SEO changed dramatically this past year, but many small businesses are still playing in what I like to call the gray area. We’ve always had black and white SEO tactics, but we’ve also had a few gray tactics that sometimes worked, but weren’t reliably effective.

Thanks to all of the announcements and changes we saw from Google in 2013, this gray period is over. Link-building and keyword research are still incredibly important, but marketers should start to diversify their SEO strategies if they want to successfully incorporate more white-hat practices that weren’t on their radars in the past.

SEO changes and announcements we saw in 2013

First, the Hummingbird update was all about revamping the algorithm to cater to how people search today -- in more conversational terms. For example, if you’re discussing types of “cars,” search results are going to also include your article on a SERP if the user typed in something about “automobiles.” Related searches are also starting to pop up -- such as car rental shops or car safety ratings -- even if the user didn’t ask for those terms specifically.

Related: Start Preparing Your SEO for the 'Internet of Things'

Next, we saw Google+ become more important with authorship and with its integration into YouTube. In other words, the information Google is getting from Google+ is considered superior to the information that Google bots crawl based on keywords.

Finally, a recent announcement from Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, stated, “stick a fork in it, guest blogging is done.” Of course, he’s talking about guest blogging for SEO and link purposes, but it still proves that it is more beneficial to build links naturally by creating content that people want to link to and by forming relationships with authoritative websites.

Related: Bring Traffic to Your Site With These 4 Blogging Alternatives

Different SEO tactics looking ahead

Based on some of the points discussed above, it’s clear that Google believes that there are right and wrong ways to do SEO. No more directory sites, no more guest blogging for links only, and no more letting keyword research run your business. Nothing has actually changed -- you’re just held more accountable than you may have been in the past. Here are some top tips:

1. Quality content with semantic understanding. Being able to write and optimize your content (and pages) without worrying too much about keywords is going to be huge. You have to think about your audience -- so the way you write might change accordingly.

2. Creating valuable, sharable data. If you want to try and distinguish yourself from the masses so that Google sees your site as a trusted resource, an excellent way to do this is to create whitepapers and thorough databases. Might your audience, for instance, be interested in a buyer’s guide?

Related: 6 Steps to Take Today to Improve Your Google Search Results

3. Authorship and relationship building. Authorship is nothing new and should definitely be a part of your strategy already, but the thought of relationship building is something that might not have been on your radar in the past. Conferences and networking are more important. Just working with someone to get one guest post on a website isn’t going to cut it.

4. Reviews, review, reviews. We saw a small movement last year as more and more companies started to realize the value of reviews -- but this year, it might be even bigger. You need to set out a whole new strategy to earn reviews -- by becoming involved with Yelp, using review extensions or even giving someone a new primary responsibility in your department.

What do you think about the SEO changes we saw last year? Have they affected your SEO strategy at all? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Related: 3 Strategies to Keep Your Website Relevant to Google