CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- Google makes hundreds of algorithm updates each year. Many go unnoticed by website owners, but the big ones -- Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird -- have had a noticeable impact on page ranks and get the most buzz. Baffled by these changes and unaware when the next update will strike, small-business owners have been forced to reevaluate their SEO strategy.
To understand the interworkings of Google updates, it's important to review the history of SEO. Until the past few years, high search results could be achieved through relatively simple -- though ethically questionable -- means, such as buying backlinks or creating formulaic, keyword-dense copy.
Certain site owners learned quickly that it was easy to "game" the system and get higher search results more quickly than they would letting the site build authority and rank through honest means. But the head honchos running Google are no fools, and the search engine has been redefined through a series of algorithms to penalize "black hat" SEO -- meaning ethically questionable tactics -- and reward quality, white-hat practices.
Now that Google has revolutionized SEO, what does that mean for webmasters and SEO professionals?
Relevant and valuable content wins
Content is now the driving force in SEO. Content strategy was big before these updates, but previously it was dependent on keyword research. As of Sept. 23, Google Analytics no longer provides keyword data to gain insights to customers' search habits. This change may have been a blow to those who still practiced keyword stuffing, but for those who already have strong content strategies in place, it should be no big deal.
"It's not about writing for search engine anymore. It's about writing for the users and giving them content that they will actually read and find useful," says Adam Fridman, CEO of Mabbly, a digital marketing agency in Chicago.
Content that is thoughtful, relevant and valuable to the user has the biggest impact. Those who produce creative, in-depth and helpful articles don't need to rely on keyword data for traffic and instead can focus content efforts into long-term goals for the site, such as conversions.
"With the Hummingbird update, Google has emphasized conversational content, so keyword-driven content is becoming less and less important," Fridman adds.
Good content takes time, but shortcuts lose time in the long run
Good content is an investment in time and personnel, but when done right, the rewards are long lasting. This can be achieved through evergreen content. Evergreen content, like the trees of the forest, is well-produced content that is not time-sensitive, so it never fades or dies. This type of content can continuously drive traffic or convert sales.
Content shortcuts -- including outsourcing content, keyword stuffing or templated content -- have been discouraged for a while now. While quick and easy, these strategies were once effective, but that content has likely been penalized by various updates at this point.
"Many people have noticed that their content that once performed is now gaining little traction. Outdated strategies have been replaced and that old content needs to be reworked or recreated because it can't compete in this competitive landscape," Fridman says.
SEO shifts to a convergence of PR, social and content
Content may be the driving force for SEO in 2014, but a business' successful content efforts must be supported by public relations and social media strategies.
"Social sharing is huge. Getting likes, retweets, plus-ones, Reddit shares all show that content is valuable and Google takes this into consideration," Fridman says.
It all comes back to content, though.
"Poorly written, irrelevant content isn't going to earn those likes on Facebook. At the end of the day, engaging, relevant content wins," Fridman says.