Algorithms Formulated for Success

An algorithm is a set of guidelines that describe how to perform a task. A recipe is an algorithm. Directions to a party are also an algorithm. But in the computer science realm, where we most often hear the term, the definition is a little more complex. Essentially, it’s a sequence of instructions telling a computer what to do. Why should you care? Because an algorithm can affect the success of your business.

Formulas That Work for Us

First comes the algorithm, then comes the code. An algorithm is a list of rules a computer program follows in order to solve a problem. The raw material used to solve problems is data. The process is also used to manipulate data, performing acts like searching and sorting. There can be more than one algorithm used to solve the same problem, so knowing the abilities of the set of rules means you can choose the best one for the job.

Algorithms Formulated for Success
Our searches change the rules

Why do we hear so often about algorithms being changed? Well, that’s technology adapting to our behavior. New websites and new technologies affect our habits when it comes to how we interact with the internet. Ultimately, these changes are implemented to give us a better user experience.

Machine Learning

Typically, part of an algorithm is machine learning. Let’s talk about three kinds of machine learning: supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement.

With supervised learning, input and desired output data are provided and labelled. This gives the machine a learning basis. For example, data that identifies different flower images as roses, daisies, and carnations could be provided. Based on these examples, the machine is shown a new image and asked to classify it. The algorithm powering this model is evaluated by how accurately it classifies the new flower pictures.

Algorithms Formulated for Success
Data is food for algorithms

Unsupervised learning does away with the labeled data and asks the machine to learn from raw data only. By looking for structure through useful features in a collection of examples, certain patterns and similarities emerge. An algorithm using unsupervised learning is searching for that commonality in data sets. Let’s say a marketer wants to know more about who is buying their products. By using raw customer data, an algorithm can define what those customers have in common and identify a target market.

Reinforcement learning works by giving a machine general reward signals about its performance. When an AI agent performs the best action in a scenario, it gets feedback. In this way, it learns. That’s how a video game or computer chess improves its ability to perform.

Practical Applications

So, again, what does this have to do with you as a business owner? The programmers working for Google and Facebook (for example), write a lot of algorithms. And they’re always changing. Plus, they change themselves as they learn from users. The goal of a business is to optimize their sites and pages, according to the algorithms. It’s a moving target and if you’re invested in getting the most out of your internet presence, you’ll pay attention to the changes. Using metrics, you can adjust to an algorithm and boost your ranking.

Algorithms Formulated for Success
Google’s algorithms improve UX

Google’s goal is to find the most relevant web pages for a particular search term or set of keywords. The reason Google is the number one search engine in the world is that it consistently performs good, relevant searches. When you google a dry cleaner, powerful algorithms get to work ranking pages for you. Relevant information can include business location, links, and keywords. Playing by Google’s rules will boost your rankings. Try to cheat the system, and Google will ding you, adversely affecting your organic search ranking.

Google would see a site called BestBurgerToronto.ca as a ploy to get a higher ranking through an exact search term, earning the site an algorithm penalty. Instead, a list of articles taste-testing burger places in Toronto would rank higher. It’s the internet version of when a company would name itself AAA Auto Mechanics to show up first in the Yellow Pages.

Obey the Rules

An algorithm is meant to be helpful. Once you understand how you benefit from them in everyday life, they seem less intimidating. You can even take advantage of their power if you play by the rules.