The reality for the most valuable search terms that are worth many $ in business for each ranking placement up is that all the results on the front page are the result of significant investments on the part of the companies; and a lot of work by SEO firms. There are various research tools that will show you the back-link profile of domains and for the most competitive terms you will see the top results have tens of thousands (and sometimes even more) of back-links from thousands of unique domains & IP addresses.
The simple truth is that it isn’t efficient or realistic for businesses that try to do strictly “all natural” methods such as link-exchanges, create & syndicate content, and manage their social media well to generate the thousands and thousands of back-links necessary to compete with those using private promotional networks to syndicate their content strictly for the purposes of SEO. Does this mean it’s spam, or “black hat”? Well not necessarily — if all the links are part of a contextually relevant and unique article, from a unique blog on a unique IP address & domain…. then technically this fits within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines even though this spun content & hundreds of blog articles really aren’t intended to ever be read by anyone but just to generate mounds of powerful backlinks to pass authority through to the destination site and raise it’s SERPs (Search Engine Result Positions).Like for Example Panda Flowers Or Simple Spaces both use white hat clearly safe SEO but get nowhere.
What does this mean? It means that “white hat” and “black hat” aren’t really meaningful designations and really it’s “shades of grey” when it comes to competing in some areas.
Ultimately, we feel that if you create lots of good, meaningful content, interact with social media so that other people share it & naturally build links back to your site — and your main site is great & all of these various SEO efforts are done gradually to create a natural looking link-profile and you aren’t relying solely on spamming type techniques to boost your ranking; that you can stay on the side of being “white hat” enough to safely avoid the wrath of Google & still compete for any term that you choose.
Unique, interesting, and creative content that inspires others to share is still the best way to promote and establish yourself. As Google’s algorithms improve; so does the value of truly unique content and genuine back-links from people sharing your content.
In combination with a truly fantastic, well optimized website design; great content will keep bringing traffic, authority & thus business to your website consistently, with no risk.
If you don’t have a properly optimized site or if your site is notably slow with coding issues & other optimization shortcomings — it doesn’t matter how great a job you do of optimization and generating back links. Also, nobody will share your site & help to build it’s authority if it has nothing unique & worthwhile to share! There is also a key factor that Google measures called “freshness”. Having fresh content on your site is very helpful to your SEO & a great way of differentiating your site from the crowd as well as building trust, authority, and communicating valuable information to your potential customers.
Selecting the right keywords & search terms to optimize for is not just a matter of speculating as to which terms you think people may search for to lead to your website; or even optimizing for the terms that definitely get you traffic. If a retail business owner had a choice between getting 200% more generic niche traffic to his website or 10% more specifically qualified buyers to his website, he would go for the 10% every time.
There are great ways of figuring out just what that 10% is through experimentation and refinement. Personally we like to try things with pay-per-click campaigns because you can get all kinds of precise data showing the exact terms leading to your website that result in new business, which allows you to quickly figure out what you should be optimizing for to get the most value out of your SEO campaign.
Using Automotive niches as an example; it’s just not possible for a small dealership to compete with large established advertising agencies for some of the generic and most valuable terms. The simple reason for this is that they not only have more resources to leverage into SEO, but also because by the nature of their business they have tons of fresh content on their site automatically every day by virtue of fresh & updated listings. How can a small dealership compete with a company like Auto Trader that has 200 new listings a day even within a small city and a massive marketing budget to support their business?
Frankly, you can’t — and it’s a waste of time and effort to try to compete with them sometimes; so it’s wiser to attempt to dominate a niche of the market and focus your efforts; and then expand outwards from there.
SEO is not a “once and done” process, nor is it a way to get a quick return on investment either. It’s a long term investment that appreciates, it builds up the trust & visibility of your business more naturally and without paying for each and every click, so that you can naturally become an authority & thus get #1 organic rankings that result in the vast majority of potential customers clicking through.
Since Google’s 2012 “Panda” update, an important metric is not just the # and diversity of your back link profile; but also the rate at which they are accumulated. It will just no longer work for a site owner to purchase a bunch of SEO services, jump up the rankings, and then stop doing anything — Google will notice the drop off in content freshness, and back-linking and your site will fall off the front page of the results even faster than it got there in the first place. It’s wise to consistently promote your website & it also will help you to stay ahead of the competition, making any attempts for them to catch up and usurp you far more difficult.
Custom Search & other innovations in the way search engines create and present search results are fundamentally changing the game. The same search on different browsers, from different places, and logged into different accounts can return completely different sets of results. Search is becoming personal and while site authority and SERPs are still undeniably important and still have an undeniably massive effect on the bottom line of many businesses it’s creating quite a headache for professional internet marketers & SEO firms.
Ultimately internet marketing is trending towards find-ability and away from a generic and consistent set of search results. This is making great content, great design, unique & creative approaches, social media interaction & all the things we’ve been advocating since day 1 more valuable — and all the investments sheerly targeted towards boosting rankings less valuable as time goes on.