Real-time Search Optimization for News Sites

The major search engines are making real-time search a priority, resulting in good visibility opportunities for news sites especially for breaking news. Google, Bing and Yahoo are all experimenting with various forms of real-time results now and making deals with Twitter, Facebook and other social sites. So how can news sites maximize their real-time search visibility?

It should be noted that there many forms of real-time search including Twitter Search itself and sites like OneRiot, Collecta and Topsy, among others. But in this post I am focusing on real-time results in the major search engines.

First, a quick look at how news content is currently being included in real-time search results.

In its “Latest results” Google blends results from Google News and Google Blog Search with updates from Twitter and Facebook Pages, offering multiple paths in for news and content sites.

For example as news was breaking on the Chile earthquake a couple weeks ago The New York Times created a Twitter List to pull together the latest information from a variety of sources. The Chile Earthquake list was shared quite a bit on Twitter causing it to appear frequently in real-time search results.

As this was happening the real-time results for “earthquake in Chile” (at the time of this screen grab) included both the actual breaking news article and a retweet of @nytimes announcing the List, creating a double impression:

Google real-time search results

Editorial content is even more prominent on Bing Twitter where the “Top links shared in Tweets” get a dedicated place on the page and remain there for longer periods of time. To-date the top links for many queries tend to be news sites as seen in this example for “NCAA tournament”:

Bing Twitter tweets and top links

In this particular case The New York Times was not included in the top links section but it did appear in the regular tweet stream. The fact that Bing identifies the source of any shortened URL helps credible news sources to stand out, particularly in the top links section where the domain for each link is referenced four times.

The opportunity is smaller on Yahoo with real-time results limited to two tweets featured in the Twitter tab of the “Latest News” box:

Yahoo Latest Results Twitter tab

However links to news content are often included in the highlighted tweets and Yahoo plans to incorporate more real-time content soon.

Real-time Search Optimization

As can be seen, news sites have some real advantages in competing for real-time search visibility particularly in Google and Bing. News organizations can quickly gain multiple listings and sustain them for a period of time through user retweets. This combined with the fact that well-known, trusted sources stand out from the clutter increases the likelihood of getting clicks.

So what can news sites do to maximize their visibility in real-time search?

  • Monitor hot topics and trends to understand what users are searching for and talking about
  • Add keyword support to tweets and updates and utilize hashtags
  • Coordinate content promotion activities, timing tweets and Facebook Page updates for shortly after articles and blog posts are indexed in Google News or Google Blog Search
  • Mobilize fans and followers through active engagement to foster an influx of tweets, shares and links to content, particularly from authoritative users. This helps to keep the content in the real-time stream and to establish it as a top shared link
  • Act quickly – real-time search opportunities don’t stick around for long

These steps are pretty straightforward but the nature of real-time search also creates challenges. Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

  • True real-time results happen in the moment and are fleeting so it is difficult to sustain visibility. I had difficulty keeping up just to grab screenshots for this post (fortunately both Google and Bing have a “pause” button)
  • The engines are still in a testing and experimentation phase, so real-time is not being strongly promoted yet and many users are not even aware it exists
  • A recent eye tracking study from Oneupweb showed that user engagement with real-time search results is still limited, although it fared better with users looking for news content
  • In terms of tracking there is not currently a simple way to separate real-time referrals from other Google, Bing or Yahoo search referrals. Tom Critchlow of Distilled offered some potential workarounds in a recent SEOMoz post, but it’s not an easy process right now. Tracking data from URL shorteners like Bit.ly can help to paint a clearer picture

If you have any additional tips or observations, I’d love to learn them. What are you doing to increase the real-time search visibility of your content?

UPDATE:
Some new developments: Google is now including “Top Links” with its real-time results and is allowing users to zoom in and “replay” tweets from specific dates and times. And Bing is experimenting with blending Twitter results into its main Web results.

Comments

  1. thanks for all the great info. During my seminars, I tweet than go live to show real time results. Last week in Wichita KS I did some examples using Twitter and YouTube+twitter and showed how that worked. I just finished a quick post about my Twitter account now ranking #1 for the terms I was playing around with! http://www.localsearchpilot.com/local-search/twitter-seo It makes me wonder how soon tweets will get more staying power organically.

  2. Thanks Jason. I’ve seen Twitter accounts rank well in Google Social Search for specific queries like that, but not regular Web search, that’s interesting.

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