Twitter is one of those sites that is clearly very beneficial to SEO, but the exact cause of the effects is obscured. Is it the favorites? Is it the tweets, or the retweets? Do sheer numbers help, or are you supposed to focus on the power of specific influencers? There are a lot of factors, and it’s hard to measure any individual factor in the chaotic wild environment of open Twitter.
Twitter Affects Rankings
The first thing to know is that, yes, Twitter does affect your rankings. You can see this time and again just in practical applications; businesses wouldn’t use it if it didn’t help them in some way.
Rankings are just one of the ways Twitter helps businesses. The other is primarily customer service related. A huge number of businesses have found Twitter to be the perfect method of communication, resting somewhere between email and phone calls. With on-hand customer service reps, a company can have immediate response time just like a phone call, without the time delay that comes from receiving, processing and responding to emails. Many modern users also prefer digital communication over phone communication, but don’t want to take the time to look up an email and compose a message.
Now let’s take a look at how SEO is affected. Branded3 performed a study on just this subject, with some interesting results. The study is a bit limited in scope, but not in data points. They studied millions of tweets made through their petition-tweeting service, collecting the number of times a URL was tweeted and the ranking of that petition’s URL in Google search results.
They ended up using data for a little over 8,500 URLs, ranging from 1-99 tweets to 500+ tweets in three segmented groups.
What they found was that links from Twitter seemed to boost the ranking of a page in Google, but they were most effective in the sub-100 tweet range. After that point, returns began to diminish. This remained steady until the 500+ level, where the higher the number of retweets, the higher the Google rank.
Of course, this is correlation, not causation. It’s always possible that a link gets more retweets because it’s found higher up in Google. The problem with this theory is that so many people never click past page 2 on Google’s results. For URLs found in the 40s and 50s, the search ranking is unlikely to have an effect on URLs.
Retweets Vs Favorites
The two primary actions one can take on Twitter, aside from composing your own content, are to favorite or to retweet a link. These actions are drastically different.
Favorites are probably the least effective for SEO. They only notify you, as the tweet owner, when they happen. The person who favorites the tweet doesn’t additionally broadcast that favorite. Their friends and followers don’t see the starred tweet.
On the other hand, a retweet is a direct share of your content. It’s posted on the feed of the user retweeting the content, so any follower of that user will see it. This is where the proliferation of links come from, and thus the power of the retweet in social media.
There’s little tangible difference between a site-generated retweet or a manual retweet. The manual version could be considered more important, simply because it attaches the retweeter’s name to the tweet, while still giving your business credit. Users are more likely to read and care about information coming from their friends than they are information coming from a business, particularly a business they don’t necessarily trust.
As a side note, favorites are often used by spammers in an attempt to game users who have scripts that auto-follow people who favorite their content. They would try to favorite your content in order to get you to follow them, up until they then sell the account.
This is a small additional note. Essentially, Google very likely pays attention to various social metrics and uses them indirectly. A piece of content posted on four different social media sites could reasonably expect similar levels of engagement. If, for example, the content had 10,000 likes on Facebook, but nothing on Twitter or Google+, then it could be likely that the owner of that content purchased Facebook likes to enhance the reach of their content. It could then be influenced negatively due to spam techniques.
Improving Your Twitter SEO
There’s a lot you can do to make Twitter work for your business, and only some of it focused on specifically gaining retweets.
- Make sure your Twitter feed is fully branded. If you’re a large company with multiple regional districts, you might consider numerous Twitter feeds, meant to make it easier for customer service. Alternatively, you could just have a dedicated branded customer service Twitter as well.
- Make sure to use hashtags in an appropriate manner. No social gaffes, please. If you’re using social trend hashtags, make sure you have something good to contributed. If you’re using general hashtags, don’t abuse them with advertising. Use branded hashtags for those advertising messages.
- Make your Twitter feed as helpful and useful as possible. This means keeping your followers up to date on any important information, from service outages and short hours to new products or sales information.
- Using Twitter for customer service gets people to tweet you mentioning your brand name, which is beneficial in general. When they do, you can then hold a public conversation or take it to a direct message.
Finally, of course, you need to actually tweet links to your content. If you’re not sharing links to your content, how is anyone going to retweet them? You won’t gain any benefit from relying on just your users to link to your content. In fact, you should probably link to individual blog posts 2-3 times in the days following publication. More exposure at different times reaches different segments of the audience. It’s up to you, though, to figure out when the best times to make those tweets are.