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A Glimpse of Google’s Wacky Algorithm

There’s a new king in town: content, not tactics. And a holistic approach to content at that, sites who own their place as a trusted resource online by providing useful, valuable content that helps the searcher find what they’re looking for. Unless he’s Bono and, here, we’ll help with that even. We’ve been beating the drums for content since way before that.

Google’s been monkeying with their search algorithm and ranking factors all along. These are theirs to monkey with. More to the point, they’ve been Panda-ing, Penguin-ing, and Hummingbird-ing. Which makes even less sense to most everybody and is just me being clever with the words. Between you and me, let’s just say that the recent Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates are the ways that Google finds and serves up its answers to your your search queries has changed to further elevate content as the whole point of a website. It’s not just the filler between banner ads.

I don’t digress. That was all background so I could tell you about what I found when I queried Google this morning about “Twitter news.” Google’s results started with the now-familiar ticker of up-to-the-minute news headlines. In this case, it let me know that President Obama’s Twitter and Facebook were hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army.

Clicking on one of the links, I got the full story which says that Obama’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were NOT compromised. The bad guys hacked the link shortening service that these accounts use to share links, services like owl.ly or bit.ly. That news story showed up in a few different slots on this search engine results page, not all in the news ticker at the top. Google probably knows why, but I don’t.A Glimpse of Googles Wacky Algorithm

Also listed were Huffington Post’s Twitter page. No wait. Not their profile page on their Twitter account, but the page on their site ostensibly devoted to something related to Twitter. I’m still scratching my head, really, as to how they decide which articles to share there. Same with Perez Hilton’s site’s page devoted to Twitter; i.e., not his Twitter account. New York Times’s Twitter page also showed up in these results. Ahead of Perez Hilton, thankfully. And, their page makes sense, it’s everything on their site about Twitter.

Enough lead up already!

The last result on the first Google results page was an actual tweet! From Twitter!

Surely it was about Syria or Obama or hacked accounts, right? Possibly it was about Twitter, right?

Have you clicked through already?

It was a tweet from an account with an untoward-sounding handle, shortened from NativeBallerprobs, which suggests an affiliation with an urban contemporary lifestyle; but a bio that shares the hook from a country song by Billy Currington; and 13 followers. Thirteen! Wha-huh?

How did that happen? How did a highly-valued first page Google search engine ranking get assigned to this yahoo?

A Glimpse of Googles Wacky Algorithm
20th Century Fox / Via spinoff.comicbookresources.com

Businesses pay millions of dollars to get listed on the first page. This cat probably is unaware of his “big break” this morning. What gives?

Well. It’s got something to do with the account with whom he was, er um, interacting. Reading the thread, it’s less dialogue than mild celebrity-baiting.

The celebrity in question is Tony Bourdain, the chef who hosts the Travel Channel’s show No Reservations and others, who’s written books, and who enjoys a Twitter following of 1.5 million.

Twenty-four hours previous, Tony was sharing his opinions about indigenous seal hunts, a not particularly heated topic of debate and a fairly safe political opinion to bandy about on Twitter, which, according to rumor and some research, leans to the left anyway. Not that Tony Bourdain has ever shied from controversy. Besides, who among us doesn’t want to save the fluffy baby seals with their big beautiful eyes?

So, here comes NBallerprobs with a reply to Bourdain’s tweet that is somewhere between innocuous and inane, especially if he was expecting a response. Two others chime in to this non-debate, talking at each other, at poor old Tony, over the next 12 hours.

We’ve now spent more time, perhaps, considering the topic of indigenous seal hunts then they have.

And why?

Because we’re trying to figure out how, in the whole wide world, in the great world wide web, how did THAT make the first page of Google search results for “Twitter news”?

A Glimpse of Googles Wacky Algorithm

The only answer is that Google is using tweets as social signals. They are paying attention to tweets (and retweets and interactions and follower counts and the authority of the account holder) when they determine what information to serve to you as search results.

But wait, this just in! When I was searching for a link to support my claim that Mr. Bourdain’s been known to be edgy, I found this video from SourceFed explaining in a very breathy three minutes the Bourdain-Twitter-seal-hunting controversy. Aha! It turns out that many chefs have signed a petition to ban the ancient Inuit practice of hunting seals for food. Further, these chefs are boycotting all Canadian foods as a way to bring government pressure to bear against the practice. Bourdain came out in favor of the native peoples.

This backstory adds a little more flesh to our understanding–too soon?–of the ranking formula. There is an ongoing controversy. The video was published yesterday and already has almost 70,000 views. So, the topic is pretty meaty, after all. It is newsworthy to foodies, Canadians, Bourdain fans, politicians, and Twitter specialists, like me and you.

Now we can guess that NBallerprobs is an account held, perhaps, by an Inuit or some other person of indigenous descent. The specific anonymity of the account holder makes him/her that much more identifiable as an Everyman. And, when Google served up this whole kettle of fish, so to speak, as a result for “Twitter news,” it did so under NBallerprob’s Everyman response not by directly offering Bourdain’s opinion.

Now, THAT is a sophisticated algorithm.

Is Google taking a side in the matter simply by the very act of bringing it to our attention?

Suzanne Hoenig, Social Media Writer, BuzzFarmers