Tuesday 15 September 2009

Charities - how and why to SEO Twitter

Here's a brief post from search specialist Addam Hassan that outlines the importance of, and some of the ways to improve, the SEO (search engine optimisation) of your Twitter account.

Discussing the growth in Twitter, Addam points to recent UK data from Nielsen NetRankings, showing that in July 2009 28% of referring traffic to Twitter came from search.

The significance of this is put into context by a comment on the post: "recent Google behaviour also suggests that the algorithm is now ranking Twitter much higher than previously and so brands' Twitter accounts should be considered as another Web channel - which require the same amount of optimisation and ‘feeding’ in terms of driving traffic".

Nonprofit search terms
So how does the charity sector fare in a simple test?

The following table shows the position on the search engine results page (SERP) when the search terms were entered into Google; a simplistic test but an interesting reflection of the current prominence of Twitter. I only looked at the first ten pages of search results, so a blank result shows that no reference to Twitter appeared in the first ten pages.

If you know of any other studies like this, let me know by adding a comment!

Four steps to SEO your Twitter
Clearly, 140 characters doesn't leave a great deal of scope for complex SEO. However, there are four areas to pay attention to, and doing so should noticeably boost your results.

  1. Twitter full name and Twitter user name. The full name (on my account that is 'Matt Parkes') should be clear - as close to you or your brand name as possible. The user name (on my account that is 'parkeslife') should ideally match it as closely as possible. For example, Save the Children's full name is clear but their user name is 'stcuk', which is good for tweeting - it leaves 134 characters out of 140 left in tweets where it is mentioned - but is not as clear and would interfere with search ranking. In contrast, Dogs Trust's account works very well.
  2. Bio. Easy to overlook or trivialise, this little paragraph will be used by search engines in the same way as a meta description, affecting search results and also appearing in the search engine results page (SERP) description. The SERP description is important because it will be read by people as they glance through search results. From this perspective the bio used by Barnardo's - 'We Believe in Children - Do You?' - is somewhat ambiguous; what would someone see if they click through to that Twitter account? What keywords do you need to include in your bio?
  3. Tweet content. Very simply, you need to be conscious of how frequently you use keywords - the more frequently they are used the more relevant that search engines will think your Twitter stream is. Feature keywords in the first few words of each tweet wherever possible - or at least regularly. This will ensure that search engines see individual tweets as more relevant than if the words appear later in the text. The example below from Adopt a Word's tweets illustrates this point, where a Google search on 'adopt a word' displayed this tweet (albeit a few search pages down).
  4. Get linked to and mentioned. In a similar way to traditional SEO, you should make every effort to get mentioned on Twitter. RTs - retweets - work in a similar way to 'fwd' in email, except they embed a link to your Twitter account by featuring your user name preceded by the '@' symbol, e.g. '@parkeslife'. Search engines rank sites - and by extension Twitter accounts and tweets - based on many factors, one of which is the number of links back to them. This is why charities in particular need to see Twitter as a space where frequent interaction occurs - not as a platform from which to emit a monologue.

Do you have anything to add? I am in no way a search expert, so again, please add a comment.

Why bother?
A caveat to this post would be that Twitter's prominence in search results is only beginning to change now. Many of the searches above - and several others I tried - didn't yield any reference to Twitter, let alone individual tweets. It would therefore be easy to dismiss this issue but I think that to do so would be short sighted.

Tweeting is unlikely to be your primary communication channel with supporters, and simply ensuring that your website indexes highly is enough, surely? Not really.

You may not regard Twitter as a priority but (increasingly) your competitors might, especially unforeseen competitors such as charity:water, and their tweets could index very highly. In natural search results this will begin to erode the traffic that would otherwise have clicked straight through to you.

As you will understand if you have read any of Bluefrog's blogs, engagement is the most powerful force in fundraising, and it is the watchword of Twitter. In contrast, chances are that your website is a relatively static and flat environment - somewhere donors or campaigners visit only to download information or possibly to donate.

Twitter is - or at least has the potential to be - an interactive space where corporate gloss can be replaced by a human stream of consciousness. It has the potential to engage your supporters in an interactive relationship, giving you access to direct and immediate feedback.

Indeed, before this post ends, I should say that I find it completely baffling that so many charities - especially the big names (e.g. UNICEF UK) - do not follow all the tweeps who follow them. The reasons may not be as negative as those outlined by Seth Godin in this post, where he says the 'non' in nonprofit is significant because it reflects a general attitude to doing new things, but my guess is that "it'd be too time consuming to follow them all" has been said more than once.


Howard Lake said...

A good list of recommendations.

The only ideas I'd add would be:

1. occasionally to ensure that the full text of URL links to your charity's site appeared in full, rather than a short URL.

2. try seeing if a customised version of your short URL service using your charity's name (or Twitter username) has any effect on SEO e.g. tinyurl.com/dogstrust3.

seochina said...

Great SEO tips, thanks for this post.

Matt Parkes said...

Thanks Howard, Suman and seochina!

And thanks to John Carnell (http://twitter.com/JohnCarnell) for these comments on Twitter:

> Interesting article - thx for mentioning @bullyingUK

> links in are always going to be the big factor with google search, links in twitter useful links from outside twitter...

> much more useful for google to understand which twitter page is more relevant to X subject

> Not even sure G can index twitter further than profile page right now, isnt Twitter No_follow on all links these days?

> Yes Twitter is no_follow all links http://bit.ly/28YJ1L so best way is inbound links to twitter page ignore linking it in tweets

Hmm! Thanks for that input John. Definitely something to watch in the coming months.

What this does mean is that linking TO your Twitter is even more important.

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