What is an Algorithm?

how does google algorithm work

What is an Algorithm?

You’ve heard the word before, but do you actually know what an algorithm is? Algorithms can sound intense and complicated, but the actual concept of an algorithm is simple. Learn what algorithms are, how they function in your daily life without your notice, and why they’re important to digital marketing.

Algorithm Definition

The Cambridge Dictionary defines algorithm as “a list of instructions for solving a problem”.

Merriam-Webster defines algorithm as “a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end.” They also define algorithm as, “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation.”

The broadest definition of an algorithm is a set of rules, guidelines, or steps that produce a certain outcome or perform a specific task. While most people are scared off by the very technical sounding word, “algorithm”, at its root it is a simple concept.

The complex side of algorithms comes into play when there are many rules and factors included. Algorithms are commonly used to create complicated computer programs and solve intense mathematical equations. 

What is an Algorithm, Really?

Algorithms really can be any set of steps that complete an action. An algorithm has a finite number of steps, and is meant to solve some problem or achieve a solution of some sort. They are commonly used for calculations, data processing, or other computer and math operations.

Algorithms can manipulate data in various ways, and they are designed to do so to complete a certain task or discover a desired result.

From an everyday standpoint, we all follow algorithms frequently – we just don’t think of them as such. A recipe to bake cookies is an algorithm: you follow steps to complete a goal. Map directions are an algorithm, a set of instructions to guide you to your location. Following any set of instructions is really just following an algorithm.

On the technical side of things, algorithms are more complex. You don’t have to know how every mathematical and computer algorithm works down to the details to understand the concept of algorithms, however. They simply create a set of rules to follow and complete that process to find a result.

Algorithm Examples

There are endless types of algorithms, especially when you consider the fact that any set of instructions constitutes an algorithm. Most people think of intense code and programming when they hear the word algorithm, but there are simple algorithms as well. Here are the basics for the most common types of algorithms:

Computer Algorithms

Algorithms are strongly associated with computer science, and rightly so. Computers run on algorithms to function, performing tasks based on inputs like keystrokes or clicks on specific buttons. For a computer program to work, programmers create algorithms that tell the computer exactly what to do given any specific input.

Just like with any problem in need of a solution, there are many different algorithms that can achieve a certain task. Technology has improved as programmers create more efficient algorithms to solve problems faster, with less computing power, or by taking up less space in terms of memory and storage.

Mathematical Algorithms

Algorithms are also prevalent in mathematical equations. Since math is all about sets of rules, inputs, and answers, every math problem is essentially an algorithm.

Even when you learn basic math in elementary school, you are learning the rules to solve problems and the order that those rules must go in. You likely used algorithms without ever realizing it. Calculators use algorithms to compute answers for us, much like small computers.

Social Media Algorithms

Many people have probably heard of algorithms through discussion of social media algorithms. Social networking sites, like all websites, use algorithms to create their pages and also to display certain information to certain users. These algorithms take data from user experiences to determine what users are interested in.

The Instagram algorithm, for example, is designed to try to keep users on the platform for as long as possible. To accomplish this, their algorithm analyzes your behavior on the site – what kind of posts you like, whose posts you like and engage with, and other factors as well. The algorithm then takes that information and uses it to display content that it has determined to be most likely to interest you.

This algorithm based on your engagement and interests is why, now that Instagram’s feed is not chronological, you may notice that your friends’ posts or those of people that you like always appear higher in your feed.

Algorithms and Digital Marketing

Now that you have a better understanding of what an algorithm is and where it’s applied, you may wonder how it applies to digital marketing.

Since digital marketing is online, algorithms are really at the core of everything – the internet is essentially programmed through many algorithms, and computers are powered by them as well. Social media algorithms play heavily into digital marketing as well, since social media marketing is a huge and ever-growing field of marketing.

When it comes to SEO, algorithms are important to understand. Search engines run on algorithms to determine what results appear for what search queries, and search engines like Google have algorithms that are constantly changing and evolving.

Search Engine Algorithms

Learning how search engines work and how their algorithms display results in response to searches is vital to SEO. Since the point of SEO is optimizing websites for search engines, those algorithms affect the tactics used to get a website to rank in relevant search results.

In the earlier days of SEO, digital marketers used shady tactics, now called black hat SEO, to trick Google and other search engines into ranking their website for certain search terms.

Rather than creating a helpful, well-made website with relevant search engine-optimized content, they would just lace the page with the target keyword over and over, even where it didn’t make sense. This practice of keyword stuffing used to work, but now search engine algorithms have updated and become more complex to filter out spammy websites. 

Search engine algorithms consider a wide variety of factors to produce the results that best answer the search query. SEO experts study this algorithm and learn what works through trial and error, and there are many tactics used to help a website perform better by conforming to the algorithms.

Understanding Algorithms

The concept of algorithms is simple, but many computer and search engine algorithms are much more complex when you get into the nitty gritty. Luckily, SEO professionals can handle the details of optimizing your website for search engine algorithms, so you can focus on your business. If you’re in need of digital marketing assistance or want to learn more, contact SEO Digital Group today.

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