Okay. I have a confession to make. I have taken part in Twitter Squatting. For those of you not familiar with squatting, let’s go to our friends at Wikipedia for a definition. According to Wikipedia:
Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use.
People have been squatting on internet domains since the beginning of the internet. There is awesome money in this industry. For example, toys.com just sold for $5.1 million. eToys.com had that domain since the late 1990s, but they were just redirecting it to etoys.com. I guess eToys.com decided that it could raise some capital by selling toys.com. And it turns out that Toys R Us and domain holding company National A-1 started a bidding war for this domain. $5.1 million later, Toys R Us now owns this awesome, 4-letter, generic keyword domain that is most associated with their brand. But wait. There are more of these domains being parked right now. Just take a look at www.kbtoys.com. It’s parked, and I’m sure those domainers are just waiting for the right time to sell. Or they are making money from direct navigation ad revenue. [That industry is a huge industry right now. Apparently, direct navigation is a popular form of internet surfing. If someone directly navigates to toys.com, they are easily a pre-qualified visitor, and I bet you can guess what they are looking for. So there has gotta be money in that industry. But I digress...]
How does all of this relate to Twitter? Well, let me tell you that right now there are a lot of major brands running to Twitter to open accounts. (Personally I believe that this trend was motivated by John Stewart’s Twitter bit on the Daily Show and politicians tweeting during Obama’s first Presidential Address to the nation.) If major brands are flocking to Twitter, you can be certain that most Twitter URLs are already snatched up. Or are they? Typically, major brands are always late to the game when it comes to internet happenings. According to some recent numbers I saw on the web, Twitter has over 6 million members. Surely there are some internet savvy domainers who have acquired some awesome brand names and generic keyword URLs on Twitter. Even though twitter launched nearly 2 years ago, there is a good chance that there are a lot of great usernames and URLs still available.
Here is a screenshot of the apple username on Twitter. It’s suspicious. 360 followers. Following zero. Bio: apple dot twitter @gmail dot com. That looks like someone wants some money. There are definitely some awesome URLs that are being squatted on. Perhaps these brands have great marketing experts who rushed to Twitter to grab a username, or perhaps someone beat them to the punch. While I can’t definitively say whether or not these URLs belong to the respective brands, here are some mostly-vacant Twitter accounts that appear to be owned by someone other than a brand representative. These are extremely valuable URLs:
Like all SEOs out there, I have a niche on the internet. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will tell you that I recently got into Twitter squatting. I mean, c’mon. There has been more Twitter hype in the past week than anything I can remember in the past few years. Some people are even saying that Twitter will become a search engine that could rival Google. For the record, I’m still very skeptical at the future of Twitter as a search engine or even as a marketing tool because I know that a lot brands are scaling back and cutting costs in this economy. I’m not entirely certain that major brands will hire anyone to manage their Twitter account. And I’m not sure that SEM agencies know how to manage Twitter accounts. However, I do think that Twitter will become a valuable place of instant, real-time reviews. If brands don’t have Twitter accounts, they should at least pay attention to what’s being said about them and/or their products on Twitter.
Anyways, I went at this squatting process very haphazardly. And I paid the price for it: Suspended Accounts. In my efforts, I learned some stuff that you might be able to benefit from. Here are some tips for avoiding account suspension on Twitter:
- Email Address Option
- Fake Email Addresses
Twitter doesn’t send email validations at this point. When you sign up for an account, all they do is send you a message that says something like “Welcoming you to Twitter.” This means that you could sign up for accounts with fake email addresses. For example, if signing up for twitter.com/ford, why not tell them your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org? Perhaps this would make your account look more official. The downside to this is that you’d have no way of checking the email address. If someone wanted to purchase the URL, they would have to contact you through Twitter. And that’s probably how they’d get reach of you anyway. Or you could post your real email addy on the page (like the twitter.com/apple person does). Either way, this option may look more valid if a Twitter employee started digging into your account, but this method could get hairy if Twitter started sending out email validation messages.
- Using a + in your actual email address.
My recommendation is to use a unique email address if you can. However, if you are squatting on 100 Twitter URLs, it can be real hassle creating all those email addresses and then checking them. Another awesome alternative is to use 1 email address for every account. How do you do that? It sounds too good to be true. It’s actually simple. Let’s say you sign up with your main email address. For this example, let’s say your email address is email@example.com, and you already have a Twitter account at that email address. For your next Twitter account (let’s say it’s going to be twitter.com/apple), sign up for this account with this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. You will get a Twitter email sent to your email@example.com account. It’s awesome. It may not last too much longer, but it works now. If you can keep track of all your squatted Twitter accounts, this method will allow you to keep all your Twitter emails consolidated in one mailbox. I recommend gmail.
- Fake Email Addresses
- Immediately update your profile and post a tweet.
I have a Twitter account (twitter.com/yourseosucks). I signed up for it one day. The next day I came back to update it with a new icon picture, and my account was suspended. I had no intention of doing anything unethical with my account. I’m not spamming. I’m not trying to game the system. I’m not trying to make money with this account in any way. I have zero followers. I’m not following anyone yet. I don’t even have an outbound link on my profile. I’ve even seen other accounts with the word sucks in the URL, and they haven’t been suspended (proof). But something triggered a red flag in the Twitter algorithm for my account. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It wasn’t like I was posing as the Dalia Lama. At any rate, maybe this post is my revenge. After this post I’m not counting on regaining access to my Twitter account. Regardless, I believe that there are a lot of people out there who are starting to squat on Twitter URLs. And these people are being suspended rather quickly. From some simple research, conducted by direct navigation, it’s easy to find suspended accounts. For example, these accounts have all been suspended:
Now, I don’t know if those accounts were ever being used as legitimate Twitter profiles. It could be that those accounts were being updated on a regular basis, and they were flagged by mistake. However, given their respective popularity in terms of keywords, I suspect that at least a few of them were being squatted on. I have signed up for several Twitter accounts with valuable keywords, and over half of them have been suspended. One thing that I noticed was: accounts where I updated all the profile information and posted a tweet were not suspended. None. I can’t say that it happens that way all the time, but I do recommend updating your profile, adding a picture and posting a tweet when you first sign up for the account.
- Tweet Frequency
The truth is that I have no idea how often you’re supposed to tweet in order to avoid suspension. If you are tweeting simply to avoid a suspended account, you’re probably not using Twitter as it was intended to be used. (BTW, we’d probably be friends.) But here’s the deal: If you are squatting on several accounts, it can be a real hassle to sign in and out to multiple accounts every day. But it’s all good because of an app called Twhirl. This desktop app enables you to sign in to multiple accounts and keep them active on your desktop. If you have the privilege of sitting at a computer all day long, it’s very easy to just open the window once a day and type something. Twhirl is kinda like an instant messenger interface for Twitter. I totally recommend it. You should definitely be updating your profile once a day. But you if you want to take your chances and not update your account very often, I won’t argue with you, as there are several accounts that have not been suspended despite zero updates (proof, proof, proof).
- Follow and Be Followed, but watch your Followers-to-Following Ratio
Have you ever seen Rand’s Twitter account? He has 5,000+ followers, but he only follows 11 people. (It’s very well documented by the Oilman.) Rand’s followers:following ratio is very imbalanced (like Fox news). I’m sure Rand gets tons of love from the Twitter founders, so his account is not in any danger of being suspended. But if you are squatting on an account and happen to get some followers, you may consider following some people in order to keep that ratio looking natural. In the end, a legitimate Twitter account will have >0 following and >0 followers. Just keep it looking natural.
- Don’t get too big too quickly
That’s what she said? Twitter is not a race to see who can have the most followers. Just like myspace friend bots, there are bots running all through Twitter, helping people build their follower numbers. Just like anything else in SEO, I prefer organic growth. Make it look natural. If you set up and account and then you get 300 followers in the first day, you’ll probably be flagged for something. Keep it natural. Keep it organic. [Note: If you do happen to start getting a lot of followers because you just happen to grab a highly-coveted username for a major brand, you may consider making some legitimate, brand-relevant posts. You're not necessarily trying to pose as the brand, but the last thing you need is followers starting to block you. Don't do anything that will look like actual spam. Users will block you, and enough blocks can cause flags to go up.]
- Creating Hundreds of Accounts? Use a Proxy.
Remember: the guys who started Twitter also started Blogger. If they know anything about spam, they know how to recognize massive account creation from the same IP address. Get a reliable proxy. And don’t ask me for proxy lists. I don’t know anything about that.
- Don’t Even Try to Impersonate People. It’s probably not very profitable.
At one point, I got a great idea: I’ll snap up some usernames of famous dead people. And then I didn’t follow any of the recommendations mentioned in this post, so all my accounts got suspended. I thought it would be really fun to have a twitter account for a famous, polarizing athlete, musician or public figure. However, after thinking about it further, there’s probably nothing that will get you suspended quicker than trying to impersonate someone. Granted, a dead guy/girl is probably not going to contact twitter, but his/her estate might. In the end, if you’re trying to impersonate someone, just be prepared to lose everything without warning. Which is more likely to happen: a person pays you for the account or a person contacts twitter about your account and your account gets suspended? Also, I don’t believe impersonation is worth the effort in terms of money. I mean, I guess the guy who got gandhi could make some money if he ever updated it. Maybe he could sell some links to fasting websites. Or the jimihendrix account could have some links to Fender guitars. I dunno. In the end, if you can create a good following, I guess anything is profitable. But in terms of squatting, you’re better off grabbing brand names and generic keywords that will attract money from brands, ecommerce sites or companies who just want more web exposure with an easy-to-remember URL.
- Don’t link to or follow spam accounts
Just like SEO in the good ol’ days, you don’t want to be following accounts that are part of a “bad neighborhood.” It’s pretty easy to tell whether or not an account is a legitimate account. Just do some checking before you follow someone. Also, check on some of the people who are following you. The last thing you need is to be classified as a member of a ring of suspicious or suspended accounts.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Twitter Suspended Accounts Criteria
This page is very informative. Read it. I had to learn a lot of these lessons before I found this page. If you can’t follow link, here are the main bullet points from that page at Twitter. Here are several reasons why your account might be suspended:
- unauthorized scripting of the site
- unauthorized serial account creation
- unauthorized mass account creation
- user name squatting
- account contains links pointing to phishing sites, malware, or other harmful material
- an account is identified as belonging to a group of spam accounts
- a large number of people block the profile in question
- a large number of people write in with spam complaints for a specific profile
- aggressive following (a large number of people are followed in a short amount of time)
- extremely imbalanced follower/following ratio
- updates consist of duplicate or repeating links and/or text
- updates consist mainly of links and not personal updates
- links in updates disguise the real content of a link given in a misleading or deceptive way.
- unauthorized “re-tweets” (poaching and posting other users’ updates) passed off as original content*
- Copyright Infringement (To file a complaint, see our copyright infringement procedure here.)
- Violence and/or specific threats
- Unlawful use
- Privacy infringement
- Trademark Infringement
Some of this stuff frightens me. Copyright Infringement? Does that mean I can’t hold a brandname hostage on Twitter. If I scored a major brand name, can that brand bully me into giving it up? That would suck. User name squatting? That’s the whole purpose of this post. I can’t believe it’s frowned upon. Damn.
There you have it. I pretty much listed the Twitter guidelines. Oh well. If I was awesome at lists, I’d have to round this list out at 10. But I think 9 is a good number. Last week was 3/3/09. So maybe this is my tribute to Square Root Day. Or maybe not. Either way, happy twitter squatting.
And just because I’ve been hearing about someone buying Twitter, I thought I’d post this picture of the Twitter Whale (aka the Fail Whale). Maybe if someone bought Twitter, they could afford some better servers. Just saying is all.