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Show Highlights

Ashkahn and Derek talk about algorithms, those pesky bits of code that push your posts up or down on social media and search engines and leave you scrambling for ways to get likes and clicks, constantly mixing it up to just be seen.

The duo discusses how algorithms affect everyday posts for small businesses and how to keep up on information about the constantly changing nature of these systems. The main takeaway is, if your content is fresh, non-repetitive and you aren’t trying to game the system, you likely have nothing to worry about.

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Listen to Just the Audio

Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Ashkahn: Okay, welcome everybody.

Derek: Hey, hey, hey.

Ashkahn: This is Ashkahn.

Derek: This is Derek.

Ashkahn: Derek. We have a slightly different crew here today.

Derek: Mixing it up.

Ashkahn: That’s right. It’s time for the Ashkahn and Derek podcast.

Derek: It’s about time.

Ashkahn: It is, you know? We’ve been waiting for Graham to get out of here so we could really go over some pretty good topics.

Derek: Yeah, finally.

Ashkahn: He holds us back a lot, you know? Graham is actually out, he’s visiting his dad in Idaho, so he’s off further than our microphone sticks can reach, so we’re here in the studio having some quality Derek and Ashkahn time.

Derek: Very, very high quality.

Ashkahn: We got a question for you today and …

Derek: What is it?

Ashkahn: I guess I have to read it.

Derek: Yes.

Ashkahn: I’m not used to reading them but here we go, this is going to be… This is exciting.

Derek: No pressure.

Ashkahn: I’m excited to read the question. Alright, alright. Our question today, “why do Google and Facebook keep changing their algorithms? How do you keep up with all the changes?”

Derek: Why? Well, there’s probably a couple of reasons. One, they like to make money.

Ashkahn: Well, okay, hold on. Step back for a second and make sure people understand what these algorithms are.

Derek: Oh, yeah yeah.

Ashkahn: My guess, I’m going to make some assumptions based off this question, which is that they’re talking about things like Google’s search engine optimization algorithm and Facebook algorithm for …

Derek: Newsfeed.

Ashkahn: Newsfeed, like which of your posts are being seen by how many people …

Derek: Ad relevancy.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so we’re not talking about like the algorithms that these companies are developing to make ascension AI that will one day kill us all …

Derek: Maybe.

Ashkahn: Maybe.

Derek: Right now we’re just talking about how it starts.

Ashkahn: Advertising.

Derek: Skynet becomes aware. [inaudible 00:02:22] that movie.

Ashkahn: Yeah, they have these algorithms to decide things like when someone types in float tanks Portland, what websites show up first and second and third and etc. And Facebook does a bunch of stuff like this, right? There’s so much content on Facebook nowadays so they can’t just pump everything to everybody so they have all these sophisticated ways of determining if you post something how much of your audience will see it.

Derek: Facebook’s algorithms pretty much are trying to guess what you’re going to like to view, so if you’re following let’s say 300 pages and you have 500 friends, there’s 800 potential sources of information coming at you and a lot of people post more than once a day, so what the algorithms are doing is just basically try to solve a problem as what is Ashkahn going to enjoy viewing at this moment and what Ashkahn enjoys viewing could change with the times. These algorithms keep changing. One of the main reasons they keep changing is because people try to game the algorithms.

Ashkahn: Right. I mean, that’s the thing. I mean, we don’t actually know exactly what these algorithms are. It’s not Google and Facebook puts out like “here are all of the rules that determine our ranking order” and stuff like that. They do provide you some information.

Derek: Right.

Ashkahn: like Google has information it says about SEO and tips to make it better and they put out a lot of like blogs and videos and all sorts of stuff, but they don’t actually tell you specifically like here’s how it works and here’s this and here’s a calculation that will show you this. I don’t know, I mean in some cases maybe they don’t even know if they’re using like machine learning for parts of it or something.

Derek: Well, some of that’s like the proprietary like secret sauce of Coca Cola kind of stuff, right?

Ashkahn: Right.

Derek: Like so I had a SEO friend tell me that at one point there are 300 plus different little tweaks to the Google algorithm that change on like an hourly basis.

Ashkahn: Wow.

Derek: Like they could just shift dramatically with the wind and they do giant updates with the SEO algorithm. They hear these things like Panda is an update and everybody has to go what’s new in Panda and decipher the big changes and then sometimes they do little tweaks here and there based on again, aggregating people’s usage of search results. I search for float tanks in Portland and if 75% of them click on Float On, maybe they’re going to put Float On at the top but if 75% of them click on the second one down, well maybe we should move that second one to the top now. Everything is changing all the time.

Ashkahn: Yeah and they change. I mean, they don’t release it both because it’s proprietary and they don’t want other people just like copying their algorithm and getting all the years of development, but also because that same reason. They’re trying to prevent people from gaming it. The more that you can find the exact levers to pull with something like Google’s search engines or Facebook’s determining of how many people see your posts, the more you can just kind of like arbitrarily do things to push on those levers.

Derek: Well, I mean, I say this all the time about a lot of things, but marketers ruin everything. I mean, basically a marketer’s job is to try to get the most bang for their buck and if they don’t have to spend any bucks, even better, right?

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Derek: If a marketer can game Google’s algorithm for SEO purposes, then that marketer doesn’t have to pay for Google ads, and Google is not going to like that and Google is going to find what all these marketers are talking about and tweak it, because if everybody is in the know then it’ll make them all in the not know all over again.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so part of it is just that, the obscurity of what’s going on makes people not able to do things that aren’t actually valuable to people too. I mean, as another way of thinking about it, right? Like with SEO, there’s this thing about keywords, right? You want to have a lot of keywords, you want to have float tank written many times on your website, but you can’t just fill a page with “float tank, float tank” repeated, copy and paste the word float tank.

Derek: Or variations of the word float tank.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and at some point, you know, when Google at some point they made that rule of to like look at keywords and then they immediately had to make another rule saying …

Derek: You can’t have more than 3% of your entire page be this one keyword you’re trying to anchor for.

Ashkahn: Yeah, so it’s kind of like a back and forth, I think, is part of it, right?

Derek: It’s a tug of war for sure.

Ashkahn: These companies make these algorithms, people figure out how to like game them, then they figure out how to improve their algorithms to not be manipulated by the way people are gaming them, then people have figured out how to game the new ones, and there’s that struggle happening.

Derek: Well, it’s like any time computers come out and people go oh, this isn’t hackable or anti-virus software, well there’s a hacker that’s going to figure out how to hack it and ends up hacking it, so it’s the same thing with algorithms. Marketers are going to figure out how to hack to the system and get more bang for their buck. Now that’s kind of why they’re always changing, like how to keep up with it, there are plenty of websites out there. Like Search Engine Journal, Social Media Examiner, these sites are dedicated to following the trends. They talk to other marketers, they find out what’s working in different circles, and they aggregate all of that, and then guess what happens when it becomes public knowledge?

Ashkahn: People start gaming it.

Derek: And it all changes again, so it’s almost like each sides of this industry are keeping each other in business, like if nobody ever gamed an algorithm, you wouldn’t need to tweak algorithms, and if you never tweaked algorithms, there would be no sites needed to tell you how to game the algorithms.

Ashkahn: And they’re improving and stuff like that too, and I mean, to a certain extent have to deal with the shifting landscape. Like at some point Facebook could show you all of the content everybody was posting because it was just like a much smaller world, right? Then I think … This is all the very like optimistic nice way of viewing this whole thing, but in a very kind of sugar coated way of viewing the world, would say that they were altering these algorithms to deal with the fact that they just had so much more content and they had to like for the first time deal with like a signal to noise ratio in a way that they didn’t before.

Derek: Well, back in when these networks came to be, there was no algorithm, no newsfeed bias.

Ashkahn: Right.

Derek: You got to see everything everyone posted and really quickly the backlash was too many people are talking. Well, what do you do? Tell your friends to shut up or Facebook has to step in and go we’re going to limit this chatty person that says nothing all day long.

Ashkahn: Even like Twitter held out for a much longer time before they started filtering stuff.

Derek: And Twitter is going back. I just read an article again on one of these sites that you stay in the know on, Twitter is beta testing some options to give people a true timeline once again.

Ashkahn: Here’s the interesting thing to me, like it’s a big question how do you stay in the know on this stuff because it can … I mean, there’s people whose entire professions are this, right?

Derek: Right.

Ashkahn: Like there’s someone who all they do is do SEO and …

Derek: And sometimes even they suck at their job.

Ashkahn: Yeah, but they’re spending a full time job looking at the changes, seeing what’s different, testing things, learning the nuances, so like you can go incredibly deep into this, right?

Derek: Absolutely.

Ashkahn: For the context of people running float centers, I’m not sure you would want to spend eight hours a day, five days a week learning about the nuances of SEO.

Derek: Unless that’s your side passion, but …

Ashkahn: Well, you got to run your shit, like your center. To me there’s like, I think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a balance in here somewhere and that the nice thing about these algorithms changing is that in my mind, the core fundamentals stay the same. Like at the end of the day the less you’re trying to actively game the nuances of these algorithms, the less things are going to affect you when they change.

Derek: Right.

Ashkahn: Like if you’re focusing on putting out good content and doing it regularly, like Google is always going to appreciate nice websites full of good content that naturally have these keywords peppered throughout them because that’s going to happen when you’re writing things in a field that you’re in.

Derek: Right.

Ashkahn: The more that you have good content, the more people are going to link over to your sites. Google is going to appreciate them. These are like the fundamentals of this stuff that don’t tend to change around as much, like maybe parts of them change around or slightly different techniques about them change around but at no point is the concept of keywords going to go away.

Derek: So that’s like a ground rule, right? So like you find out what these ground rules are that haven’t changed through all the algorithm updates and those are the consistencies you probably want to follow and then anytime you hear the “do this new thing to get x% more visitors for a limited time”, ditch all that stuff because that’s like back in the old SEO days. Like you learn all these little black hat SEO tricks and then like Google bans and slaps you and totally reverses all your rankings, so you can actually for a short term gain get a long term loss.

Again, whatever these foundational things like on Facebook, for example, the quality of message as to the relevancy of the audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re talking about football to a knitting circle, there’s a disconnect there but if you’re talking knitting to a knitting circle, then that’s going to be good. Targeted messaging is good, quality messaging. Frequency, not too much but not too little. These are some foundational things that have never changed throughout time, maybe a little bit here and there, but like oh, if you post at this time of day and do these couple of little tweaks and send it to this group that will also turn around and like it, those little things are going to probably get found out by Facebook and either negatively affect you or stop working for you.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and I feel like the more you’re creating your own kind of genuine content the less likely you are to fall into some trap, right? Like at some point you writing a post or putting a picture up from your shop or writing something cool that a customer said that day is much less likely to get flagged then like posting a meme or something like that that it falls into this more like trendy category that could be boosted or pushed down depending on the wills of Facebook’s algorithms.

Derek: What I would probably do is I was a small business owner trying to at least keep my ear to the ground but not super intense, is follow some of these top sites on a subject you want to follow, like if it’s social media, Social Media Examiner is a good one. If it’s SEO, Search Engine Journal is another good one. Moz is another good one. Follow these key sites that a lot of people focus on and really pay attention to the major things that are foundational, like if there was a frequency change in Facebook, like now people should only post once every other day otherwise Facebook is really going to penalize you, then maybe you do that adjustment.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and I feel like there’s a certain amount of just like if you are doing things that are relatively up to date with technology, I think that is going to help you too. Like I just got an email from Google saying that their prioritizing mobiles.

Derek: Mobiles.

Ashkahn: Right?

Derek: Mobile indexing.

Ashkahn: That was like last week or something, they sent this big e-mail out saying they’re moving to like a mobile first kind of search algorithm and if you have a site that isn’t well suited to mobile and like big pages on your site are just not on your mobile site and things like that, like you’re about to get punished now.

Derek: Right. Your images have to load fast now and all that stuff.

Ashkahn: Yeah, but if you’re doing general like upkeep and making sure your websites are functioning well and modern and stuff like that anyway, when these changes happen, they’re not really going to affect you that much.

Derek: Right, it’s only going to penalize the people that still built a website in Geocities that haven’t updated it since 1997.

Ashkahn: Yeah, I mean, so the nice thing is these algorithms are built around the content, the good content, that’s out there, so if you just keep things good on your own you might like accidentally be optimizing yourself for all this stuff without even knowing it.

Derek: Right. Yeah, algorithms are the thing that keep marketers in business. If you’re not a marketer and you have no interest in algorithms, find one who does.

Ashkahn: Marketers keep Google and Facebook in business.

Derek: Marketers keep ruining everything. If we didn’t have to try to get our work done for free, we wouldn’t have any of these problems.

Ashkahn: Good, yeah. That seems like a nice lesson for today, marketers ruin everything.

Derek: Yeah, I agree with it. As a marketer, I will be the first to admit.

Ashkahn: Alright, well if you guys out there have any more questions for us, you can go over to FloatTankSolutions.com/podcast, and it’s going to be great. We’ll be here waiting. We’re just staring at our computer screens right now.

Derek: this is your way to game the system.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Derek: Get your question answered.

Ashkahn: Yeah, send in a thousand of the same question and we’ll most certainly answer it.

Derek: Yes, over and over. Absolutely. Be obnoxious.

Ashkahn: Alright, talk to you later.

Derek: Bye everybody.

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