The Hummingbird Hubbub

Every time there’s any kind of Google update the world of SEO goes abuzz. Everyone acts like it’s earth-shattering stuff that’s going to change the face of the web forever. Every tactic that ever got traffic before is kaput; every site that used to rank is in jeopardy of losing everything. Supposedly.

In my experience the following tends to be true: If you’ve been practicing white hat tactics, fairly little changes for you.

Back when Google squashed article directories it really only hurt those that pumped out dozens of BS articles per month because it was a good, easy source for backlinks. When Google decided volume of posts alone wasn’t relevant, it only hurt those that were pounding out 40+ junk blog articles per month because they’d figured out the “magic” formula that would make their site look like an authority. When Google made local results the focus, it denounced fly-by-night sites with no business address and nothing to offer the world. When Google placed a greater emphasis on social sharing and getting legitimate links, it only hurt content that never deserved sharing in the first place.

For the legitimate business following all the normal rules and going about it in an honest way, it’s hardly the news many claim it is. While any good SEO is always picking up new tricks, it says something if stuff in your repertoire that worked years ago still works today.

“SEO Is Changing! Maybe It’s Dead!” Sigh…

Some SEO companies make money by providing SEO for businesses. Other SEO companies make money by convincing other SEO companies to buy their new system, their new software, or access to their latest silver bullet. Some of this is good stuff, but as you’d imagine with this business model a lot of it is based on a perpetual “The sky is falling!” tactic. As an SEO who has seen his share of webinars and such, I can’t tell you how many of these panicky emails I get that go something like “Holy shit — Google changed something so if we don’t act now everything we’ve built is ruined!” Followed of course by “…But we can help.”

The opposite is always humorously true, where a new update breeds an indignant cry of “SEO is dead!” Yes, because an update that changes how sites get ranked clearly means the science behind working with that algorithm must be irrelevant. If that logic holds, then every update Facebook decides to make must mean that social media is dead. If anything, and this isn’t news either, “SEO is dead” is dead.

I remember buying into a company that touted how dead SEO was about 4 years ago (to of course promote their alternative). We all have our moments of stupidity. The only thing dead today is that company — no joke.

SEO As A Complement, Not An Antagonist

In my opinion, any SEO person that feels continuously at odds with search engines should evaluate their skill set. Search engines, at their core, have the goal of delivering the most relevant content to their users. Legitimate SEO, at its core, is the art of creating the most relevant content and helping it be found. The two are intertwined, which is why it’s no surprise that legit tactics tend to lead to sites that rank year after year.

I’ve never experienced a site that used to rank amazingly and then suddenly plummeted.

Now, I’m not saying that this won’t ever change or couldn’t change next month with some new update that actually is earth-shattering. I find it unlikely, though, as sites with great content deserve to be found. You know it, I know it, and Google knows it. Their business is based on it, so why suddenly create an algorithm that alienated their best site results and, as a by-product, their user base?

What do you think?

Read more SEO-related posts by Brian Watkins.

2 Responses to The Hummingbird Hubbub

  1. Matthew Parent October 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    What kills me is that Google has tutorials and frequently talks about how to rank well. Matt Cutts is always saying something along the lines of “Stop trying to game the system. If you do, you’re going to get smacked eventually.” Google has tutorials for ranking well that are essentially “Make good content, use good keywords, don’t game the system”.

    I think the problem is that blackhat tactics tend to work better than following the rules at any given moment. As such, it’s just an arms race between SEO spammers and Google. The problem with the blackhats’ analysis is that using blackhat tactics is a lot harder over the long run. This probably works well if you have a business selling SEO services but it’s much less effective if you’re trying to do your own SEO and actually value your time.

    • Brian Watkins October 22, 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Absolutely. Legit SEO is a slower process, often taking 30-90 days to really gain some momentum unless it’s a very niche market a business is trying to rank in. The advantage of legit SEO is that while it takes longer to get moving, it also carries that momentum well going forward and requires far less long term maintenance. Black hat SEO can lead to quick results because it’s abusing the system and tricking search engines, but making that one’s strategy means fighting a nonstop uphill battle to stay a step ahead of the search engines. Not to mention that if your site ever does get “caught” you could be penalized so hard you lose all your rankings. I’ve even heard of sites being removed from the index altogether and flagged not to be re-added for a period of time.

      I imagine it must be entertaining to be a Google employee while they roll out a new algorithm that makes headlines. You watch as SEOs scramble and rework websites, alter tactics, and blog and podcast exhaustively about how to deal with it. In the same way that it’s probably funny to be a cop getting on the expressway and watching everyone around you slow down.

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