Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to make Twitter content searchable

News organizations using Twitter has become more than merely a social-media experiment. It's now an important medium to distribute online content, not unlike Google or other search engines and content aggregators. It's easy to set up an RSS feed to syndicate content to Twitter, but there are also a couple things you can do to make that content more searchable on sites like and

But before a news organization can make its Twitter content more searchable, it needs to stop thinking of Twitter as a social networking tool and as more of a search engine (as this article explains).

In some cases, Twitter searches are a far more valuable search medium than Google. For example, last month, prior to the University of Missouri's Elite Eight NCAA basketball game against UConn, my cable service started to cut out. I knew it was likely one of two things: 1) our recently mobile infant had been playing Cable Baby behind the television or 2) Time Warner Cable was having issues. Assuming the latter, I hopped on and searched for "Time Warner Cable Kansas City" and immediately determined that other customers in my area were experiencing the same problem.

The speed at which a user can find very specific information is Twitter's primary search advantage, and that's obviously a very powerful tool for news organizations trying to distribute online content. Sure, it's annoying to see faceless groups using Twitter to spew advertisements for herbal supplements or clueless salespeople who want to share a "buisness oppurtunity [sic]" with you, but news media should not shy away from using an RSS feed to update a Twitter page.

In the last six months, 95 percent of the online news I consume has come from headlines I see on Twitterfox, which is a handy little Firefox plugin that makes it incredibly easy to keep up with any person or group that you follow on Twitter.

Media outlets should use sites like Twitterfeed or HootSuite to automatically feed their content to Twitter, and they should also take advantage of the prefix options these services provide in order to make their content more searchable.

For example, one site I work with covers the telecom industry, so it's important that all of their tweets are accessible to people who might be searching for telecom news. Therefore, each of this site's tweets are prefixed with the words "telecom news" (not exactly rocket science, huh?). For another site that covers the trucking industry we use the prefix (you guessed it) "trucking news." Now, to see the value of this prefix, check out the results from for "trucking news." Almost all of the results you'll find are from Twitter pages I've set up for a variety of B2B sites that cover trucking. In many cases, finding the right prefix for your Twitterfeed is one of the most important steps in making your content searchable.

The second SEO tactic for Twitter is to use standard SEO practices on your story headlines. When I post a story online, I try to think of the two most important words that describe that article and put them at the very front of the headline. Let's say somebody is searching Twitter to find the latest information on the "broadband stimulus." If that phrase is at the beginning of my headline, that's the first piece of information Twitter will display after the prefix. Including the most important keywords at the front of your headline is also one of the most important SEO tactics you can use to ensure your content ranks high in search-engine results pages (SERPs).

These are all strategies I've used with a number of sites recently. Over the last two months, I've seen Twitter referrals double from using these methods. Of course, I'm always interested to hear about how others are optimizing Twitter content for search.

A few more thoughts on using Twitter:

  • While it's good for news sites to feed content to Twitter, editors should also be interacting with their audience with separate, personal accounts. Generally, I do not want to interact with a faceless news feed, and that's OK, but editors should also make themselves accessible on Twitter.
  • Don't worry so much about how many followers you have. If the content that's posted is valuable, they'll come. If your content is searchable, people will find it anyway.
  • Don't over-promote or spend too much time on Twitter. Make sure your content is there for readers who might want to access it that way, but don't annoy readers with too many promotions for it.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice. I find -- many times, actually -- that Twitter searches are FAR more valuable than Google searches. I trust people. Not search results.

    SEO is a field dedicated to optimize pages for search. Top result may not be the most useful to me. Twitter searches allow me to peer into real-time conversation.

    Sharing this with some folks I know. Thanks!