A beginners guide to: real time search (part 1)

In my recent quest to introduce you to the latest developments shaping how search engines display their results I have already talked about personalised search and social search. This time, I’m turning my attention to perhaps the most exciting (and potentially game-changing) development; real-time search.

What is real time search?

First off, ‘real time’ refers to something that occurs immediately. In the online world, the most obvious example of where content is published in real-time is Twitter. Compare how long it takes to write and publish a tweet compared to say, a blog post. With the latter, it takes minutes, hours or possibly days to research, write and publish an article to a blog. With Twitter on the other hand, content is written, published and visible within seconds.

The benefits of real-time information from sources, such as Twitter, have not been lost on the major search engines. In recent months, both Google and Bing announced agreements with Twitter to include tweets (real-time data) in their search results.

This means that for certain searches carried out on Google or Bing, users will be presented with search results that contain information published just minutes, or even seconds ago. This is very different to how search engines traditionally display their results where there is a reliance on spidering content, storing it in a database and then presenting it back to searchers. This process takes time meaning information can be out of date quickly.

How are results featured?

There is a difference between the two search engines and their integration of real time results into their respective search engine results pages (SERP’s). If a user wants to view Bing’s real time results they go to www.bing.com/twitter. However, Google is different in that real time information is incorporated right into its normal search results, and often at the top of the page.

It is important to note that you won’t see real time results on Google for every search you carry out. Real time search is only triggered if Google believes information in real-time will be seen as valuable to searchers. A great example is the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Searchers want the latest information on what is happening. They cannot wait for Google to spider content in the traditional fashion (although Google is pretty quick at doing so these days). Instead, searchers want the very latest news as it happens.

Check out the screenshot below for an example:

As you can see, Google considers the volcanic eruptions to be a “hot topic” (I imagine all those people stuck in foreign climes unable to get home would agree!) due to the mass spike in information being published online. Therefore, in the “Latest results for volcano news” section you can see a scroll of real-time information, from sources such as the Guardian and most notably Twitter.

Why has real time search been introduced?

In theory, real time search means that both Bing and Google can provide their users with the most up-to-date information around a search query, therefore increasing the relevance and usefulness of their search results.

It means that when searching for information on key events, such as the Icelandic volcano, users can see what happened minutes or even seconds ago. And this information is present right where searchers want it to be; incorporated into the search experience.

This is obviously fantastic for accessing news as it happens but what about the impact on brands. If, as expected, real-time search continues to move beyond news related items to be more widespread, a disgruntled customer venting their anger on Twitter, may not only be seen by their followers on this specific social network but their tweet may also feature in Google’s actual search results…and all in real-time!

Next time, I’ll be looking at this issue in more detail, as well as the other means by which real-time search impacts your digital marketing efforts. Until then…

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