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A Glimpse of Google’s Wacky Algorithm

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: content. Not tactics. And a holistic approach to content at that, as evidenced by sites that earn their places as trusted resources online by providing useful, valuable content that helps the searcher find what they’re looking for. Unless he’s Bono, and we’ll even help with that.

Google has been monkeying with its search algorithm and ranking factors all along. These are theirs to monkey with. They’ve also been Panda-ing, Penguin-ing, and Hummingbird-ing. The recent Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates have changed how Google finds and serves up its answers to your your search queries to the point that content is elevated to sacred status. It’s not just the filler between banner ads that some would like it to be.

When I queried Google this morning about “Twitter news,” I found 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 reported that Obama’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were not compromised, after all. 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 was The Huffington Post’s Twitter page. No, wait. Not the profile page for its Twitter account, but the page on its site ostensibly devoted to something related to Twitter. I’m still scratching my head, really, as to how Google decides which articles to share there. Same with Perez Hilton’s site page devoted to Twitter; i.e., not his Twitter account. The New York Times’s Twitter page also showed up in these results. Ahead of Perez Hilton, thankfully. And, its page makes sense: It’s contains everything on its site about Twitter.

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, and 13 followers. Wha-huh?

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


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A Glimpse of Googles Wacky Algorithm
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Businesses pay millions of dollars to get listed on the first page. This dude is probably unaware of his “big break” this morning. What gives?

Well, it’s got something to do with an account that he was, um, interacting with. 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 No Reservations and others, and who enjoys a Twitter following of 1.5 million.

Twenty-four hours previous, Tony was sharing his opinions about indigenous seal hunts, a fairly safe political opinion to bandy about on Twitter. Who among us doesn’t want to save the fluffy baby seals with their big, beautiful eyes. Not that Tony Bourdain has ever shied from controversy.

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, and at poor old Tony, during 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, that made 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. It’s paying attention to Tweets (and retweets and interactions and follower counts and the authority of the account holder) when it determines 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 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 more to our understanding 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 substantial, after all. It’s newsworthy to foodies, Canadians, Bourdain fans, politicians, and Twitter observers, like me and you.

Now, that is a sophisticated algorithm.


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Suzanne Hoenig, Social Media Writer, BuzzFarmers