Real-Time Search: The Good, The Bad, and The SEO

Real-time search has been on the horizon for a while now, but after the tragic death of Michael Jackson a few weeks ago, it seems to have reached a fever pitch. The day following Jackson’s death, Danny Dover at SEOMoz blogged that Google is falling behind in real-time search. He tracked the time that it took from when one of the first entertainment news outlets posted the news of Jackson’s cardiac arrest to when it appeared as one of Google’s auto complete suggestions: 3 hours and 17 minutes.

There’s no arguing that 3 hours and 17 minutes is unacceptable to searchers wanting up-to-the-minute results, and it’s clearly a current weakness for Google. Enter real-time search engines to fill that gap: a number of them have cropped up as of late (VentureBeat has a great list of the top 11 real-time search engine contenders). But what the heck is real-time search really all about and should SEOs be concerned?

The Good

Well, I’m going to have to point out the obvious here: real-time search let’s people know what’s happening on a given topic right now. Anyone who went to Google when the Michael Jackson news broke was out of luck. If you were keeping an eye on Twitter, you were alerted to the story much sooner (it was a trending topic just an hour after TMZ posted it). I read the news when a friend wrote it in a status update on Facebook- well ahead of Google’s 3 hours and 17 minutes.

Real-time search engines, at the most basic level, produce results on a given topic from various sources (such as Twitter, Digg, YouTube, Google Reader, etc) as they find them. This is perfect for people wanting to follow various events (Iran election, anyone?), and also works well for companies who keep an eye on what is being said about them and provides an effective way to keep in touch with their customers.

The Bad

How is it that these real-time search engines can beat Google to the punch? It lies in the fact that they are only seeking out social mentions and reporting those results, not actually crawling and indexing the web. They aren’t able determine the most relevant and authoritative matches for the search, and they definitely can’t filter out spam. And since they’re mostly wired for the social sphere, these engines are missing out on the other content on the web NOT getting a social mention. In this respect, they cannot compare to a traditional search engine like Google. Many big guns in the SEO industry believe that real-time search engines are little more than a buzz-monitoring tool.

The SEO

Is real-time search signaling the end of traditional SEO as we know it? In my opinion, absolutely not. The real-time search engines still can’t provide what the Big 3 can, as I previously mentioned: relevant and authoritative matches for search queries. Getting more reliable results takes time, as does combating web spam. Searchers are still going to use traditional search engines to meet a variety of their search needs.

My advice is to stay the course with your current SEO strategies. Use real-time search to measure popularity on timely topics, but it hasn’t yet come to the point where we should be concerned with real time search optimization. As with everything else search-related, my eyes and ears are open for what’s next on the horizon.