Local and Social: It’s all Coming Together

If you’ve paid attention to tech news over the past few weeks, chances are you’ve heard about the deal between Google and Twitter; and the deal between Bing, Twitter, and Facebook (I know, confusing).

These deals essentially boil down to Google and Bing getting access to real-time status update feeds. These will be displayed alongside traditional search results in different ways that will likely evolve over time.

This is content that search engines have been trying to get their hands on for months. The growth of the “statusphere” and real-time search have created a content index that is faster to the punch than Google’s own index.

Tweets on breaking news, for example, are much faster than the news cycle, due to lead times for reporting, writing, publishing, and search engine crawling. These are important (especially the reporting), but having the best of both worlds now puts search engines in a stronger position.

All About the Data

This could also serve as an important data source: Google can measure activity around tweets, retweets, and click-throughs, to determine topics and sources of relevance.

Twitter presents streams in reverse chronological order, which is kind of the point. But when integrated with the decidedly more relevance-oriented Google, will we see a sort of PageRank start to weigh tweet “authority”?

Facebook began doing something like this in its most recent news feed release. It raises an important question for real-time search: Is it purely recency that trumps, or should additional factors determine authority, relevance, and thus ranking?

Location, Location, Location

Given the propensity for status updates to be tied to a physical space — and because of Twitter and Facebook’s growing use on mobile devices — should location be one of these ranking factors?

In the past, we’ve looked at a few examples of how Twitter and local are melding. Carrying the same concept of Google and Bing’s integration of real-time feeds, this adds real-time “conversations” to the traditional stuff of local search (i.e., listings).

From a user perspective, this involves searching for relevant chatter around anything that you’re looking for locally. For a local marketer, it can conversely be used to inform followers about promotions or events. Mark Cuban’s Naked Pizza has so far been the poster child for this.

Another recent example is Calgary.com, a joint venture between YPG Canada and Praized Media Inc. Its blended local results position tweets — fed directly from Twitter and filtered by keyword — on top of traditional IYP listings.

Now that Google and Bing (and rumors of Yahoo) have integrated real-time feeds with search, it could catch on in local even faster. This could happen on Google (will be interesting to see how and if it’s integrated with the “7 pack”) as well as vertical and Internet yellow pages sites.

Mobile = Local

It could also come in entirely different forms, apart from blended search results. Mobile is one venue for example, where real-time local search could find fertile ground — usage data suggest as much.

Much of this will be enabled by Twitter’s geolocation API, launched in August. In a nutshell, it lets third parties pass users’ location information (derived via GPS or triangulation) to Twitter. Let’s look at a few possibilities, some plucked from my friend and SEO expert Andrew Shotland.

  • Getting Overlaid: Location data passed to Twitter is simply lat/long coordinates. Followers can’t do much with this data in raw form. But what about overlaying business listings or mapping data to be able to tell that you’re tweeting from Joe’s Bowling Alley? Once this information is known, the floodgates open for related content, including Yelp reviews or ads (i.e., Pete’s Bowling Alley).
  • Will Tweet For New Business: Geolocation transparency makes it easier for businesses to target followers in physical proximity. By following all of the users that are tweeting nearby, businesses will get a certain percentage that will follow them back. By doing so, a network of geographically relevant followers is built — to which ongoing promotional tweets can be pushed.
  • Happy Wanderer: Going back to the marriage of real-time feeds and search, can a user’s mobile location be used to define relevance? In other words, filter tweets not only by keyword but by proximity: Picture wandering through a new neighborhood and finding all the promotions and local business-related tweets happening around you.

In these examples, tweets would be coming from businesses like Naked Pizza, in addition to non-commercial tweets from nearby users. This assumes for the sake of argument, that businesses will do this with great enough coverage and frequency to make it a worthwhile user experience.

This could take a while to materialize, but you get the idea. The tools are in place and it could just be a matter of time before they’re put to use in earnest and at scale.

Indeed we’re getting there: BIA/Kelsey reports that 9 percent of SMBs are already using Twitter to market themselves.

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