So what are algorithms?
Algorithms are machine learning systems designed to ‘learn’ about user interests based on their on-platform activities. Google’s been tweaking its dreaded algorithms since 2002, constantly upgrading its back-end processes to stay one step ahead of SEO scammers to deliver the best, most relevant search results. Google changes its algorithms some 500 or so times/year. Yet it’s the big ones—Hummingbird, Panda, and the most recent, Mobilegeddon, which debuted in April 2015, that have had a major impact on SEO. Google and its algorithms own the search space.
Amazon’s been using personalized algorithms since the late 90s, and users are rewarded with a system that recommends products for you based on your search and purchasing history. We may not like the the big-brother mentality, but we love the results.
Let’s take a look at Facebook and its algorithms
Facebook was the first social network to implement an algorithm. They developed the News Feed Algorithm and initially it focused on pretty obvious variables like:
- How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted the story.
- The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular.
- How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past – the post format (photo, link, text) and the content. Fans of kittens will see more kittens; basketball fans will see more basketball stories, etc. Your individual interests drive your activity, which in turn drives the algorithm.
When is the right time to implement algorithms?
The ideal time to implement an algorithm is at that point when engagement is starting to plateau, when the noise is increasing and people are seeing fewer posts; they’re beginning to spend less time on the platform, as a result. Look at Facebook’s stats; there are more than:
- 3B monthly active users on Facebook
- 54M business pages
- 640M minutes on Facebook each month of combined use by its users
The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. Facebook put measures in place to maximize their on-platform material and enhance the user experience by matching them with content that’s most appealing to them. It’s perfectly logical: why let your audience lose interest when you have both the tools and posts that can keep them engaged?
The truth about algorithms is that they work
Algorithms deliver better user experiences, they sort the signals from the noise of the growing number of social networks and connect users to the content that’s most relevant to them. The best algorithms may know your likes and interests better than you do, and we’re going to see more of them for one very good reason—they work.