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.
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.
- Your best drunk text message… #DrunkText
- Breaking up in less than three words… #3BreakupWords
- I wish I was a… #WishfulThinking
- 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.