Three Designs for Presenting Tweets in Search Results

In a recent post, I described some ways in which tweets should be ranked in search results. A good follow-on question is

How should tweets be presented in search results?

It’s an interesting question – how exactly would you want to see tweets in your Google and Bing search results? And it’s an important question, as searches are critical bases for discovering information and huge drivers of traffic.

[tweetmeme source=”bhc3″]

Tweets are different from web pages. They are more ephemeral, but also much more current. They’re short nature means we can consume them much more quickly than fuller web pages. In many ways, their brevity reduces their “burden of interestingness”. Read, move on. Read, move on. Read, move on.

Tweets are small nuggets of insight, and pointers to good content. Web pages are the foundational information components. The value of the two digital forms is different. Thus, it makes sense to consider options for presenting these different types of information to people.

Three different designs for presenting tweets in Google and Bing search results come to mind:

  • Separate tweets-only search page
  • Tweets displayed in a box on the same page with web pages
  • Tweets integrated into the overall search results

Let’s take a look at the options. For added context, I’ve included appropriate musical selections.

At the bottom of this post, I’ve set up a poll asking which approach you’d prefer.

Tweets-only search results

Musical theme: Gotta keep ’em separated.

This is the Bing way. A separate URL for tweets. It’s an acknowledgment that tweets really are different from web pages. The graphic below conceptualizes this approach, with a search on ‘Madrid’:

The graphic above puts tweets searches more in line with overall searches. Right now Bing has no link to tweet searches on its home page. You just have to know the URL exists. Of course, the Microsoft Bing team is working on incorporating the firehose into its search experience, so that may change.


  • Dedicated page allows for much more creativity with presenting tweets, as Bing has shown
  • Visible link/tab keeps tweet searches more in-the-flow of searchers’ actions
  • Users could easily toggle between the tabs for different types of information
  • Minimizes risk of disruption to current “golden egg” of web searches


  • Forces an extra step to see potentially relevant information – click the tweets tab
  • Somewhat diminishes the awareness of tweets’ real-time, up-to-date nature by using same tab structure applied to more static web pages

Tweets in same-page box

Musical theme: Man in the box.

The presentation of real-time tweets on the same page is something Google is experimenting with currently. The philosophy here is that you’re looking for multiple types of information in a search. Google already displays web page links, images, YouTube videos, maps, PDFs and other types of content. Tweets are just another type of content.

Something I’d like to see is a separate box of the tweets on the search results page, as shown below:

This design effectively distinguishes tweets from other types of content, while preserving the “all information on one page” philosophy. This is important for Google and Bing advertising, making the search results page even more engaging.

Open question: what’s better for ad click volumes? Multiple pages of different content (e.g. separate tabs described previously)? Or a single page with more engaging content?

Aside from the information aspect of tweets, there is also a people aspect. Tweets are as much about the person as they are the content. The separate presentation of tweets distinguishes them from web pages, PDFs, videos and the like.


  • Relevant, up-to-date content improves value of searches
  • In-the-flow of existing search behavior
  • Real-time nature is engaging
  • Find people as well as content


  • Smaller space constrains presentation options
  • Potential for a too-crowded visual presentation

Because of the volume of searches run through Google and Bing, there will be a premium on ensuring the quality of the tweets presented. This is important regardless, but even more so here with the number of times people will see the tweets. See How Should Tweets Be Ranked in Search Engine Results? for thoughts on how to do this.

Tweets integrated with overall search results

Musical theme: Happy Together

There is a third design option. Why not put the tweets right in the mix of overall search results? Treat them less as exotic new forms of content, and more as just another type for searchers to click on. The graphic below conceptualizes this:

A tweet is just another URL that can point searchers to relevant content. The challenge is that Google and Bing need to alter their ranking algorithms to allow tweets to be served up high in search results. Something like a pagerank for the twitter account itself. If it has relevant content and a high “Twitter pagerank”, it gets served up higher in the search results.


  • Searchers get tweets in a highly familiar way
  • Minimizes risk of disruption to current “golden egg” of web searches


  • Undermines the fresh, up-to-date nature of tweets
  • Will limit presentation of relevant tweets due to inadequate “Twitter pagerank”
  • Reduces the people aspect of the tweets
  • Lack of real-time flow diminishes engagement of the results page

Of course, tweets are served up in search results today. But that generally happens with very specific multi-word searches that match the tweet, or including the word “twitter” in the search. The design above brings tweets more fully into the pantheon of content, displaying them highly in search results for basic keywords.

I imagine smart folks can come up with other designs for displaying tweets. Leave a comment on these three or any other designs you think might be interesting.

Also, take a second and vote in the poll below. I’m curious what people think about the different possibilities for displaying tweets.



Blogging Those Tweets? Get Rid of the Nofollows

A regular habit I have is to blog My Ten Favorite Tweets for each week. These are my own tweets, and they mostly contain links to interesting things during the past seven days. One thing I’ve always liked is that I can give “link credit” to the sites that I include in these weekly posts. This blog has a pretty respectable Google pagerank, so it can help other sites posting good content.

But alas, I have come to learn something. Twitter inserts the “nofollow” attribute in any links included in tweets. What is a “nofollow”? From Wikipedia:

An HTML attribute value used to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index.

When you paste a tweet from Twitter to your blog, the links include the “nofollow” attribute inserted by Twitter.  See below:

On FriendFeed, I asked some SEO-knowledgeable folks about this “nofollow” attribute I’ve been pasting in to my blog posts. AJ Kohn and Jimminy confirmed that because that “nofollow” is in there, the search engines aren’t giving link credit.

So the great content doesn’t get the credit in search engines it deserves. Now I need to go back and remove those pesky “nofollow” attributes.

Keep this mind if you paste tweets into your blog posts.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 111309

From the home office in my watery swimming pool on the moon…

#1: RT @innovate: The 50 Best Inventions of 2009 #innovation I like #40 Edible Race Car. #9 Tweeting by thinking?

#2: RT @lindegaard: Tough Questions and Great Answers: General Mills Steps Up to the Open Innovation Plate:

#3: Microsoft Bing team gets kudos for #innovation. First tweet search, now Wolfram|Alpha integration

#4: Is Twitter Trying to Lure You Back to by @robdiana > Maybe a way to drive page views for ads?

#5: Regarding new Twitter retweet function, @stoweboyd has some good points about it Inability to add text is a miss

#6: October was a slow traffic month for the social networks, in a detailed look by @louisgray Facebook still growing

#7: UK Guardian discusses how to deal when your boss is on Twitter (& links to my #cisco fatty blog post f/ March)

#8: Check out: Driving Adoption is anti-2.0 #e2conf > Leave it to @rotkapchen!

#9: Do we create the world just by looking at it? “Human body is a just barely adequate measuring device” #quantumphysics

#10: Commentator on NPR this AM criticizes Californians for social liberal/fiscal conservative & not wanting taxes. Western libertarian strain!

How Should Tweets Be Ranked in Search Engine Results?

Tweet searchAnyone remember when Loic LeMeur had the temerity to suggest Twitter rank its search results by the number of followers people have? His post, with 109 comments and reaction from Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble and many others, clearly struck a nerve.

Fast forward to the past couple weeks. Both Microsoft Bing and Google announced deals to provide tweets in search results. Let me say that again: Google and Bing will be providing tweet search results!

Bing’s version is the first out the gate. In light of the earlier brouhaha, this may come across as insensitive…but I have to ask:

How should tweets be ranked in Bing and Google search results?

I hope your answer isn’t, “I wouldn’t.” Because that’s contrary to what made Google such a global powerhouse used by billions every year. And why Microsoft is working hard to increase Bing’s market share. Google and Bing built their business by presenting search results based on the authority of websites. This system of authority (e.g. PageRank) makes the results relevant to users.

So what about running searches for tweets? Should their presentation be utterly devoid of any authority ranking? Does it make sense to just show the latest tweet containing a given term? After all, that would simply be imitating what Summize (aka Twitter Search) does.

First, a good question to ask is, why do people want to search tweets? How does this differ from web search?

Why Are You Searching Tweets?

To my mind, there are three use cases where people will search for tweets rather than search for websites:

  1. Find people
  2. Find latest on a subject that won’t show up in search engines yet (lack of indexing, lack of authority)
  3. Jump into conversations on something

Find people: You’re interested in a topic, and want to find others who can either improve your knowledge on it or with whom you want to connect. This is using Twitter as people search. The model for all of here is, you are what you tweet. It’s what makes you findable to others.

In this case, my sense is that people will have an desire to find those who would have the most authority on a given topic.

Find latest on a subject: The appearance of an article or blog post in the search engines can take a while. That contributes to the challenge of finding the latest. But the more pressing issue is the display of new articles in the search results. A good article or post on a subject, such as Enterprise 2.0, is likely not going to be ranked very high in the Google or Bing search results. No one links to the article yet, and it competes against a bunch of other incumbent articles in the search indexes.

If something shows up on the third page of Google’s search results, does it really exist?

This issue is even more pernicious for current events. The San Francisco Bay Bridge has been closed for several days now. It seems every estimate about when it will reopen has been wrong, meaning we all have to scramble to figure out our commute for the next day. To get the latest on the Bay Bridge, I searched Google, including the aggregate news results. Everything was too old when I did that, reflecting previous pronouncements. I needed what people knew right now. I went to Twitter, and found tweets that told me the latest status. Very helpful.

To find the latest on topics, I think there is a role for leveraging some sort of authority. People who have established credibility can be good first filters on what’s relevant and useful. For Enterprise 2.0, what is Dion Hinchliffe tweeting? For the Bay Bridge, I most trusted the KTVU tweet I saw.

Jump into conversations: This is Twitter as water cooler. You know something is going on. But how do you connect with people? Searches are good for this. Hash tags for conferences or big stories. Take the recent fraudulent #balloonboy story. It definitely captivated everyone. But even now, you’ll see tweets like this:

Watch top quality streaming Movie -> Up here Make $ From Home #mileycomeback #balloonboy

What is that? That’s someone taking a popular hash tag and polluting the search stream with spam. Again, a case where adding some authority to the tweet search rankings will help.

Tweet Authority Criteria

Keep in mind that “authority” is used in the context of Google and Bing searches. Of course web searches miss many authorities on subjects, but they work pretty well for giving relevant information.

I categorize the bases of authority in three buckets:

  1. Relevancy of tweet stream to a subject
  2. Crowdsourced signals of authority
  3. Effectiveness in providing relevant content

As a point of reference, Bing’s initial measure of relevance was reported to be the number of followers a person has. Let’s look at the three categories of authority.

Relevancy of Tweet Stream to a Subject

The first basis for authority should be…does someone tend to post about a given topic? Frequency of posts are a good marker that a person has something of interest to share. If someone is going to be deemed an authority on a subject, I’d expect a fair number of tweets related to it.

One twist that would make this better. A semantic basis for linking terms. For example, if some one searches on Foo Fighters, consider people whose tweet streams include posts about “music” frequently as having higher authority.

Crowdsourced Signals of Authority

What does the crowd think of a given person or tweet? Let’s start with a single tweet. If someone posts something on a given topic, and it gets retweeted a lot, that should count hugely in terms of its authority for a given topic.

OK, now for the general stats. How many followers does someone have? Yes, it’s getting gamed. So the presence of a high number of followers isn’t an automatic definition for authority. But it does have relevance in constructing authority.

The benefit of computing this for users is that the authority of those who follow a person can be an input into his or her own authority.

Next… Twitter Lists. Number of followers is not the end of the story. Lists have two characteristics that can be used to compute authority. First is the number of Lists one is on. Tim O’Reilly is on over 2,500 Lists. No surprise – he really made ‘web 2.0’ ubiquitous in our culture.

But an even better indicator of authority is embedded in Lists. How does the crowd characterize a person? Those Lists are valuable for granting higher authority for a given topic.

Effectiveness in Providing Relevant Content

When someone tweets, how do people react? Robert Scoble has a good take from his blog post:

  1. Number of retweets of that tweet
  2. Number of favorites of that tweet
  3. Number of inbound links to that tweet
  4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search

I particularly like that #4 item – number of clicks. Once these tweets are in the Google and Bing search results, the clicks can be measured. These are powerful bases for measuring someone’s authority.

I’d add a measure for how often a shared link is clicked; say’s click information. While the actual number of clicks tracked by is wrong, let’s assume it’s wrong in a similar fashion for everyone. So the clicks counts can give a measure of relative effectiveness in providing content.

What Do You Think?

That’s my somewhat exhaustive description of inputs for ranking tweets in Google and Bing search results. There’s more that would be needed. I can think of incorporating some element of time decay in how tweets are presented as well. But this post is long enough.

What do you think? How would you rank tweets in the big search engines?

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 070309

From the home office in Wasilla, Alaska…

#1: This tweet about some guy that didn’t get picked for some winery’s social media job is getting a lot of Digg interest:

#2: “#1 factor preventing full adoption of social media is the lack of executive trust in employees” by @CarolineDangson

#3: New Spigit blog post: Is Enterprise 2.0 Just for Knowledge Workers? #e20

#4: Reading: Are You Encouraging Innovation? by EMC’s @LenDevanna #innovation

#5: “Generating great ideas to the wrong challenge is worse than mediocre ideas for the right challenge”. Arthur VanGundy #innovation

#6: Understand the job your product was hired to do, says Clay Christensen. Good example by OfficeMax: #innovation

#7: Nice post about harnessing community brainpower to solve problems, and Spigit by Sun Micro’s @drapeau

#8: Bing is starting to serve up the latest tweets for people when you search their name + “twitter”. Nicely done.

#9: RT @gialyons Famous speeches delivered via Twitter:

#10: Funny discussion by @peterkim and @markstevens20 about the need to give your kids unique names in a social media world