SEO · Twitter

Twitter SEO – The Slow Death of Twitter Hash Tags

Hash tags are a fad.

Hash tags were cool for about 10 minutes. But then they started to remind us of IRC, Meta Data, and reading a book written in another language.

When Twitter hit the big time, just a couple months before the landmark “@oprah” show, all of the trending topics on Twitter were hash tags. It was new, it was cool, it was hip to know what a hash tag was. And if you used them properly, it meant you were twitterific at twittering.

clip image002 0023 Twitter SEO   The Slow Death of Twitter Hash Tags


Hash tags do serve a useful purpose. For example, a few months back there was an event called IM Spring Break being held not too far from where I live. I could not attend this event, but because of hash tags, I was able to follow the twitter-stream by searching #imbroadcast. I actually enjoyed watching the constant flow of tweets all relating to this event. The tweets were in real-time updating me on what was happening as if I was there.

I remember a specific period of about 5 minutes when a speaker took the podium. As he began his keynote presentation, a stream of first impression thoughts from individuals at this event flooded Twitter. It was as if I was seeing the presenter from 15 different people at the same time. It gives first impression a whole new meaning.

You cannot ignore hash tags, yet.

Hash tags are still used frequently, and more importantly, they are searched frequently. Therefore even if you believe them to be confusing, unnatural, ugly, or annoying, if you want to optimize your search engine efforts, you have to own them.

What are the main problems with hash tags?

  • #fb What in the world does that tag mean? Exactly. Often times when I read a hash tag, I try to pull some sort of meaning from the context. Most of the time I come up with nothing.
  • If you don’t use capital letters when you use more than one word, it is like watching a foreign movie without subtitles (Matchstick Men).
  • Highly abusive. Spammers use a trending hash tag to promote something completely irrelevant.
  • The hash “#” or pound sign, can create a conflict for developers.
  • THEY ARE UNNATURAL.

What are hash tags good for?

  • Hash tags have the ability to create a group of engaged Twitterers.
  • With a hash, it allows a less than stellar search feature to provide slightly more accurate results.
  • When used properly, they help a reader to better understand the meaning or purpose of a Tweet.

Over the past few months, we have seen the trending topics slowly migrating towards being natural keywords, as opposed to hash tag keywords. This is due to two things, people are using natural keywords at a much higher frequency, and because hash tags are being used less. I think you can call that natural selection.

How do you optimize tweets with hash tags?

Always keep in mind what purpose the hash tag is serving. Generally hash tags will only provide value if it is, or has the opportunity to be a trending topic.

I would define a trending topic as something that people will naturally want to talk about, but more importantly, it has to be something that people will want to read about, in real-time. Breaking news stories will always work well for this, because it has every component needed to be a trending topic. Another great example is a question that everyone has the desire to answer. There has to be a motivating factor behind your hash tag that will make the reader wish to re-tweet or respond.

e.g.

  1. Your best drunk text message… #DrunkText
  2. Breaking up in less than three words… #3BreakupWords
  3. I wish I was a… #WishfulThinking
  4. What is your favorite drink? #FavDrink

As you can see, most of those have a motivating factor and have the potential to become a trending topic because they evoke a sense of urgency in the response. It is a challenge to the reader. It is a private invitation to them specifically.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so a trending topic is often related to that.

I often see hash tags such as “#seo”, “#green”, “#eco-friendly”, and “#twitterbook”. What people don’t realize is that these are a waste of space unless timed perfectly.

Hash tags exist as one of two things, time-sensitive and time-insensitive.

Let me explain. In the current state of Twitter, there are certain hash tag keywords that will not drive any traffic at all. This is in part due to the hash tag is generally accessed by someone performing research, instead of looking for something in real-time. There is a huge difference between information that is not time-sensitive and information that is. Which is why newspapers are going under. Who wants yesterdays news today when yesterdays news was accessible yesterday? This of course is only applicable to time-sensitive information.

The idea of researching the tweets that exist in Twitter, where real-time is less important, is in its infancy. Expect this to change as websites index and organize these tweets into accurate SERPS.

I do not think anyone will disagree that indexing tweets and providing SERPS based on that is already a huge opportunity.

In conclusion, even though I think twitter hash tags are a dying art, they are not dead yet. If you are interested in Twitter SEO, you cannot ignore hash tags.

Stay tuned! And as always, I invite you to share your thoughts with comments below.

Joshua Odmark is a technology consultant at Simply Ideas LLC and also blogs for Performance Marketing Blog. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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36 thoughts on “Twitter SEO – The Slow Death of Twitter Hash Tags

  1. This is a worthwhile read on hashtags but I completely disagree. Doing a Twitter search for a hashtag gives the most recent tweets first that have the hashtag. I find such a listing has a high proportion of useful information. There can be spam but at least it’s not more than 140 characters and spaces of the junk.

  2. #fb tells the Selective Twitter Status app on Facebook to use that tweet to update your FB status. I think it’s a smart use of the hashtag, but agreed it looks strange if you don’t know what it’s for.

  3. I hadn’t noticed until I read this article, but I have both an #iran and an Iran (search term) column running side by side in Tweetdeck. The non-hashtag version is accumulating tweets at approximately 8 times the rate of #iran. And the #iran group does include spammers promoting sex, marketing schemes etc.

  4. I still use hash tags all the time. They’re especially useful at conferences to follow the chatter about the seesions you’re missing while you’re in another session.

    You can also follow the sessions at a conference you can’t attend using this method. It’s not the same as being there but I’ve gotten a lot of good and useful info this way.

  5. Barry, you are exactly correct. But, remember, I defined hash tags as one of two things. You referenced a time-sensitive hash tag.

    Don’t forget about the time-insensitive hash tag.

  6. Otis, I started to notice the same thing. But if hash tags didn’t exist, you can rest assured that spam would still occur because of the trending topics area.

    So the question that inevitably comes up is, how is Twitter going to stop the spam?

    A hash tag would make it easier for them to do so. As soon as a tweet contained a hash tag and a link, they could compare the relevancy of the hash tag to the link.

    Same goes for natural keywords, but this is a much more difficult process (technically speaking).

  7. In Tweetdeck, hashtags are clickable, linking directly to search, so if I see #seo, with one click I get the latest tweets about seo.

    That said…I’m absolutely horrible about using them–maybe once or twice a week. They ARE unnatural, and with a background in editing, I find myself stumbling over them in reading tweets.

  8. Joshua, I say this article is much better than your last one and I am right on board with you here except for one thing.

    This has nothing to do with SEO. You reinforce this with your own article by not mentioning SEO or even Search Engines. I take that back, you do mention search engine once, but I hope in that context you are speaking of Twitter’s search engine.

    I think this is a very good read and some great info for Twitter users, but please stop confusing people and calling this SEO. Its not.

  9. Twitter’s search is not the only place tweets exist.

    Just ask anyone who owns a large website.

    With the explosion of Twitter, also came the explosion of referring URL’s that usually have some sort of recognizable Twitter application name.

    For example, TweetMeMe.

    Furthermore, you cannot see the traffic that is hitting your Twitter account for search engines worldwide.

    I bet if I worked at Twitter’s reporting department I would have an absolute blast seeing the ripple effect of tweets.

  10. Ahhh..

    I understand completely now, I totally got it wrong. You talking about SEO *for* Twitter. Now even your last article makes sense.

    Just kidding, please don’t take offense. I’m not trying to get you riled up again. People who know me know my humor a bit rough sometimes.

    You are still talking about SMM or SMO here. Probably more on the SMO side IMO. These are great tactics to get your content seeded or distributed via social media, but are not going to help with pure SEO for *your* site. In a pinch I would say this could be a help to your link building efforts but not directly only through association to the tweets.

    Look, I know it does not seem like it after the past couple of days, but I don’t have anything against you. Hell, we don’t live far from each other, I’ll buy you a beer or two and we can #hash this out in person.

    My issue is that SEO information online is a very cloudy space and linking your recent articles to SEO is just making it even cloudier. You are talking about SMO (Social Media Optimization) not SEO (Search Engine Optimization) that’s all.

  11. Agree to disagree.

    I do understand that you are saying the articles cover SMO.

    This topic will become much more clear in the coming months when partnerships and search algorithms become canon fodder. Namely, however Google and Twitter decide to work together.

  12. This was an interesting post. Some things are left open to interpretation, however, for the most part anyone with a basic understanding for hash tags can follow what you are saying here. It also gives something to think about when creating hash tags.

  13. I like hashtags, but I’ve seen a lot of ones recently that seem pointless, such as #worsthashtaginthehistoryoftheworldslashuniverseever. Now do you really think someone is going to know to search for that?

  14. Great post Joshua. Awesome that it really sparked conversation amongst SEO/SMO professionals. It’s also interesting to hear there is something called Social Media Optimization. I’m curious to know… what inspired you to write this blog post? Feel free to message me. We can geek out together!! Also… is there a way we could respond to the comments of some of the other people who responded to this…?

  15. Thanks Moriya!

    I was inspired by some of the people I met at conferences in and around Miami. I was also inspired all the way back when Google’s IPO came out, and people couldn’t believe their initial IPO was $75. And when it hit $225, I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

    Twitter represents the next advancement in technology. Maybe not Twitter, but the idea of real-time data anyways.

    As for responding, I generally just address their screen name. I don’t think you can “reply” to a comment.

    Do you blog about SEO/SMO/SMM?

  16. Yes, the good old days when Hash was something to look forward to on the weekends. Now we have a new drug that is electronic and clips onto our hip like a portable dialysis machine.

    These are great tools we’re seeing. Twitter reminds me of the streaming ticker program we would install on our Windows 95 and watch real-time news alerts.

    Now we have the ability to see it with twits.

    Ain’t it great! What’s next, goggles with a holographic stream that gives us a constant update with subliminal messages telling us to drink Coca Cola or purchase something we didn’t know we needed?

    Soon all the thinking will be gone and we’ll be floating around doing nothing but consuming.

  17. Very nice post Joshua! The examples you have given helps even a beginner on Twitter like me to understand the concept of Hash tags. Though some people are misusing # tags, recently like HabitatUK (though they have apologized for the same now), but still they help a lot to optimize tweets.

    Thanks again for such good informative post… :)

  18. The best purpose using a hash tag on search query on twitter is that you can easily find person that have a professional skill on her/his niche. Yes, you’re right about spam thing but we can ignore it easily since the conversation is appears on the box. Is it relevant or not, we decide it later.

  19. MLDina sez:

    “I like hashtags, but I’ve seen a lot of ones recently that seem pointless, such as #worsthashtaginthehistoryoftheworldslashuniverseever. Now do you really think someone is going to know to search for that?”

    You really think that someone constructed that with the intention of it being searchable?

    That is, in fact, a perfect example of the repurposing of “utilitarian” language as wordplay.

    Human communication at its best is fun — useful, sure — but mostly fun. Why else would we do it so much?

  20. fascinating post, and an equally interesting debate which followed! I’m slowly getting to grips with SMM/SMO at the moment to help spread the word of my own site but it’s not easy’ just got my head round SEO… Hopefully this will be a useful resource in the future.

  21. I find your title to be linkbait, but with that said, the post has good info. Howeverr, you missed one major use of hashtags on twitter to drive traffic, and that is those that designate and connect people using Twitter.com for a live, realtime chat on a specific subject.

    I co-host on called #SmallBizChat Wed nights 8-9 ET see (@smallbizchat for info), @MackCollier runs #blogchat Sun nite 8pm CST. These chats give people a forum to share information, showcase expertise and expand their following and gain clients even. It can be very effective way, used right, to drive traffic to your twitter page, and perhas to your blog as well.
    Links to two posts listing chats:
    http://www.twitip.com/tweeting-with-your-twitter-community-how-to-participate-in-a-twitter-chat/

    http://www.meryl.net/2009/05/list-of-twitter-chats/

  22. As a co-operator of a website dedicated to hashtags, I respectfully disagree with your statement that hashtags are dying. I agree they are corroding due to misuse/abuse – but they’re still very useful.

    On the matter of time sensitivity – people tend to favor real-time over, well, whatever the alternative is. It’s true – who wants to read yesterday’s news? But does that make it any less newsworthy? Is it any less valuable?

    One of the features we provide is a transcript of all tweets using a specific hashtag for a given timeframe. If you miss out on #smallbizchat or #blogchat (or many others), just come to our site and we’ll tell you what people were saying about it. We also attempt to solve the problem of tags not having definitions by letting the community submit both short and terse definitions so others can quickly figure out what the tag is used for.

    What I do agree with you on is that using a hashtag can be a little cumbersome. There’s no convention on where to use it, how many to use, or when to use one. It’s purely preference. I will say with complete confidence that people will continue to learn the hashtag system and benefit from it.

  23. Yes Mark, yesterday’s news is less newsworthy.

    And about hash tags, you can find a use for anything if one was so inclined.

    Heck, just the other day I used my Sega Genesis console as a paper weight.

  24. Great article. Thanks for the info, and I agree, there is a time and place for hash tags, otherwise a waste… just about like anything.