Eric Enge and the Stone Temple Consulting team embarked on a quest to find out: How does Google index tweets?
Their findings, which were released today, helped find out more information about indexing process could help figure out how much influence Twitter has on the ranking process.
The Intial Data Collection Process
First, the team attempted to find out how many tweets Google has in its index by running a site:Twitter.com search:
Enge stats that the 6.2 billion pages listed on this search is about two weeks’ worth, if we go with the 500 million tweets per day sent on average, according to Twitter’s IPO filing. Breaking this down further with a custom range site search for each month from January 2012 to June 2014, the average monthly number of tweets indexed is about 1,868,600.
However, Enge reminds us, the site search isn’t 100% reliable:
“First, the disclaimer. The site: query is known to be rather imprecise. However, even allowing for a large degree of error, this data suggests that the indexing rate of tweets is actually quite low. This already makes a pretty strong statement of the value of the information in the average tweet to Google (i.e. it’s fairly close to zero value).
Additionally, Enge states that Dan Zarrella’s analysis of 5 million tweets shows that retweets make up about 1.4 percent of the total number of tweets, a number they used when analyzing the data in their study.
Indexing of Tweets
With these monthly averages, Enge then pulled index data for 963 different Twitter accounts of all sizes, from 10,000 to over 5 million followers, using Twitter and Google APIs. The biggest majority used in the study was accounts from 10,000 to 100,000 followers.
Looking at aggregate index data, the study found that 3.12% of tweets are indexed within the first seven days after a tweet is sent, no matter the number of followers. For indexation of tweets older than 7 days, the percentage was only slightly higher: 3.62%.
It seems that peak indexing occurs at four weeks after the tweet is sent. According to Enge, “Total indexation in our data peaked at about week four. Given the depth of our data, I’d conclude that indexation of tweets increases over time and peaks between two and four weeks, and then it starts to decline after that.”
Breakout of Google Indexation Levels by Twitter Follower Count
Next, the team looked at the data within the follower count groups:
According to their data, Twitter users with over 5 million followers had their tweets indexed over 50% of the time. However, as follower count drops, so does the chance that a larger percentage of your tweets are going to get indexed.
“As you can see, the indexation level of tweets for people with 1 million or more followers is actually quite high. As soon as you drop below 1 million followers though, it plummets…for accounts under 10,000 followers, the indexation rate is only 0.22 percent, a level that is pretty consistent with the data we found with our site: queries.”
Why Do Some Tweets Get Indexed, But Not Others?
The team compared the five Twitter profiles that had the most followers and the five profiles that had the most inbound links to see if a high follower count impacted a profile’s indexing rate (instead of the inbound links being a factor). While only about 90 tweets were examined for this part of the study, Enge and his team found that:
For the five profiles with the highest follower counts, we found that 80 percent were indexed, and for the five profiles with the strongest link profiles, we found that only 20 percent were indexed.
The team also analyzed if different components of tweets made them more likely to get indexed: topic, photos, links, etc. While the data they found was interesting, one fact that is definitely worth noting is that between both groups of five that were analyzed, 100% of the news oriented tweets that were pulled for this small sample were indexed.
TLDR; How Does Google Index Tweets?
The Stone Temple Consulting team found that:
- Google doesn’t index many tweets, compared to other content
- Twitter accounts with more than 1 million followers have a slight index bias
- Even with a high authority account of 1M+ followers, indexing is not fast
- Tweets are nofollow links, so SEOs probably shouldn’t use Twitter for inbound link purposes, as Google is hesitant to give credit to user generated content (because it can’t be monitored regularly)
According to Enge, we shouldn’t rely on Twitter as a reliable ranking signal for Google: “Even for accounts with more than 5 million followers, only six percent of tweets are indexed within the first 24 hours, and this only climbs to 15 percent by the end of 48 hours.”
Be sure to check out the full study on Stone Temple Consulting’s website.
All images provided by Eric Enge. Featured image made by author.