Does the Twitter Timeline Widget Improve SEO?

Twitter is enormously popular today. Indeed, there are roughly 72 million active accounts tweeting some 400 million times a day. Because of this popularity, more and more businesses are including Twitter in their social media strategy.

The social networking service offers a widget, which enables you to put updates anywhere on the web or create a live stream for an event. You can embed on a web page all the tweets from a particular account, list or search result.

A consulting client of mine recently asked about the search engine optimization (SEO) benefits the Twitter widget, which is a great question when you consider all the key words from the widget that show up on a page.

The Twitter widget is created from javascript code, which is interpreted in the browser. If you right click on a web page that displays a Twitter widget and view the page source, it looks like html code, but that code isn’t there when a search engine looks at the page (that’s not exactly true, but hang with me a minute).

For a number of years now, Twitter has had individual widgets to show tweets from a specific Twitter account, favorites from a single account, tweets by those on a Twitter list, or a Twitter search result. In the fall of last year, Twitter replaced individual widgets with a new, unified interactive timeline widget. The new widget allows people to not only see tweets, but respond to them right from the widget.

We use the Twitter widget on the Biomarker Commons home page to show links and discussion around biomarkers and personalized medicine. Check out how the new widget looks (left) compared to the old widget (right).

Twitter widget on Biomarker Commons

Back to the question about the SEO benefits of the Twitter widget and page html code. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to see what the Googlebot sees: sign in, select your website (you have to have previously added your site), Health >> Fetch as Google, fetch the homepage (or other page if the widget isn’t on your homepage), and then click on the “Fetch Status” link “Success”.

Here’s what the Googlebot sees when it looks at the widget on Biomarker Commons. Notice the <script> code at the end:

<h2>On Twitter</h2><div class="content"><p><a class="twitter-timeline" href="https://twitter.com/search?q=biomarker+OR++OR+%22personalized+%22" data-widget-id="305364624532963328">Tweets about "biomarker OR biomarkers OR "personalized medicine""</a></p><script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js?132930";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");</script></div>

The Twitter widget is generated by javascript in the browser, so it isn’t content that is indexed by a search engine and thus has no SEO benefit.

By the way, if you’re using the old Twitter widget, it’s time to upgrade. The old widget uses the application programming interface (API) v1.0. Twitter will start running “blackout tests” for API v1 on March 5th, 2013, and over the next few weeks, will be announcing additional blackout tests and a more detailed schedule regarding the retirement of API v1.

Walter Jessen is a digital strategist, writer, web developer and data scientist. You can typically find him behind the screen something with an internet connection.

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