As Twitter’s trending topics may have informed you, Bill Nye, host of the popular ‘90s TV show Bill Nye the Science Guy, fainted from exhaustion in front of hundreds of USC students Tuesday night. Thankfully, he soon recovered, and finished his lecture sitting down.

What better way to honor Bill’s learning legacy than to use his story as a lesson in SEO?

Numerous articles the next day referenced the odd chain of events immediately following Bill’s collapse. Rather than jumping to his aid, students first focused their attention on social networks, tweeting about his collapse and eventually making #billnye a trending topic on Twitter. While the students’ behavior may be disturbing, this flurry of social media activity was the initial catalyst that drove Google to take note of the event.

One part of search engine optimization (SEO) that often goes ignored is the reality of query deserves freshness (QDF). QDF is a part of the Google algorithm that detects an unusual amount of conversation around a topic – such as a spike in search queries for “Bill Nye” or increased mentions on social networks. QDF gives more weight to pages’ recency, and is activated when an event is big enough that searchers presumably expect the freshest results. The conversation around Bill’s collapse was big enough that Google took notice, and activated QDF.

It is important for online marketers, and especially SEO professionals, to understand the basic principle of QDF. It’s a fact is that Google has the ability to recognize spikes in social activity about a given topic. These spikes can trigger QDF, shifting results to include pages with fresher content, while pushing pages with stale content lower in the list.

How does QDF affect search results? On Tuesday morning, top results for Google searches on “Bill Nye” returned Bill Nye Online Labs, images of his quirky face, and the Bill Nye Wikipedia and IMDB pages. Just 24 hours later, following the flurry of tweets, articles, and other social media notations, the Google results are different. Top results now include links to news articles on the event, as well as links to dozens of recent updates from Twitter, Facebook and more.

Google query deserves freshness (QDF) ranks links with more recency first in search results.

What does QDF mean for marketers? As online marketing campaigns are developed, marketers should resist the temptation to trickle out and leak messages. Gradual growth of social activity about a topic over a few weeks won’t necessarily impact SEO, whereas a surge from virtual silence to a buzz-filled day will cause Google to take note – and, hopefully, activate QDF.

When designing campaigns, identify topics that will make people talk. Consider controversial angles or unique insights that will engage your target audience. Plan press releases, articles, blog posts, Twitter activity, marketing emails, landing pages, and Facebook updates, all for simultaneous release. Most importantly, make it easy for people to retweet, forward emails, and republish content. Enable your audience to spread the word as easily as possible, as quickly as possible, for the best results.

Landing pages and associated product pages also need focus. Optimize landing pages for a defined set of target keywords related to your campaign. Be sure to include the “canonical tag” in the pages’ code, which will help reduce confusion for the Google index as people start to mention and link to your pages. Include links to the most relevant product pages on these landing pages with clear calls to action to get the most from your increased traffic.

For an extra boost, add SEO-friendly social modules to landing pages to make the pages appear fresh throughout the day. For example, add a stream of content from Twitter or a list of relevant product reviews that change frequently.

You can also prepare product pages for unexpected QDF activation by making sure that Google is not bored with your content. If the content in your product page is the same today as it was two months ago, or for that matter a year ago, your page will virtually disappear when QDF activates. By including regularly updated user generated content like reviews, questions, and answers on product pages, Google will have more interest in your page regardless of whether QDF is active or not.

We can’t always know when random events will trigger QDF, but SEO professionals can take steps in advance to gain the most traffic when these events do occur.

For more information about how to leverage QDF, take 7 minutes to watch this video that Rand Fishkin of published in March of 2009. Take note that the SEO impact of Facebook and Twitter are substantially more important now than they were when this video was recorded 20 months ago.

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday – Query Deserves Freshness from Scott Willoughby.

2 Responses to “Bill Nye collapses, activating Google QDF (query deserves freshness)”

  1. Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

  2. This reminds me of the viral “I like it” Facebook status that kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness month. Google search traffic for “Facebook I like it” spiked the first week of October as people tried to figure out what the statuses meant (see link).

    I Googled it myself around then, and was surprised that no official breast cancer societies had bought and/or optimized for the keywords — the only links were to articles explaining the status. Imagine if, say, the Susan B. Komen foundation had optimized an online donation landing page with a live feed of the statuses — what sort of traffic could they have gotten?

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