How to hack Twitter’s ‘who to follow’ suggestions

Disclaimer: This is obviously a strategy that is not without risks. If you follow too many people too quickly (especially with a newish account) you will get banned. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Back in March, Brent Halliburton wrote a fascinating piece recounting his own experiences experimenting with “mass following” i.e. following a large number of people on Twitter in a relatively short period of time.

What Brent did and his results

Brent followed 9 or 10 people a day in the first few days before ramping things up to a few hundred a day. Unsurprisingly, Brent had a large boost in followers but what was surprisingly was that a lot of these new followers were not the people he had followed

Brent’s hypothesis

Brent’s explanation for this involves Twitter’s ‘who to follow’ tool which looks like this.

Twitter's who to follow tool This is, as the name suggests, just suggestions of people Twitter thinks you might want to follow. If you follow all three it suggests another three. Brent suggests that “following lots of people makes you a better fit for Twitter to recommend you to users” on this tool. Specifically, Brent thinks that if, for example, I follow a bunch of people who talk about “vegan” stuff then Twitter will recommend me to people who are interested in vegan stuff.

My hypothesis

So I think Brent is partly right. My own hypothesis is that the ‘who to follow’ tool is the reason for the new followers but I think the “who to follow” tool recommends people based on who follows them rather than who they follow. So the mass following turns the ‘who to follow’ tool to your advantage because of the reciprocal follow backs … assuming these are from people who Twitter thinks are interested in “analytics” stuff for example

My reason for diverging from Brent on this is pretty simple. If I worked for Twitter I’d design the tool my way rather than Brents because users would rather see popular niche accounts in the tool than just accounts that follow a ton of people in their niche … though of course they will get some of the latter when people like myself and Brent mass follow in a niche …

Show me the data

So Brent presents us with some data and helpful charts showing that his follower count did indeed increase and that this correlated with him following large numbers of other people. What we don’t have, though, is data showing that these new followers were not people that had been mass followed. Until now!

I copied Brent’s methods with one of my own Twitter accounts but this time used data from SocialBro to see how many of my new followers were people that I had followed and how valuable these new followers were. I also compared this to a control period two weeks later when I tweeted and followed as normal

Getting this data was actually pretty simple. After the first week of experimenting (following 600-700 over about a week in a particular niche) I exported a list of all new followers for that period to Excel where I then filtered out those I had followed.

Some graphs showing how mass following works
To the graphs!

Okay so for that week I gained 352 followers with 119 of these being people I hadn’t followed. Compare this to the control week where I gained 57 new followers with 47 of these being followers that I did not follow. So far so good for Brent’s method I thought but then something occurred to me …

What if these new not-followed-followers are themselves mass following and are just sitting clicking follow-follow-follow in the “who to follow” tool?

To test whether this was the case I went back to my 119 not-followed-followers and manually removed any that I considered spam accounts. My criteria here was extremely salesy profile descriptions and irrelevance (i.e. my account is about vegan stuff and they are a “Mobile Client Management Solution” … Some other examples of spammy descriptions I filtered out include “finally i got more 1000 followerzz after visit this website” and “HAVE BETTER SEX. NATURALLY”). You get the idea. So what did I find?

Well thankfully for my and Brent’s hypothesis, after removing the obvious spammers I was still left with 101 new unfollowed followers. Further supporting mine and Brent’s hypotheses, a lot of these people were interested in things like nutrition, veganism, fitness etc which is what my Twitter account (it’s not my personal one) is about.

Another way I tested for spammers was looking at the engagement levels for the mass following period versus the engagement levels for my control period. So let’s look at that.

engagementstats18-26mar2014
Here’s the mass follow week. Click to enlarge. Worth noting I did in fact use retweets but these were old style and done through Buffer so the tool isn’t registering them.

 

And here's the control week
And here’s the control week. Click to enlarge.

 

Well most obviously the conversation rate is a lot higher but this doesn’t really mean anything in light of the number of people who will send a quick tweet saying “thanks for the follow”? The increase in amplification rate and applause rate, however, really suggests that the mass following did generate engagement. Of course, it’s worth noting that the engagement may have come from new followed-followers or not-followed-followers or both. It would be strange though if the followed-followers engaged at a higher rate than the unfollowed-followers though right?

So there it is, mass following can indeed work in a meaningful way but (in addition to my original disclaimer) I would still suggest caution when employing this approach. It’s no secret that mass following can get you banned from Twitter so tread carefully. Yes I got away (and not for the first time) with doing 100 a day but it’s worth noting that the rules don’t seem to be the same for everyone. Do some digging on the blackhatworld forums and you will find people complaining about getting banded for following a lot less people than I or Brent did. These people getting banned seemed to be using newly created or at least very young Twitter accounts for which I think the criteria for getting banned is lower.

So yeah tread carefully and don’t say you weren’t warned.

Have you had any experience (negative or positive) with mass following? Let me know in the comments.

Improve your click through rate by yourself

Improve your click through rate this week without hiring an SEO

Click spelled out with coins If this is helpful tell me and I’ll do more in future.

Note this is beginner level stuff. I’ll be doing an advanced twitter strategy post with some original research very shortly.

So in the past I’ve been asked to do SEO work for people or give people advice on this subject.

I’ve always been very wary in this area for two reasons

1) While I know some stuff and I’m constantly learning, I’m not an SEO expert.
2) People’s expectations tend to be unreasonably high in terms of what can be achieved and in what time frame.

So like I said often people’s expectations are too high but they can also be too low. Specifically, some small business owners have said to me:

“there’s no point working on my search traffic because there are much bigger players after the same keywords and I can’t compete with their budget.”

The logic here is somewhat flawed because people tend to be thinking purely in terms of rankings in the SERPs (Search engine results pages).

The thing is though that search traffic isn’t just about rankings. Click through rate is also really important and the good news is that it’s easier and cheaper to improve than rankings in many cases.

As a result you could rank behind your competitors in the search results but, so long as you are still on the first page for the keyword, some CTR (Click through rate) work could really help you. Heck even if you are down below the first page, it could still be worth it so long as you are seeing enough impressions in Google Webmaster Tools.

So here’s what you can do

1) Set up your site with Google Webmaster Tools (Free).
2) Click the ‘top pages’ tab.
3) Pick a page that has a lot of impressions but low click through rate.
4) Click the triangle next to it and this will show you the most popular queries for that page.
5) Pick the biggest and make an precise note of it.
6) Go into your content management system and rewrite the title tag and meta description so that they feature this keyword. Make the writing snappy. Remember you are talking directly to a person and persuading them to click on your link.
7) Set up google authorship for the page if appropriate (won’t always be). This will give you an author snippet (picture of your google+ profile picture) next to the search result. Plenty of free blog articles online will show you how to do this so just look at those. Here’s one.

When rewriting the title and meta description tags consider

1) Keep the title tag under 55 characters and have the keyword as close to the start of the tag as possible.
2) Keep the meta description under 150 characters. You can’t actually control what Google uses as the meta description but, if the keyword is in the meta description you submit, the chances that it’ll be shown to someone searching with that keyword are pretty good.

In both cases try and think about the intention behind the query and write some snappy copy that will grab attention.

Again, for the third time, the snappiness of the copy matters.

So when will it start to work?

It may take some days before Google updates your appearance in the search results. Here’s a way you can speed up the process though.

I actually saw mine apparently being ‘rolled out.’ What I mean by this is that the new title tag and description appeared on my phone at first but not on my tablet or PC. Later it also appeared when I searched on my tablet and PC.

This has led me to suspect that Google may be testing the click through rate of the new meta description with a subset of users searching for the keyword and then showing it to everyone when they see that it beats what they were previously using as the meta-description. There’s probably an article somewhere on this that I’m ignorant of …

Anyway, here’s one I made earlier for the keyword “vegan bodybuilders” for which this page already had a lot of impressions.

Example of how to write your title tag and meta-description
Note how the keyword “vegan bodybuilders” has been put in bold by Google. This draws it to people’s attention.

This page actually already had authorship but, when I added the title tag and meta description, the clickthrough rate for the page as a whole went from 3% (uggggh!) to 8%. Not world beating but that’s a big improvement for very little work right? Also note that’s for the page as an aggregate and not looking at the specific keyword I was targeting. For the specific keyword “vegan bodybuilders” CTR for that page went from 5% to 11.5%.

Also note that the site’s ranked above me for this keyword don’t seem to have put in the same effort I have which makes it even more likely my clickthrough rate will go up.

My search result versus my competitors

Now some of you will be saying this is basic and it is but many people don’t go to the trouble or don’t know how to do this so I thought this might be helpful for beginners.

Again, quality copy makes a difference here. You may find that you get results for some of the tags you rewrite and not for others. In that case, it’s worth trying to rewrite the tags again for the page with (still) stagnant CTR. In my case I rewrote tags for two pages but didn’t see the same dramatic improvement for the other page which didn’t have as good copy. As a result I’ve rewritten it again and with any luck it’ll take off like the vegan bodybuilders page.

I’m aware there will be similar posts about there about this but perhaps people haven’t seen them. Anyway if this was helpful say so and I’ll happily do more like it, if not I’ll probably stick to more advanced stuff.

Did you try this? If so let me know how you get on.