The Ugly Truth and Future of SEO
A lot of people still seem to think that SEO is a magic powder made by technical people for a couple hundred bucks. They think that marketing activities that took 2 full-time employees and an advertising budget in the offline world, can be replaced by a $100/month service in India.
Boy are they wrong.
Let's start by looking at what Google's job is: to provide high quality results for user searches. That's it. Plain and simple.
If Google does not provide the highest quality search results, people will use different search engines, and Google will die. It is of paramount importance to Google to be the best. This means that Google will not enter into any agreements or activities that compromise this.
What Google Does
In order to provide the highest quality search results, Google has to determine which websites are more important than the rest, and order them accordingly.
If your website is not better than all 10 results on page 1, then you will NEVER be there. Plain and simple. You can't bribe Google, and you can't pay anyone to trick Google (except for the very short term, which will come back and bite you in the ass later).
It's pretty well known these days, that inbound links are considered “votes” by Google for your website by other websites. It even makes sense, after all, if I link to your website from mine, I kinda sorta AM endorsing your website.
But quantity means little. Quality counts. And low quality can get you penalized. If you pay some shady outfit $100 to get you 1000 links, they will be crappy links, and Google can tell. You have a 50/50 chance that your $100 does nothing, or worse, drops your rankings.
Just don't do it.
Google looks at the quality of your inbound links. If CNN links to you, then it really makes you more important. Get into the media, and stop buying crappy links.
Human Interaction Factors
Since Google is trying to please HUMANS, a lot of human metrics are being used more and more.
The overall speed of your website influences rankings. We know that slow websites are annoying, so why would Google consider them for the top of the list?
What about bounce rate? This is a much bigger indicator these days. If people get to a website and leave quickly, it shows that they did not find what they were looking for, or the quality of the content is below par. Obviously Google wouldn't want sites like that on top of the list.
Google is also using a lot of social signals to calculate ranking. If website A gets 100 new Facebook Likes per week, but website B gets none, then obviously website A is more popular.
But just like with links, it's about quality. Google can tell if you bought likes because they'll arrive quickly, be from parts of the world that is not your target demographic, and have nothing in common with the real people that like your website for the right reasons.
At the end of the day, it's really about quality content. None of this is about magic or IT wizardry. It's plain and simple, old-fashioned marketing. If you want to be in first place, you have to be the best.
Visitors have to find what they're looking for in the form of high-quality and engaging content. Great content gets people involved, get's them to share, get's them talking. This is one of the main intentions of marketing.
Quality Quality Quality
The main concept I hope you can walk away with here, is that everything has to be of high quality. Your inbound links need to come from quality authoritative websites. Your content has to be high quality and engaging. Your website has to be fast and error-free. Real people should be talking about you on Facebook and Twitter.
Low quality can have the opposite effect. It can drop your rankings.
It's a Personalized World
Rankings are not fixed anymore. Actually, they haven't been for many years. Two people searching for the same keywords will get different search results. Sometimes even wildly different. Google tries to personalize results to the searcher, again in an effort to deliver the highest quality search results.
Don't get too hung up on rankings. You have little power over them anyway. Businesses need customers to succeed, and your focus should be to attract potential customers.
Make sure your content helps your visitors, and your website serves them well. Engage in fundamental marketing principles consistently, and they will come.
If you truly work on being the best, you will become number 1.