Google never fails to impress when it comes to how their browser indexes and sorts through information to deliver the most accurate, high-quality results to users. It’s almost like a game where the rules are always changing, so we never know what to expect. One month, we’re moving along in the right direction, when another month, the same strategies are no longer effective.

Albeit frustrating, many of the changes that Google makes are for our own good. While they hold the standards higher and create a new level of competition, they force websites to be original, relevant and high quality in nature. When fighting to get to the top, it’s somewhat settling to know that only the best hold the spots, not spammers who were able to have a quick fix by using black hat SEO tactics.

Last year, we saw many changes from Google. Even as people predict that SEO is on its death bed, this is simply not true. SEO is just changing. Here are three updates that we can safely say have changed SEO practices as we know it.

Google Hummingbird
Described as being “fast” and “precise” by the Google team, Hummingbird is the new search engine algorithm. While the majority of people didn’t notice its implementation, don’t fool yourself in thinking that the update wasn’t big. Hummingbird is designed to better understand long-tail search queries, questions and geographic locations. For SEO, this means changing our practices to adapt to Hummingbird, such as by using location-based terms and longer keywords.

Search Data Encryption
With the exception of Google AdWords, Google has now encrypted all search data. What this means is that users who type in a search query are protected by SSL encryption, even if they are not signed into their Google account. The best explanation for why Google has done this is to encourage more marketers to use a paid AdWords campaign instead. After all, if you can’t access free data about keywords anymore, how else will you learn which keywords are the most searched for in your industry?

Keyword Planner Tool
The Keyword Planner Tool is the predecessor to the AdWords Keyword Tool. The original Keyword Tool was free and provided necessary information to SEO professionals. While the new update received mixed reviews, there is definitely some promise. The goal was to combine the functionalities of the Keyword Tool and the AdWords Traffic Estimator to plan effective search campaigns. Basically, users (ahem, AdWords users) can now research relevant keywords, group them, estimate traffic and more. Thankfully, it’s free to set up an AdWords account.