tools.

Over at SEOmoz Tom Critchlow has done a good job exploring some potential ways of extrapolating the traffic from real time search that is worth exploring if you are making real time a big part of your search traffic generation plans.

Though as yet there’s no easy to implement comprehensive solution to tracking this, which in many case make make it harder to justify the increase in resource that a real time search campaign make require.

Bing Genuine Rival to Google

I’m first to admit that in a lot of circumstances I’m a particularly bad culprit of Google bias where given their dominant position I ignore the moves of their rivals. But in Real Time Bing in particular has been making some confident moves which seem to be setting their competitors agenda.

Bing were the first to index Twitter’s Fire-hose of data, and have been far more extensive in their indexing of Facebook. This does appear to be one area where their is a legitimate reason to suggest Bing may be out performing Google.

What can you do to optimize for real time search?

Trending terms which trigger real time search by their nature have significant volumes, there isn’t the level of competition for realtime search results plus the high profile real estate they offer in a search results page make a strategy chasing these results well worth exploring. Despite the huge potential of traffic from real time search, very little has been publicly written about how to target these opportunities.

Michelle Bowles makes some great suggestions at TopRank

  • Tweets and Facebook fan page updates: Micro content from social sites now has the ability to appear in search results. It’s quick and easy to frequently post Tweets and Facebook fan pages updates, so both should play a big role in your real time SEO content strategy.
  • Blog posts: Blogging presents the opportunity to help your content rank and show thought leadership at the same time – since blog posts can offer more valuable information than micro content.
  • Optimized press releases: By optimizing press releases and submitting them through authoritative newswires, you can help your content achieve high rankings.

Plus I’ve made some suggestions over at econsultany about how you can change your content management to better target real time search traffic.

So hopefully you can see what a great opportunity this is, identify some opportunities and move your strategy forward.

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