Image via Monika Hibbs.
If you use Pinterest as a key social media channel to drive ongoing referral traffic to your website, then you must have felt the recent Pinterest algorithm change.
If you missed it, here is a great rundown courtesy of Elena from Living With Batman.
In my job as a Brisbane based Digital Marketer and Social Media Specialist, my clients rely on me to get on top of algorithm changes quickly. I need to work out how the algorithm works, what impact it will have and how to get around it.
Well like always, I started using, testing and learning and I believe I now have a good understanding of how the algorithm is working, and what little tricks we can employ to try to “get around it” so we can continue to leverage Pinterest as the incredible traffic driving platform it used to be.
Let’s get into it.
An Open Letter to Pinterest: What have you done?
I am pretty disappointed in this algorithm change for a number of reasons. I’m sitting on the consultant “I care about my clients” side of the fence as well as my blogger “I care about my referral traffic” side of the fence AND my personal “I care about my Pinterest user experience” side of the fence.. (OK it’s an extra special 3 sided fence).
So you can tell that this open letter is not going to be hugely positive already..
Usually as a digital marketing & social media consultant, when an algorithm changes, I know that it’s often for the better and I can usually see through to the bigger strategy and why a channel is choosing to implement the algorithm. In this case, I’m afraid you just got it all wrong Pinterest!
I mean it would be one thing if I was just hating on it because I have to find a new way to outsmart a social media algorithm. Quite frankly, I’m a social media specialist and it’s rare for such a massive algorithm shift to come about these days (little ones yes, but not so many big ones) so I relish the opportunity to dive in and find out “what works” in a new landscape.
Unfortunately, it’s not just that. I just really hate this algorithm change from an avid Pinterest user’s perspective AND as a marketer.
Let me tell you why. Soapbox ready?
I really loved the “real time” nature of the platform. I loved knowing that I would see updates from my friends in my home feed. I loved that I saw updates from like minded people from the boards I followed.
This is how Pinterest has been used since it launched. Pinterest users have been carefully been curating feeds of content they enjoy by following “individuals” and “boards” that pin content they enjoy.
I have had my Pinterest account for years. I mean, since 2012 when it first launched in Australia. I was an advocate for the platform almost immediately. You can even watch this crazy embarrassing interview of me talking about Pinterest when I’m still a baby consultant working in my first agency (no judgement please).
That’s part of the problem right there.
I’m just not the same person I was back then. I don’t want the same things.
And it appears Pinterest didn’t take this into account when developing their 2016 algorithm update.
They didn’t take the time to intimately understand their own platform and the psychology of how people use it.
People use Pinterest to “save” aspirational, inspirational and motivational content to review later.
But the things that I found inspirational and motivational two years ago, simply are no longer relevant to me.
As far as I can tell, the new algorithm is based off of past engagements with particular topics and the new content you are showing in the feed is based off of the affinity and influence of pins made around those topics.
So this means, even if 2 years ago I was interested in planning a kitchen renovation, you’re going to show me kitchen renovation ideas.
Do I have to delete my old “Kitchen Reno” board to stop you from promoting that content in my feed? My renovation is now done and dusted but I wanted to keep the board there for nostalgia’s sake. I also am not very keen on sifting through the 1000s of pins on my boards to delete anything that I no longer find interesting.
From what I can see in my feed I am also being shown the “most popular” pins from users I follow, which is great, but I want to see all of their pins.
Over the last year, I started to carefully curate a list of Pinfluencers whose content I truly loved. I came to love their pins. All of their pins. I conducted my due diligence and thoroughly stalked them before choosing to hit that precious “follow” button and now, it was practically all for nothing.
Now in my feed I constantly see pins that I’m not interested in (Kate circa 2014 probably was, but today Kate not so much).
In addition I am also seeing pins that I have seen time and time again.
Unlike the Facebook algorithm that takes notice of “impressions” and can identify when you have seen content and not engaged with that content (therefore deeming that content “not so relevant” to you and adding it further down the list of content items you will see in your feed), Pinterest doesn’t appear to be doing this.
I know this because I am seeing pins in my feed that I have seen A LOT. Sure, they are popular. Some of them have thousands of pins.
But if I’ve seen it in my feed before (with a frequency of > 3) and I didn’t “like” or “pin” it – I’m not interested.
What it all boils down to.
- The algorithm doesn’t appear to take “time” into consideration. Due to the nature of the Pinterest channel and how people use it, it absolutely should take recency into the equation for best results.
- Not only am I not seeing the content I opted in to see from the people I chose to “follow” but Pinterest is showing me more of what I don’t want to see.
User experience dwindling.
A call for action:
Pinterest, I beg of you; Give me back my old feed where I can view a very carefully curated list of pins posted by people whose opinions I care about, brands who post content I adore, and the odd promoted pin I genuinely am interested in because your advertising team is getting it much more “right” than your product performance team is…
Then again, I’m sure the reason this is all happening is because you want to monetise and introduce promoted pins, and your collaboration boards (and their huge success) were too difficult to compete with your own advertising profits..
Maybe you should have thought of that earlier..
Sincerely, one of your biggest “old” fans,
OK so it’s happened. What are we going to do about it?
OK rant over. I just wanted to really explain how detrimental I think this algorithm shift has been from all sides of the equation. Now that it’s out of the way, I can stop dwelling on the past and focus on what to do next.
What I do best: find out how the algorithm does work and find a way to
cheat work with the system.
So what’s the answer? I have five little “hacks” for you to consider which will help you to get your content in front of influential Pinners.
Like most of my answers to the tough digital marketing questions these days, it is simply: outreach (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I recommend reading this post first).
You’ve just got to pick up the metaphorical phone.
Is it more time consuming? You betcha. Is it effective? Absolutely.
In such a world where quality content is our currency, I believe we are going to get to a point where the only way to “cut through” is to build meaningful relationships online through sharing high quality content that adds value to others lives.
The best way to do that (effectively at scale) is outreach.
Send off an email to people who have some influence and who pin on the topic you are promoting.
I actually got this idea from a gentleman who recently sent me this email:
Of course I pinned his content! I love to reward people who are thinking outside of the box and doing digital right.
You can check out Jacob’s blog over here.
Thanks for giving me the idea Jacob!
2. Notification Emails:
It sort of pains me to tell you about this hack because it again, just proves how wrong Pinterest got this algorithm.
If you have turned on your email notifications for Pinterest and someone follows you, Pinterest may send you a little email like this one:
So as much as I refuse to promote “follow spamming” (seriously, not ever) if you start to make more of an effort to reach out to and connect with Pinterest users who are like minded, you’re much more likely to get your content in front of them- and I don’t even have to tell you that this (like all other digital marketing) really just boils down to crafting high quality, valuable content in the first place.
3. Build up your own follower base
Have you noticed in your Pinterest notifications you can see group updates from Pinners you follow in the “news” section?
Building up your own followers (as opposed to relying solely on the influencer/followers of others and the “Group Boards” you tried so hard to become part of) will really help you to reach more of your engaged audience.
4. Work on your Pinterest SEO
Yep. SEOing your Pinterest “pins” is just as important as the SEO you implement for your blog (if not more so because the referral traffic impact of a viral pin is second to no other digital tactic I’ve seen in my time).
To “SEO” your Pins be sure to:
- Incorporate keywords users are likely to search in Pinterest into your pin descriptions
- Be sure to always “repin” a pin that has already been pinned (repins are the equivalent of “links” in SEO land – the more repins the more Pinterest will promote that content)
- Delete unpopular pins from your boards (to lift the overall influence of content you post, delete pins that have a low number of likes or repins)
5. Add strong calls to actions on your blog
Why not capitalise on your traffic when it’s active and engaged with you? In this case, you’re reading this post and if you’re still reading, I’m hoping that you enjoyed it somewhat.
Therefore, I would absolutely love it if you would “pin” this post to your Pinterest board.
Here’s a handy little “pin it” button I prepared earlier:
I think when reflecting on this algorithm update or any updates made by our favourite social media channels (as infuriating as they may be) we have to remember that we are living in a world where high quality content is the new marketing currency.
As long as you are crafting high quality, bespoke content pieces that truly add value and meaning to the lives of others then you (and your blog) will be just fine.
If you are interested in working out how to develop a content strategy that is built to truly “cut through” then I recommend downloading my Free Content Marketing Workbook.
What do you think of the new Pinterest algorithm update? Do you like it or hate it like I do? Have you found any hacks that work? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!