How to Beat the Algorithm

Appearing at the top of the Google search results or Facebook newsfeed is marketing gold, but for many businesses getting there is more difficult than reaching the proverbial end of the rainbow.

As a digital marketing agency, one of the most common questions we receive is how to beat the _________ (fill in the blank) algorithm.

In the early to mid-2000s, you actually could beat the algorithm. Back then, search engine marketers got to the top of the search results by outsmarting the Google algorithm. Unfortunately for many of them, the algorithm eventually caught up. Then left them behind.

Today, you’re fighting a losing battle if your goal is to seek out and take advantage of holes in the algorithm. You’re much better off taking a completely different approach. We say, if you can’t beat them… join them.

In the early days of black hat SEO and PPC arbitrage, there were a lot of people making a lot of money by beating the Google algorithm, and while you still hear about people doing a lot of crazy things to get ahead of algorithms, I think it’s a lot easier to work with them rather than against them.

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a process or set of rules that is followed by computers to solve problems or achieve certain objectives. These rules are programmed by human beings.

As a marketer, you are better off when you team up with the algorithm to help it achieve its objectives. In order to do this, you have to know what the human beings who programmed the algorithm want to accomplish.

As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

So the question is what do search engines like Google and social networks like Facebook want? And how can you use that knowledge to get what you want as a business?

You’ve probably heard the word “relevant” thousands of times (especially if you’ve ever attended a marketing conference or read a marketing blog). The days of conference speakers telling you to create relevant content are far from over.

That’s because the goal of all search engines and social media sites is to be relevant. The moment they are no longer relevant is the moment they will begin to fade away.

The Economics of Attention

When you’re not relevant, you lose visitors. They take their attention elsewhere.

Remember MySpace?

This is what Dr. Thales Teixeira at Harvard Business School calls “The Economics of Attention.

In a world where the cost of acquiring consumer attention has increased dramatically (7 to 9 fold) in the past two decades, the value of consumer attention is rising.

Pete Cashmore at Mashable said, “We’re living at a time when attention is the new currency.” 

You spend it. You use it. It’s valuable.

If enough people stopped using Facebook tomorrow, Facebook would cease to exist. But as far as we know, Facebook is not going anywhere because right now Facebook is where most of us place our attention.

Three Challenges to Capturing Attention

If you want to capture and keep the attention of your audience, you have to create content that is relevant to them. Here are three challenges you will face:

  1. The Internet is Full (and it’s only going to get more full of content)
  2. Marketing is Noisy (some say we see 10,000 ads a day, say what?)
  3. People are Busy (you know this already)

As a marketer, you have to realize that relevant content is the only content that matters because only relevant content captures attention. And attention is how revenue is created (for you and for the search engines and social media sites).

The Formula for Relevant Content

To create relevant content, you have to get the formula right. Here’s how we do it:


Relevancy equals Right Message + Right Person + Right Place + Right Time. And relevancy equals attention.

Of course you already know that before consumers can be affected by advertising messages, they first need to be paying attention. And so much of that relies on timing.

In the above video, we go into detail about how to ensure you’re communicating the right message at the right time.

Hint: Getting the timing right depends on how well you understand the Buyer’s Pyramid and Eugene Schwartz’s stages of awareness.

The #WeAreSlam Show is a digital marketing podcast where you’ll learn marketing trends, best practices, and ideas to help your business or brand grow.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency, the show exists to help marketing professionals, directors, and executives grow their brands and reach their customers in a more effective way. The #WeAreSlam Show is released weekly and featured on all popular podcast and video networks.

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