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Sep 30th, 2015
A couple of years ago, we talked about how building a FIFA Ultimate Team is similar to creating a good digital marketing strategy. As it turns out, football isn’t only useful in illustrating how entrepreneurs can effectively market their business online since it can also help people learn more about algorithms.
Specifically, as professor and mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy showed us, a football game can demonstrate how Google’s PageRank algorithm works. SEO experts have a deep understanding about PageRank, but this isn’t really the case for many small and medium-sized business owners as well as most casual internet users. Fortunately, this can be changed through Du Sautoy’s TV programme called “The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms” (which aired on BBC on September 24).
On his show, Professor Du Sautoy noted that PageRank ― contrary to popular belief ― is a ranking algorithm and not a search algorithm. He went on to explain that, when people type a query into Google or any other search engine, there are millions of webpages that will match their search term. PageRank is responsible for ranking these pages and ensuring that the first one to be presented is the one that the searcher is most likely interested in.
Bjorn Bringert, a software engineer in Google who was interviewed for the show, said that PageRank considers two major factors when ranking pages. One, it looks at the other pages that link to a certain page, and two, it considers how important these other pages are.
Professor Du Sautoy illustrated this concept by showing a football game, with the players standing in for webpages and the passes between them representing online links. He explained: “Generally speaking, the PageRank algorithm will give a higher rank to a website if it’s got a lot of links coming from other websites. So in the case of football, if a player gets more passes from the rest of the team, then they’ll be ranked higher.”
But, given the fact that there are now millions and millions of links and webpages, things aren’t that easy. “The PageRank algorithm actually gives more weight to a link from a website that itself has a high page rank,” Professor Du Sautoy clarified. “So actually, a pass from a popular player is worth more than a pass from a player who’s hardly involved in the game at all.” In Google’s eyes, this means that a link coming from an important website has more link juice (or, in other words, is more valuable) than a link coming from a not-so-popular site.
And that’s just for one website. As Bringert explained, Google has to compute PageRank for every single webpage at the same time, and they have to do the computation again and again since they have to update the significance of all the pages. This, in turn, will “influence the importance of the pages that those pages link to”.
Professor Du Sautoy illustrated this concept by pointing out that the players’ stats change as they continue to pass the ball to each other. Their stats can be compared to webpages’ rankings so, every time a pass is made (or every time one page links to another), these rankings get updated.
He added that the job of the algorithm is done when the match ends. The player who has the highest stats ends up being on the top of team roster, and the website with the highest number of high-quality links gets the Number One position in the SERPs.
Aside from explaining PageRank, “The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms” discussed the history of algorithms as well as the types of algorithms that are used in dating websites, face-detection technology and other innovations. It can be viewed in BBC’s iPlayer until October 30.
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