Digital marketing: Google/Twitter shakeup we’ve been waiting for?

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As reported by Bloomberg recently, Google and Twitter have apparently reached a new agreement whereby the search giant will once again start to index and display tweets in ‘real-time’ as part of their search engine results pages to users looking for relevant terms. Neither party have officially confirmed or commented on this agreement yet at the time of writing, but it looks set to alter the digital marketing landscape. Again.

A similar agreement was in place from 2009 to 2011, during which tweets appeared in Google search results virtually in real time. You may remember a SERP looking something like the below… with news results, tweets and images all blended with the regular website results we’re all familiar with.
 

Photo credit: dullhunk via Flickr.
The former agreement came to an end in mid-2011, with many people citing the launch of Google+ (just a couple of weeks before) as the catalyst for allowing this deal to expire and Google hoping their own social network would take off in a Twitter-esque way. Suffice to say, it didn’t.
 

What difference will this new agreement actually make to brands?

Heightened visibility of tweets in search results almost instantly provides both a risk and an opportunity for brands.
The risk comes with the immediacy of this exposure if mistakes are made or inappropriate things tweeted. There has always been the possibility of someone screenshotting an ill-advised or accidental tweet before it’s deleted, but now this tweet could appear to many many more people immediately – giving the issue much more exposure. It’s not yet clear how long it will take a tweet to disappear from search results once deleted from a Twitter account. The phrase “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted??? springs to mind!
The opportunity comes because, in theory, this change could give significantly more positive exposure to brands who are quick to get involved with relevant newsworthy and popular topics, as well as their own niche topics. The more authoritative, well-followed and engaged these brand Twitter accounts already are, the more chance they are expected to have of appearing high up in a blend of other relevant search results.
People now won’t necessarily have to be ‘following’ a brand on Twitter to see their tweets, content, offers and promotions. No one knows yet how long tweets might remain in search results, but the chances are that for many (especially for niche/long tail Google searches) it will be significantly longer than the eighteen minutes that is the average ‘life’ of a tweet on Twitter.
The role of social in search has long been a subject which divides opinion, especially in terms of which social media cues Google uses as part of it’s algorithm to rank websites. A significant amount of people often turn to social media for news before Google because of it’s immediacy, so maybe Google intends to turn that tide by live-aggregating news from an increasing number of sources, including Twitter?
It’s yet to become clear what this means for paid ‘promoted tweets’ which have brand money behind them. Will they start to monopolise the limited Twitter results spaces in search or will only organic results be shown? The answer to this question could drastically change the way that many brands are marketed via Twitter.
 

So what does Twitter gain from this partnership?

More discoverable tweets will mean more people click through from Google and actually visit Twitter itself, whether logged-in users or not, to view the content. Having tweets in organic search results essentially makes every single Google search an ‘advert’ for Twitter.
If promoted tweets are given greater visibility than organic ones in Google results pages, this will also give significant incentive to marketers to increase their spend on Twitter ads. Twitter’s attempts to monetise the platform have lagged spectacularly behind Facebook’s so far but this could be a definite shot in the arm.
As Twitter and Google are currently refusing to confirm or deny that this “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours??? agreement even exists, the timescales for global roll-out in Google searches is a little sketchy… although industry experts expect it to start showing its face in the first half of 2015. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation!