Are You Still Playing Russian Roulette with Google?

Are You Still Playing Russian Roulette with Google?

Reader Comments (69)

  1. And that’s how it’s done.

    Thanks for a great article, Demian. Really, like wow.

    Stop chasing the algorithm. Get inside your perfect customer’s head and talk to her. Solve her problems.

    Funny how the old and tested marketing principles still work, isn’t it? If you do it right the first time (i.e. serve a customer, not a search engine), well then, you can just keep up the great work and hum along.


      • Wonderful and well-written article, Damien. However I got to disagree with the “that’s how it is done…”

        On my blog, while guest-blogging and anywhere else I am allowed to spit my nonsense, my motto is ‘if a human being can figure out that you’re trying to cheat, then assume Google can too.’

        In a way this resonates with the content of your article. Writing high-quality content for human beings and putting in passion, effort, action, competence and effectiveness in whatever gets published on the web is a sure bet to survive future Google updates.

        However, on the other had, thinking that this alone is enough in today’s search-engine scenario is delusional. Possibly it will make sense when the scary, sentient cube, which you describe in your article, comes into being. However, in 2013-2014, links, PR, keyword research, dofollow and nofollow remain crucial to get at the top of Google.

        We might be moving towards sentient search-engine algos, but we’re not there yet. The older factors are still there. If one doesn’t take those into account (along with the quality, authorship and anything else you mention), there will be someone else who will and those will be the people who rank number one.

        • You may be right, Arthur, but I sure hope not.

          If what you say is going to be important in 2014 is, then I sure hope my novels take off because I don’t want to keep wasting my time writing copy that’s just rubbish.

          I mean, how long are we going to continue to have this negative and self-defeatist attitude that the search engines are the boss and people aren’t?

          Mainly the problem is we think our readers are stupid. No, then why do we treat them like they were 5th graders?

          Until we decide that we’re not going to be affected by machines but by people, swayed not by search but by user sentiments, and that sometimes being number 1 is worse than not appearing at the top of Google at all we’ll continue to see an internet full of rubbish.

          Google’s the king of the hill, sure, but no one can stay in that lofty perch forever. I stopped writing for them a long time ago, and I suggest you do the same.

          • It depends on your strategy. Google isn’t the only way to bring traffic to a blog, and if SEO isn’t your thing you have plenty of methods to choose from, but it will take a long time for the old SEO to become obsolete. It has evolved, not transformed.

  2. “Here’s what Hummingbird boils down to: stop chasing algorithms.”

    That’s really what all the updates in the last 2 years have been about. When you try to play the game you are going to lose because you’re playing against Google who has billions of dollars at their disposal, some of the world’s most brilliant engineers, and the only copy of the rule book. You can’t beat the person who makes the rules because sooner or later they will change the rules to stop you.

  3. Great article!

    Search is now on the cusp of a major transformation. Content that is not designed to benefit customers and offer real value has no place in the future search engines – specifity is key to this, and understanding your customer and the questions they are asking is the key to that specifity.

    I spoke about this here –

    Ultimately, Hummingbird is the biggest non-punishable algorithm update of the past 5 years. It is now more important than ever for marketers and businesses to understand the questions that customers are asking of their service and their industry to develop content that is going to rank well in the new Google.

  4. In my rather humble opinion, I think that a BIG part of Google figuring out how to rank content is by looking at the feedback from other “real” people through comments, likes and shares.

    Case in point is one of my own articles – I put a grand total of THREE keywords in one of my articles – for something like a 0.4% keyword density (far below the recommended density)

    After sharing the article, I noticed that I got a few comments. Not a boatload, but 5 or 6 real, genuine comments.

    After deciding to have a rather random look at where some of my articles were ranking, I was shocked to find out that that particular one was actually FIRST on Google for exact keyword matches, and on the first page for a number of other related terms.

    It’s not all about header text and keywords boys. It’s about how important other people find your content.

    • The reasoning behind the change is: Google wants to allow for longer search strings, and specifically, for users to be more conversational with the way they interact with a site. Not to focus on keywords.

  5. The simple truth about Google is that…

    Google follows people and if people are sharing your content then it will get good rankings. So get people sharing your content and it will rank no matter what algorithm.

    You can do the backlinks and stuff but Google just prefers other people to do it that proves that your content is valuable. I’ve ranked a lot of duplicate content with this strategy so I know it works. Just focus on getting people visiting your site everyday and you’ll be fine!

    But I encourage everyone to use original content though 🙂

    Great post Demian, Thnx!!

  6. Absolutely brilliant article Demian and some wonderful analogies (I like a good analogy!).

    There are no longer shortcuts and cheats for online success and just like traditional business, those who succeed will be the ones that offer real value and engage with their target audience.

    As you said, authority, transparency and likability (copyright Louis Walsh from the X Factor for those of us from the UK) are much more important than ‘keywords’.

  7. I have to admit that I’ve been remiss in studying up on the Hummingbird change. Thanks for giving me more insight. I’ll be checking out some of the other links you’ve shared in this post.

  8. Most people should not even be attempting to build traditional authority sites.

    I meet a man with a subliminal voice, who could do excellent voice-overs although he cannot write a lick.

    Another person has an innate knack for trading stocks, which does not require any writing skills.

    Other people are great caregivers, who do not need the internet to perform what they do best.

    People are not lazy and selfish, but are not brutally honest with themselves about what their true calling is. They do become lazy and seek shortcuts when they enter the content world expecting success but fail because writing does not come naturally or easily for them.

    First and foremost a person needs to look deeply inside of him or her self about what he or she can do with consummate skill. Otherwise they jump around from one place to another trying to be something they are not.

    Accepting their own true identity can be a very painful ordeal, because other people may feel threatened by the increased competition and put obstacles in the person’s path.

    Know thyself is an ages-old clique with profound meaning even to this day. Before embarkening on an authority-site career, the person has to be at peace with themselves about whether that really is their chosen path in life, while neglecting their God-given talents.

    That involves leaving behind a fantasy world of easy success in a field they stink at, and becoming totally and completely honest with themselves and where their true abilities lay.

  9. Demian,

    Good post. I touched on this topic very, very briefly today. Yours is better, I admit. I also wanted to thank you for bringing up the “caffeine” update. Why? Because my coffee was getting cold. When I saw the word “caffeine” I remembered that I had a cup o’ Joe sitting here next to me.

    Of course, You could have reminded me earlier. It was cold, after all. Nonetheless, thanks for the reminder!


  10. Demian,

    I love you but trying to dissect what Google does and or doesn’t do is impossible. It doesn’t matter anyways, SEO is for the poor. Paid is for the rich.

  11. I ranked #1 for months for “make money with Facebook.” I never used the phrase once in my post. This was pre-Hummingbird. If you want to game google try not to game google. Write naturally. Drop a key phrase in here and there, but more than anything solve your audience’s problems and grow a network so goldang big that you will google proof yourself.

    Celebrities do not need google. Nor will you if you network like a machine each day.

    Thanks for sharing!


  12. Thanks for the really informative read,
    It’s great to see semantic search developing properly.
    Hopefully people will release that the only real way to get ahead in the long run is create content that either education, informative or entertaining ie content with purpose.

    Thanks again for the great article.

  13. This makes a lot of sense to me, thank you! I’ve noticed that over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more and more searches for my blog using actual sentences, and less with jumbles of words. Good Post! (I also love the picture. Very dramatic and illustrative.)

  14. As others comments have stated, write good (original) content and do it early and often and find a way to excite others to share your content and you’ll be good to go. I like the phrase “conversational seo” as a guiding point. As the dad of 3 millennial daughters who “talk to Siri” to find the into they seek with total disregard to keywords or geo or any algo metric in mind, has given me a keen insight into how & why social marketing is so important moving forward.

  15. Demian,

    As always, awesome contribution. I am shocked that, even to this day, so many marketers and products remain focused on loopholes. Talk about nit “going where the puck will be.” I think of Google like science and religion: bridging the gap between man and machine.

    It’s obvious to many of us that search marketing is continually evolving (actually devolving) into good old fashioned education-based marketing: reach real people with real content that adds value and compels them to take action. Knowledge graph, authorship and alto updates are but means to this end. Darmesh Shaw and Brian Hallagan really nailed this 5 years ago!

    Anyway, I am totally forwarding this to every business owner I know. Cheers!


  16. You summed it very nicely Demian 🙂
    —> hunt down your ideal customer and get to know them inside and out. What’s their problem they are trying to solve? And why? <—
    …then create great content; (and a few more small things)

  17. If the best content beat average content in Google, I wouldn’t have a job as an SEO / Content Marketer. I spend my day trying to give Google signals that my client’s content is the best, and deserves to rank higher.

    Last week Matt Cutts admitted at PubCon that Google is doing a bad job with queries like “payday loans” and “viagra”. I can add a few more to his list!

    I recently did an SEO analysis for a client where I discovered that getting links from a spammy paid directory was working. In 2013! It’s working.

    So yes, I chase the algo. I give clients advice based on what’s working now, and I future proof against where Google says they’re going. Sometimes that means ceding a top spot to a low quality competitor because I refuse to spam or play tricks. And that sucks.

    Wil Reynolds said it best: ” If we follow Google’s rules to a T, we will likely never get the rankings, and if we don’t get the rankings, we are branded as snake oil salesman.”

  18. Awesome article Demian!
    So what off-site SEO factors should a content creator be focusing on with the coming of Hummingbird? Or is the idea to just focus on the content itself and let the offsite stuff take care of itself? Thanks!

    • Links and social sharing (Google+ specifically, but all social sharing amounts to publicity that can lead to links) … that hasn’t changed. But also on-site stuff like page load times, time on site, bounce rate, etc. Everything that indicates that people like your content is something Google is trying to take into account.

  19. Hi Demian,

    Thanks for a great article, which I find quite reassuring. I’ve always found keyword research a tedious minefield and balked at the suggestion that I should try to shoe-horn specific words and phrases into my articles in order to feed the beast.

    I also think the algorithms are so complex that it’s futile for lone wolf bloggers, who can’t afford to pay for specialist SEO expertise, to get their heads round it. I just try to follow very basic SEO guidelines, but my main focus is on writing good content that people want to read and share.

    • Keyword research is still important, just not in the capacity you described. That’s NOT the way to do it. Keyword research should lead to an article that is natural in it’s use of keywords — from very specific mentions to more remote variations that signify meaning and context more than a word.

  20. This is great info. I don’t know how many times a client asks what they can do today to get to page one on Google. Typically they don’t want to put in the work to do it the right way. I love your statement “stop chasing algorithms”.

    I will share your post and hope they read it. 🙂

    Thanks heaps

  21. Hi Demian,

    This is the main article that shed adequate insight on Google hummingbird.

    I knew this was going to happen; hence, I had to abandon my struggling website, bought a new domain, got a genesis theme, get it hosted on synthesis ( this was about 2-3 weeks ago), and my strategy is to purely write for people, connect with people, build an interactive community around my blog and leverage on the power of Google+.

    Thanks for sharing

  22. Nice article and I agree with your premise that putting the work in to create great quality content is what is needed to help build your brand and attract new customers.

    The problem I have with Google is their inconsistency, one minute they say doing ‘this’ is fine, a few months later they actively penalize sites that do the very thing they said was fine…

    I have seen too many companies struggle or die after a Google update to place any trust in what they publicly say anymore.

    At the end of the day Google are a public company and are profit driven. I advise anyone who asks not to plan for or rely on any traffic from Google at all, if Google can find a way to rip your content from your website to increase their ad revenues somehow then you better believe that they will. it’s already happened in Google image search, the new page layouts basically keep all image search traffic on Google owned pages (with their ad’s on of course). The day will come when they start showing your content directly in the results pages. Think about it, there is only so many ways to cram more ad’s on the results pages, once they exhaust ad revenue improvements from this they will then move on to scraping you content, sticking it on a Google owned ‘intermediary’ page and then surround it with more ads.

    This article offers great advice but don’t just do it to focus on Google, build real ‘brand’ equity, build relationships with real people and companies, and most of all build traffic streams outside of Google’s search rankings.

    • I’m not sure that’s correct. Google has been saying the exact same thing for the last 8 years (likely more). It’s just now they can enforce what they say.

      • Yes they have said these kinds of things for a long time but actually rewarded different behaviour up until very recently.

        My area is ecommerce and I’m seeing business closing and people losing jobs because they did what Google ‘rewarded’ for years and now Google have changed what they reward and it has been catastrophic for many people.

        Google now say (and reward in some niches) content marketing efforts but I could show lots of examples of sites ranking really highly simply because they are owned by a ‘big brand’.

        Asda (owned by Walmart) who are a grocery retailer now have websites selling car tyres, Tesco (another big grocery retailer) now have a kitchens website. Both comfortably rank highly based on no content marketing or other ‘SEO’ related metrics that really warrant those positions.

        I know this is a little off topic but my point is, don’t focus overly on what Google say they want, they will always chase profits at your expense. Focus on other avenues and if you do get any Google traffic treat it as a bonus.

  23. My favorite piece from CopyBlogger, at least for today!! Helping build brand authority based on the ideas that WHO we are matters as much as WHAT we create.

    When you build Authority it seems to me that great teachers have to resonate with their audience. If they don’t, then the opportunity for learning is lost. The best way to do this is being authentic and putting intention and meaning behind the words. The fact that Google is catching on to this and calling it Hummingbird ( adorable) is very exciting.

    CopyBlogger does an excellent job with this. Each writer has their own distinct “voice” that carryovers to the message that they are conveying. Reframing this content increases the chance for breakthrough learning!

  24. Thanks Demian!

    With all the updates and changes that come from Google, it amazes me to see how some react with the “try to manipulate” the giant search engine attitude, instead of simply sitting down and creating content that makes sense, that answers the queries that are being asked….

    I find “helping” people with content works best, and I learned that here with Copyblogger…

  25. Demian –

    I don’t know whether my standing ovation is for your exciting use of literary devices and your command of the written word, or for your easy to understand explanation of hummingbird. I’m still saying, “Wow”!

    It is easy to identify with the frustration of trying to mine down a search term. The reason that I began blogging was because of my own lack of understanding regarding a health condition. I am sitting with my readers in the middle of the night and writing each blog like it is a personal conversation.

    The other qualities that your list calls for are hard work. Running a website that is efficient and easy to navigate is a huge chore. We all want a reward for our efforts; higher ranking is important.

    You have brought it back to the basics: Serving others with our words. That is exactly what you have done.

    Sincere thanks,

  26. The little guy is being phased out.

    I lost 150 visitors per day over the last 2 days. No idea why. Hopefully it has nothing to do with Hummingbird, because it would mean my site is shot. I think it is getting to the point with Google where, if you’re not a company pouring a helluva lot of money into your site by buying great article writers, or writing yourself numb, then your site isn’t going anywhere.

    I’ve always tried to give great articles at, but Google doesn’t care any longer. What Google wants is the biggest site that has spent the most money and/or time to produce it.

    It was always going this way. The little guys – will not exist in Google’s Top 10, only those with deep pockets and a real commitment to their business as a #1 priority.

    What will happen – this year, if Hummingbird causes a massive change in who ranks and who doesn’t – is that many, MANY website owners will just give up completely. It has become impossible for most of us to do what Google wants. It is impossible for me at my small site to compete with massive companies like Hilton, the airlines, and anyone else that wants to make truckloads of money off people considering visiting Hawaii.

    Sure I can get some trickle traffic to pages of my site which focus on non-competitive topics like Hiking on Hawaii, but, can I survive off ads at my site if I’m pulling only 200 people per day? Nope. I’m on the verge of just calling it a decade, and re-focusing on other ideas that don’t involve Google at all. It has been a great run, I’ve made my living for over a decade off traffic mostly supplied by Google.

    I’m not bitter, but I’m reaching a state of lucidity… very clearly, the game has changed and it isn’t going to get better for the little guy. The little guys across the planet will “get it” probably this year.

    If you haven’t spent some time thinking about where to go when you lose most of your search engine traffic, now would be a great time to do so!

    • Sorry Vern, but I totally disagree. The buzzwords ‘Quality’ and ‘Value’ was hinted, howled and served on a silver platter yet many professionals ignored this guidance.

      Consider the current buzzwords “Mobile” “Schema” “Authority” “Conversation,” and you don’t have to be a genius to read this road map.

      This is what happens when professionals become complaisant and forget the reasons for developing a website.

  27. Great post Demian, thanks! That bit about a toddler and milk is way too true. I find it funny that “write for humans” is apparently still a message that hasn’t gotten through. You’re probably preaching to the converted a bit, but thanks nonetheless! 🙂

  28. Algorithms will change and may forget your pages but People will never forget what you have contributed through your blogs, so it’s always better to focus on content rather than keywords. Thanks for the interesting article Demian.

  29. Well, that was amazing.

    You worked Russian Roulette throughout the post like a true content master.

    Thanks for the legendary post!

  30. Vern L,

    I totally disagree with you; Google is not after you, but big G is mostly concerned with quality. Demian explained it all. Let’s call a spade a spade, content mill writers are basically lazy. They don’t want to write well detailed, thoroughly researched and deeply helpful article.

    Embrace this simple truth, overhaul your strategy and you will start seeing positive improvement.


  31. A great article that explains what hummingbird is about in plain English with really good examples.

    This has provided some great ideas on ways to try and explain Google’s latest venture across companies & departments so those involved, who are not tech for Google focused, understand the requirement to move away from operating in silo’s driving to get keywords stuffed into poor content and focus more on quality content with meaning written properly for the user (not just another challenge to figure out a different way to create poor content and obtain links).

  32. FAB-U-LOUS!

    What a pleasure to read and also what a breath of fresh air in the usually dull and technical blogs on this subject.

    I have (for some years) only concentrated on compelling and engaging activity on the web, and thanks to Google I’m now more visible than ever. I’m tickled pink that black hat is now old hat and that my way, is the new super highway.

    “Book them and they will come” is my philosophy and although I concentrate on SEO and best practice from Goolge and the industry, deep down, I just know they will come if my line up is good enough!

    Thanks for sharing, love your style… it’s not unlike the way I aspire to write.


  33. I’ve been saying it for years, it’s so important that people diversify their traffic sources. Google can drop a websites rank in only a day, and keep it blacklisted forever. It’s so important not to keep all your eggs in one basket.

    As you mentioned, we can never know Google’s algorithms. We can never predict what Google is going to do with your website. Be prepared for the worst and diversify.

  34. Certainly spot on. Before all of Google’s Panda/Penguin updates everything was lost in this horrible mire of SEO spun articles and nonsense business spiel. If you actually put the effort in and made great content it really made no difference, whereas now all our hard work can pay off. It’s easy to demonise Google for their enigmatic approach, but I think their changes are all for the best. If you’re a spammer, of course, then it’s very bad news.

  35. When I write for Google, I am writing for Google’s audience more than the search engine. I am writing for the humans than use Google. That is how I have always done it and that is how I will continue doing it. And it has always been successful for me. There are all sorts of secrets, tips and tricks for better SEO but in the end… its humans you should be writing for. Great post!

  36. If the issue is just about the quality of content then I am all for it but if quantity is one of the major ranking factors then I am definitely not in support. From my experience the latter has more weight and therefore is really bad news for new blogs. The big bloggers should be having a helluva a party now from what I have gathered so far.

    • I don’t think simple quantity is a major ranking factor. A lot of crap isn’t going to help. But a high quantity of high quality content is the best formula.

  37. Hummingbird requires mental analysis of the topic and this will separate real writers and SEO experts apart from pseudo-guru’s.

    And no matter how many times Hummingbird is explained, I guarantee the majority of the web community simply won’t get it.

    ~Jess Swann

  38. Well, this is probably the best write-up about Hummingbird that I’ve ever read. It’s well written and explained what webmasters need. Thank you.

  39. Great article, thanks. Maybe a mere detail but, Leonardo da Vinci was not from Venice! He was, as his names suggests, from Vinci, which is a small town near Pisa in Tuscany. After working in Florence, he moved to Milan, and later worked in France, where he died. Then again, I did not come to this piece to find out about LdV but about how Google is thinking these days. Your piece has been very useful. Thanks again.

  40. Exactly.

    Usually I make a point of not even reading the endless posts about what Google have done with their next algorithm.

    … but I do like to drop in and read some Copyblogger posts from time to time.

    Isn’t the point not</me? to try and follow the system but just to write the content you know you should be writing and trust Google to do what they do best?

    In this case it was good to learn the philosophy behind the new algorithm not to try and keep up but just because it’s interesting & good to know.

    I always find it interesting how fast our world is changing and how this is changing our interactions with it (e.g. how big data impacts our lives)

  41. I create high quality content so the changes that google has undertaken over the last few years are good for me from a business perspective.

    But as a google searcher I am finding that the results are being gamed more than ever – it’s just this time round it’s people who are happy to be profiled by google that are winning. And in my experience google results are getting a lot worse.

    So now those who are keen to self-promote will win, and those small business owners who provide an excellent service but don’t have the money, means or desire to spend their time on social media will fail.

    And the privacy issue is huge. Now we know they are creating huge databases profiling people (including opinions, facial recognition through google+ images) and punishing people who don’t comply with lower seo rankings. It’s pretty outrageous. It’s not as if they are exactly trustworthy when it comes to our data.

    This is not a benign development even though it helps those with high profiles in social media; it’s actually very creepy indeed.

  42. Love it … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told clients that SEO is easy – DO GOOD STUFF and the google-gods (an bing too) will reward you.

  43. Awesome article Demian!
    So what off-site SEO factors should a content creator be focusing on with the coming of Hummingbird? Or is the idea to just focus on the content itself and let the offsite stuff take care of itself? Thanks!

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