TweetRank – Does Twitter Need To Start Penalising Users Who Consistently Break The Rules?

When calculating rankings, Google often penalises websites for doing various things, including cloaking, automated queries, irrelevant keyword use, paid links, sneaky URL redirection, malicious behaviour and linking to known spammers.

I wonder if Twitter needs to embrace a variation of Google’s PageRank system – let’s call it TweetRank – and begin to score and rate individual accounts according to the ways in which they behave, handing out penalties to users who show a blatant and repeated disregard for the rules.


Cloaking is the practice of deception by displaying different content to search engines than that which is displayed to users. There is a frighteningly large number of Twitter users who act very above board and ‘normal’ in the public side of the network, while functioning as little more than mass-marketers and spammers in the private world of direct messaging. Direct messages are private, and none of us like the idea of ‘the man’ reading our inbox, but a warning system could work well here, where users flag accounts for duplicitous behaviour.

Automated Queries

Google doesn’t like it when websites bombard them with automated queries, as it wastes resources and bogs down server time. Automated messages on Twitter – which includes direct messaging and updates from external services (including things like Foursquare) – are equally undesirable. Often many users are unaware that they’re sending out automated messages, or that their accounts have been exploited in some way, because they don’t regularly check their connections settings.

Irrelevant Keyword Use

Some users include words in their bios that are clearly there simply to generate results from searches. Common examples are SEO, make money at home and profit. In many cases these accounts are nothing more than spam feeds that heavily-promote affiliate schemes and the like.

Paid Links

Advertising on Twitter is a hot potato. From Twitter’s perspective, it’s an inevitability. But what about users that get paid to link to external sites? Advertising for publishers is very much part of the internet’s business model, but if these paid links go out to scams or make claims that are unproven or entirely false, then the user should take responsibility and be marked down accordingly.

URL Redirection

It’s a common scam to hide bad links within good ones. I’ve seen some users hide an affiliate or malicious link between several layers of bitlys and TinyURLs. It is my personal opinion that any user that links to a malicious website or known scam should be heavily punished by Twitter, perhaps adopting a ‘three strikes’ rule to avoid accidental retweeting or exploits.

Linking To Known Spammers

This is perhaps the most important item on the list. Despite their best efforts, Twitter continues to have major problems with spam. This issue is made significantly worse by people who blindly auto-follow anybody who follows them, because it legitimises the spam account, both in terms of improving their ratio and showing an ‘A-list name’ in their network. Twitter needs to take greater responsibility in ridding the network of obvious spam accounts, but the users need to step up, too, and I propose that any user who follows too many spammers should be punished.

(This would also allow the implementation of a reward system that hands out TweetRank bonuses to users who are followed by other highly-ranked individuals, providing a greater indication of clout.)

What Kind Of Punishment?

Users who breach some or all of the rules above are penalised, with a lowering overall score reflecting how highly you place on Twitter search. Score a ten, and you show up for all relevant queries, right at the top of the list.

Score a zero, and you don’t show up at all. Ever.

This could make Twitter search an incredibly powerful and reliable system, as results could then be measured by clout and reputation, as well as ridding the mechanism of the bulk of spam and scammy or malicious links. Twitter could add a little relevance option to the search results that re-ranked the output according to status, or you could view the data reverse-chronologically, as we do now.

Perhaps – and this is controversial – all new users to Twitter should have to ‘earn’ their place on the search results, much like all new websites have to earn their spot at the top of Google. Your TweetRank rises and falls with your behaviour. Some people won’t care too much about where they place in Twitter’s search results, but for businesses, brands and influencers it’s incredibly important. And as the network expands, the value of ranking well on Twitter search will rise exponentially.

Moreover, accounts that start spamming right out of the gates will be hidden from everybody else, and likely will never earn a spot within search.

Once users are ranked, they can easily be tagged and categorised, and finding the top 100 experts on any given subject would be available to you at the click of a button or two.

Rewarding and penalising users is potentially a risky endeavour and, much like Google, Twitter would need to keep revising and revamping the algorithm that they would use for any TweetRank system. An independent ombudsman could be created to ensure fairness, and perhaps the opinion of the Twitter collective could be a factor in a user’s score. There would inevitability be a teething period, and a strong likelihood of cries of foul play and favouritism from some quarters, but the benefits to the network as a whole should not be underestimated.