Three Years After Breaking Up, Twitter Wants Back The Google Search Love It Once Had
Twitter is ramping up its SEO efforts to attract more traffic from search engines. Ironically, it gave up a direct feed it used to have into Google
Twitter is having its Twitter Analyst Day today for investment analysts, designed to reassure them about the company’s future. Analysts got told one of the growth strategies Twitter has is to gain more Google traffic. That’s ironic, given how three years ago, Twitter didn’t renew a deal that gave it unprecedented Google visibility.
Twitter Ramps Up The SEO
During the event this morning, Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto suggested that Twitter would do more to generate search engine optimization traffic, free traffic from Google and other search engines. It’s something Noto said Twitter hadn’t really done in the past:
Trevor O’Brien, Twitter’s director of product management, expanded on this later to say that Twitter made a change earlier this year to allow Google and other search engines to crawl its top 50,000 hashtagged search pages, which has generated a 10-fold increase in the number of logged-out people coming to Twitter — helping that figure rise to 75 million per month.
Our related story at Search Engine Land, Twitter: Renewed Focus On SEO Generated 10 Times More Visitors, looks at how this works in more depth. Twitter hopes increasing its logged-out audience may ultimately lead to more opportunities to increase sign-ups or generate revenue.
But Twitter Had SEO & Google Love On Steroids
Both Noto’s and O’Brien’s statements raise issues, however. With Noto, his suggestion that Twitter historically hadn’t paid much attention to SEO is just wrong. When it comes to Google, Twitter had SEO almost unlike any other company — SEO so good that Google built an entire product around Twitter.
Back in October 2009, Twitter signed a deal with Google to provide it with what’s commonly called the Twitter Firehose. That gave Google access to each and every tweet produced on the service in real-time. Without firehose access, Google simply couldn’t capture all the tweets without putting such a burden on Twitter’s services as to perhaps collapse the service.
By December 2009, Google had used the Twitter Firehose as the core of a new service called Google Real Time Search. It was unveiled with great fanfare, through a special event. While Google Real Time Search included social updates from other services, Twitter’s content was the star. Anyone using the service got lots of links leading to Twitter. Also, Twitter’s content got featured within regular Google results.
The following year, Twitter got even more integration within Google, when Google began carrying Twitter’s paid ads. It was the first time — and the last time that I know of — that Google ever carried ads from a third-party network since the days of having its own ad system.
Plug Gets Pulled On Twitter-Google Deal
By July 2011, all the Twitter-Google love was gone. For reasons still not clearly explained or known (though we have rumors), the deal collapsed. The firehose was turned off, and days later, Google shutdown the entire Google Real Time Search service.
It was another fairly unprecedented act by Google, to close without warning a service that it had invested so much time, engineering resources and consumer capital on. It also led to Google’s unwillingness to depend on any third-party for social data. Google execs have spoken of how they effectively felt burned and have a “never again” attitude toward any future partnerships like this without long-term assurances.
As for Twitter, it mainly suffered complaints from a minority of users — generally journalists it seemed — that they could no longer as easily find old tweets on the service. Twitter also suffered a loss of visibility on Google’s search results because it hadn’t seemed to fully consider how ordinary SEO issues would be a concern, once it lost its firehose injection into Google.
Moreover, Google execs have spoken that Twitter outright blocked Google from gathering its content through regular crawling after the deal expired, for a short time. Even three years later, Google execs will drop little digs about how Twitter blocked Google. It’s far from forgotten.
Twitter Looking For Google Love Again
A month after the deal ended, Twitter and Bing had a little love-fest exchange on Twitter about how the Twitter-Bing deal was continuing even as the Twitter-Google deal has ended. Today, that deal still happens. But Bing has a much smaller marketshare than Google — and so when Twitter talks about wanting to increase search engine traffic, it’s really talking about getting more out of Google.
There’s no suggestion from today’s call that a firehose deal will return, though we’ll be checking on this. Rather, it sounds like Twitter wants to get more free traffic from Google the old fashioned way, through regular SEO.
One problem is that ages ago, Google once said that sending people to pages that themselves are search results would be considered spam — and technically, that’s what Twitter’s hashtag pages like this for #alexfromtarget are. That page shows up in searches on Google.
Maybe Twitter is technically in violation of Google’s spam rules. However, that rule is so old that I’m having problems finding the exact date it was established. And certainly Google has failed to enforce it for years. The closest thing in its current guidelines is a rule against automatically generated content that does call out against including “search results.”
Last year, the head of Google’s web spam fighting team Matt Cutts also said that sites should “prune out the search results” unless there’s something unusual or unique about them.
There’s no question that Twitter’s own search results are fairly unique and valuable, so it’s likely not in violation of any Google rules. But I’ll check on this.
Ultimately, if Twitter wants more Google traffic, restoring firehose access would be the way to go. But while Google once paid for this, after years of living successfully without it, I suspect it would feel like that’s something Twitter should just provide for free — especially if Twitter is now considering free traffic from Google to be more valuable.