The Most Influential Algorithms On The Web
Algorithms run more of the internet than you may initially think. From Google’s results every time we enter a query, to the content that we see on our social media accounts on a daily basis, these algorithms determine just what we see and when we see it.
Algorithms are seen to be a set of rules that determine and define a sequence of ‘operations’, essentially acting as instructions for a computer to guide them in reaching a particular goal. Problem solving, search results, online dating – there are all formats that can guide the way that we are viewed, and view online. In celebration of their success and just how much they’ve revolutionised the digital industry, we’re taking a look at some of the most influential algorithms on the web today.
Google’s Search Algorithm
Call us biased, but we truly believe that Google’s core search algorithm is one of the most influential and important on the web. With 92.04% of the market share worldwide, Google dominates the world of search and it’s PageRank algorithm could very well be one of the reasons why. If we’re looking for accuracy and relevancy of results, we typically turn to a Google search as an automatic response – to “Google” something has even become a staple part of our language.
PageRank and its many updates ever since its inception have changed the way we search online considerably. This algorithm utilises a number of criteria and rating systems to determine how important a website is and, in recent years, how relevant it may be to a particular topic or search query. With the likes of machine learning also powering the algorithm to ensure that searchers are seeing the results they need, when they need them.
Google’s algorithm has become so reliable and so powerful, that it’s a common thought that Google is changing the way that we think as well as browse online. People are typically making less effort to remember key information simply because they have the ease and accessibility to Google a query and get the information that they need instead.
Google’s algorithm is also one of the most rapidly changing, with upwards of 500 updates every single year. While most of these are too small to be noticed, the search engine has been known to release broad core algorithm updates that shake up how the index works.
Most recently, we’ve seen the June 2019 Broad Core Algorithm Update shake up the SERPs, affecting a number of sites and industries including:
- News (Namely, the Daily Mail)
While there was previously no advice in terms of improving rankings or any actions to take if a drop had been seen, we can take a look at the results of the update to determine just what has been targeted and how we can improve. With this approach, we’ve seen that everything from ad experience, to brand authority and, of course, trust levels and other E-A-T related guidelines. As with many of the recent updates, Google’s focus seems to be moving further and further towards user experience, ensuring that webmasters are paying closer attention to how searchers are utilising and viewing websites
Take the Daily Mail, for example – the website experienced a significant drop after this update and while there’s no clear answer as to why that’s the case, the tabloid news site goes against many of Google’s guidelines and suspected best practices. For example, it’s reputation for offering fake and often exaggerated news has meant that it’s often considered to be a bad source for those seeking information online. Additionally, the website is generally unpleasant for users to browse – they’re met with countless adverts, auto-playing videos that immediately offer constant sound and, of course, the notorious ‘show notifications’ pop up.
The poor user experience is likely to be the cause of the drop and shows just how powerful Google’s algorithm can truly be. After all, without the algorithm and crawlers in place, many of the results we’d see would have a similar kind of experience. The Daily Mail is a well-known brand and so in terms of popularity, it would certainly be a contender for page one but with the most recent update, trust and usability have come out on top.
Google’s News Algorithm
Working in a similar way to Google’s standard search algorithm, the News algorithm ensures that users are seeing the more recent and relevant news stories that are valuable, accurate and in some cases, personalised to their previous search history. There are two formats that Google follows in order to determine the order in which they display news stories – by computer/algorithm, and by their staff.
Their Top News feature utilises an algorithm to pick everything from headline news to the results from a search. In fact, Google claims that the ‘top news’ is selected by an algorithm across languages and regions, in the following sections:
- Full Coverage
- Search Results
- Headline News
For personalised news, you do need to be logged in but an algorithm is used to determine the subjects you are deemed most likely to be interested in according to your settings and past activity. The algorithms used here typically personalise according to your history on Google, including YouTube and Google Search. This algorithm will be used across these sections:
- For You
- Topics, Sources and Locations in Favourites
- All other stories/notifications, except if noted otherwise
While the algorithm is one of the core methods that Google utilises for its news, there are cases where the top stories or featured pieces are selected by people rather than a machine. For example, publishers can select their featured story within a publication, and the Google News Merchandising team will select Featured publications manually for the Newsstand. Google also has a Product Experience Team on hand to manage and select temporary topics, though this is typically used for major events.
With these algorithms and manual methods in place, Google has become a core and leading source for finding news online. Capturing 98.14% of the news-based search volume, it’s a key target for any news websites or journals.
Facebook’s News Feed
Facebook’s News Feed algorithm seems to change almost as often as Google’s core one, but it’s often more difficult to get your head around. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in admitting confusion! However, it’s also a relatively simple concept; the new Facebook algorithm focuses on ranking all potential posts that could be shown, then ranking them depending on the likelihood of it inciting a positive reaction. There are four factors that Facebook will consider during this process:
- Inventory – Facebook takes an inventory of all posts that are available to be displayed, including friends, groups and businesses.
- Signals – These tell Facebook just what each of these posts is, where it’s targeted and even its purpose.
- Predictions – They make a prediction of how you’re likely to react to the post
- A Final Score – A score is assigned to these posts, and then the content will be displayed in order accordingly.
This new algorithm was introduced to prioritise content from friends and family over publishers and businesses, in an effort to push more meaningful interactions. Content that holds the potential to induce likes, comments, shares and other interactions is thought to have meaningful interactions and so is more likely to appear higher up in your News Feed when you scroll.
For businesses, this has led to a need for more conversation-inducing content that offers value beyond the standard sell. This means that the content you produce should encourage your current and potential audience to stop and interact, whether that’s watching a video, replying with a comment, hitting the like button or sharing the post with a friend. You can utilise ad budgets on organic posts to boost them further if they’ve been performing well too, which can help you stay at the forefront of the News Feed, even in light of the focus on friends and family.
Amazon’s Search Algorithm
Just like Google, Amazon has its very own way of ranking and indexing the products on the site and, of course, this involves an algorithm. Anyone has the potential to make money on Amazon, but due to the algorithm, reaching the top of the results for a search isn’t as simple as just listing a product.
Amazon’s algorithm is known as A9 and is one of the most powerful algorithms in the e-commerce industry. Rivalling even that of Google Shopping, the self-contained algorithm ensures that the most relevant and highly rated products are displayed for search results. While it’s still maturing and hasn’t quite reached the heights of Google just yet, they are beginning to implement a touch of machine learning to implement higher relevancy of results.
Those listing their products online will want to take three things into consideration when it comes to optimisation – Visibility, Relevancy and Conversions. In short, you want potential customers to not only see your product but to click through and ultimately buy the product you’re selling. You can optimise in the following ways:
- Optimise The Listing Title – Your amazon title should include your brand, product line, materials or a key feature, the product type, the colour, size and the quantity or packaging.
- Optimise Descriptions/Bullet Points – If there are any keywords associated with your product that weren’t able to fit in the title naturally, the bullet points are the perfect opportunity to get them in. These details will ensure that all bases are covered, even down to device types that your product is compatible with.
- Tell A Story With Your Product Descriptions – While your product description won’t directly affect your ranking, it is one of your keys to making that final conversion.
- Get Reviews – If you’ve ever purchased something off of Amazon, we’re willing to bet you took a look at the reviews. They are a powerful tool anywhere online but on Amazon, they are a leading method for users to determine the quality of their potential purchase before they hit checkout.
Instagram is rapidly growing in popularity, already hosting over a billion people every single month and outranked only by Facebook and YouTube. While the algorithm has been difficult to understand, not least due to the fact that it has changed so frequently in the past few years, there are three core ranking signals that Instagram will pay attention to when determining the appearance of posts within any user’s news feed. These are Relationship, Interest and Timeliness.
- Relationship – The algorithm will take into account the accounts that you interact with the most when determining which posts should appear at the top of your feed. If you like a particular account’s posts a lot, comment on their content, tag each other or even DM each other, you are more likely to see up to 90% of all of their content thanks to this ranking signal.
- Interest – Your past behaviour is one of Instagram’s most valuable tools when it comes to determining which posts you’re more likely to interact with. Using image recognition and hashtags, Instagram can better understand what the content of the image is and display similar pictures and topics using this information.
- Timeliness – Also referred to as recency, this particular ranking signal ensures that users will typically see newer posts first. For businesses, this means that posting when your users are online is crucial to ensuring that your content is seen before it’s lost in the feed.
With consumer interests leaning towards visual content, Instagram is showing no signs of disappearing from the public eye anytime soon. With the new IGTV feature, live broadcasts, stories all on top of standard posting, the platform is saturated with content and standing out amongst it all isn’t necessarily a simple process for businesses, but the algorithm certainly offers users a more tailored and seamless experience.
YouTube’s Recommended Videos
YouTube is the second most popular social media platform out there, and when you consider the power of visual content, it’s clear to see why. Like any search-based platform, however, YouTube has its own algorithm which plays a part in the search results, recommended videos and their Autoplay feature. According to YouTube, the algorithm is constantly changing and is said to be complicated, meaning that content creators on the platform have no foolproof way of reaching success with their channel – except making high-quality, engaging and entertaining content, of course.
However, YouTube has said that there are a number of different criteria that the algorithm will take into account, including:
- What people do or don’t watch
- Watch times and retention rates
- View velocity/growth rate
- How new the video is
- How often a channel uploads new content
- The time people spend on the platform overall
- ‘Not Interested’ feedback
For businesses, Twitter’s rather basic news feed in the way of ‘Latest Tweets’ offers simplicity when reaching customers, however, it does rely on an algorithm to format and determine the posts found in the ‘Top Tweets’ feed and the Trends for You. Twitter’s main sections currently consist of:
- Top Tweets – This feed is organised using ranking signals, utilising information about the content you’ve liked or interacted with in the past to determine which tweets you’re likely to engage with the most. This section can also feature Who To Follow suggestions.
- Latest Tweets – This is the standard feed, which features the reverse-chronological feed of tweets and content posted by your followers.
- ICYMI – This section is also powered by an algorithm, taking into account your interaction with different accounts and content, to determine which tweets you’re likely to want to see most. The more often you visit the app or websites, the less often you will see this.
- Happening Now – This doesn’t appear often, but showcases some of the most recent events and topics of interest that are trending.
- Trends For You – This highlights popular trends, hashtags and topics that are more tailored to you and your interests. This is also algorithm-driven, though you can personalise this further based on your location at any one time.
Twitter has recently announced that there will be upcoming changes to the algorithm, however, there are very few details available just yet. There does seem to be a focus on improving machine learning for its algorithm, as well as streamlining conversation-based features. However, ranking signals will reportedly remain the same, focusing on recency, engagement, Rich Media and other features such as follower counts and location.
The World Wide Web is full of algorithms, changing and improving how we see the content in front of us. From personalising our news feeds, to ensure that we get the results we’re looking for within a search engine, algorithms offer a more enriched experience and the above are some of the most powerful available today.
For information about optimising your content for the algorithms listed here or any others around the web, contact a member of our team on 0800 088 6000, today.