Trying to keep up with the latest trends in SEO can feel like an exercise in futility. The things that Google expects from site builders and content creators are always changing! The rules of SEO have changed so dramatically that if a search engine (okay, Google) even suspects that you’re trying to game its system, your site can be penalized and sometimes even removed from the search engine’s databases completely.

This is incredibly frustrating from a promotional point of view, sure, but admit it: as a Google user aren’t you glad that you no longer have to click through dozens of keyword stuffed and poorly written “ad-bait” websites to get to the information you need?

The simple fact is (and this is going to be a lesson that is hard for some of you to learn) Google does not work for you (the seller). Google works for the searcher—the same person whose attention you’re hoping to attract.

The Good Old Days

Once upon a time getting your website to the front page of Google was relatively easy. You chose the keywords you wanted to most be associated with and then stuffed those keywords into your site content as many times as they could fit—whether or not they were relevant. You built link wheels and made sure that you had profiles on every forum and that those profiles linked back to you. It was a numbers game, pure and simple.

Now, Google is more sophisticated. The crackdown started a couple of years ago when Google adjusted its algorithms to scan for “duplicate” content. Surely you noticed how, all of a sudden, the volume of results you got in a Google search was cut in half? Then, a couple of years ago, Google rolled out its Panda and Penguin updates.

Penguin and Panda are designed to check for relevance and originality. They forced content creators and website owners to ensure that the links that pointed to their sites were from relevant sources and that the keywords used within that site’s content related to the site as a whole. Content that lacked relevancy started getting slapped left and right.

Then, last fall, Google made headlines by all but scrapping its original algorithm and feeding something completely new into its spiders and crawlers. This new algorithm was named, appropriately, Hummingbird.

Hummingbird, How Apropos

Like the animal it is named after, the Google Hummingbird algorithm is built to shift modes on a dime and to react intuitively to the stimuli provided it. Unlike the algorithms that came before, which were merely a factor/number game, this algorithm is conversational.

What does that mean?

It means that you can ask Google a direct question and the results you get should answer that question. Yes. Just like the computer in Star Trek.

Take it for a spin. Type in “who is the President of the United States?”

Pretty neat, right?

Now, type in “Who is the President married to?”

Ultimately, Google is hoping to make the algorithm smart enough that you can follow up “Who is the President of the United States?” with “who is he married to?” and get the appropriate result.

But this isn’t all that the Hummingbird algorithm can do.

Remember—the algorithm is designed to be intuitive to surrounding stimuli. So, imagine that you’re driving through a town you’ve never been to before. Now you can type “where can I get the best hamburger in X” and your results (provided you have location targeting turned on in your smart phone) will be returned based on where you are and the proximity of those hamburgers to your current location.

It’s really cool (admittedly in a creepy way).

So What Does All of This Mean For You?

It means that you have to switch out your SEO game. Hummingbird doesn’t focus solely on keywords. It also takes links into account when determining page rank, and this is leading to a slow but steady rise in something called “Negative SEO.”

Negative SEO is a technique that some people are using to discredit competitors by building “junk links” to a business’s website in an attempt to get that site yanked from the databases. The goal is to exploit the algorithm’s “distaste” for links that come from irrelevant sites.

As far as your keywords are concerned, the old method of figuring out which keywords to focus on is pretty much dead.

By now you’ve probably seen that, even though the keyword building tool is still active, Google has stopped tracking the keywords people are using to find your site within its search engine. This is largely because Google has started focusing on “long tail” keywords instead of “short tail” keywords. They are especially interested in “stop words.”

A short tail keyword is what you used to use when you would stuff your keywords into your content. It was designed around whatever words people plugged into the search engine in the early days.

A long tail keyword is a grammatically correct phrase. Stop words are the articles or qualifiers within that phrase.

For example: “Where are the best hamburgers in Chattanooga?”

When Google focused on “short tail” keywords, each word in that sentence would have been searched for independently and the results you got would have been ranked by the sites that contained the most of them.

With “long tail” keywords, Google started searching for that phrase as a whole—returning sites that ranked highly for exactly “Where are the best hamburgers in Chattanooga?”

Now, with the addition of “stop words” Google can actually return the answer you need. In this sentences “are” is the “stop word.” So Google is searching simultaneously for “best hamburgers in Chattanooga” as well as their locations and returning the results that actually answer your question.

So What Do I Do?

Instead of focusing on the numbers game, it’s time for you to start focusing on your marketing and branding. What exactly do you want to tell the people who wind up on your website? Who are your customers?

For example, let’s say you run a restaurant that really does make the best hamburgers in Chattanooga. Obviously you’ll want to make sure that the long tail keyword is in your site’s Meta data and that it is referenced contextually within your content. Beyond that, you’ll want to show your readers that you understand your food. You’ll want to give them reasons to stay on your site and continue checking out your content. Providing your menu, photos of your restaurant, testimonials from customers—the same things your instincts told you to do before you learned about keywords and SEO!

Hummingbird has given you more control over your content than you had before and quality is the name of the game now. It’s not about numbers, it’s about messaging and communication and the company that best answers a person’s questions and meets a person’s need is the company that’s going to win.