Google is in the advertising business.
Google doesn't make money from providing you with a free search engine. Google makes money from the ads placed next to those search results.
Google first rose to prominence in 1998 after a Salon article claimed that the fledgling search engine was already returning better results that the plethora of search engines that existed at the time. That was certainly true. Back then you chose your search engine for the kind of content you were looking for and frequently wound up utilising several engines: Yahoo!, Lycos, AltaVista and others.
I remember where I was when I first searched Google. The impact it had on me fourteen years ago was that profound.
In those days, there were no AdWords and Google was easy to game. Stuff keywords into your metatags and you'd shoot up through the rankings. Get a lot of links, shoot up through the rankings.
But Google learns fast and grows faster.
By 2000, Google had developed enough sophistication in its PageRank algorithm to deliver quality search results and begin its fight against gaming the system. They launched AdWords that year.
AdWords has been an unqualified success for Google and has funded their expansion into the multinational behemoth they are today.
And it would all go away if their search results stopped being relevant.
If you could no longer rely on Google to provide you with search results that met your needs, you'd stop using them. Everyone would.
And AdWords would be dead.
That's not something Google can afford, especially now they have some serious competion from Bing, Microsoft's competing search engine.
The Way Forward For SEO
The only way that Google can continue to provide relevant results is if it stays ahead of black hat and grey hat SEO pros. These individuals and businesses attempt to game search results, promoting their lesser-quality content at the expense of high quality content.
And quite frequently they succeed. This damages our trust in search engines - something neither Google nor Bing can afford.
The end-game for search engines is to minimise or eliminate manipulated rankings - to provide truly authentic results based on the quality of the site and the relevance it has to any given search term.
This will always be the goal of search engines.
The Value of Links
Link building is an important SEO strategy and will continue to be so for a very long time.
Fortunately, it's easy to get linked to: If you write quality content and put even minimal effort into promoting that content you will get linked to.
It's possible, even advisable, to be more proactive in obtaining links to your site. Just make sure they're genuine.
What's a genuine link? One that's freely given because the linker believes the content they're linking to is interesting, relevant and worthy of others' attention.
You may have noticed that YellowPages or True Local simply don't appear at the top of search results anymore? This is even more true if there are local businesses who have their own websites - these sites will now always appear above directory listings.
Why? Because Google is already a directory. We don't want to be sent to another when a site with the content we're after is actually available.
(Note: Some directories still contain a certain amount of weight - DMOZ, for example)
Automated link building is a major shortcut for the greyer areas of SEO strategy and I believe it will be a major target of upcoming algorithm changes - if it isn't already.
How to perform authentic SEO
- Write quality content
- Get linked to
- Make your site is user-friendly and accessible
- Code and structure your site appropriately
- Ensure you set goals for your site (what do you want users to do?)
- Track and measure the success of those goals - and tweak the site to perform better
That's it. That's the way forward.
There are absolutely refinements and improvements to be made to your site - do you have landing pages dedicated to specific search terms? You should, but those pages need to provide intrinsic value to your visitors in their own right.
The points above can sustain a multitude of strategies to improve your SEO, however:
From both an SEO and conversion-rate perspective the only way to absolutely ensure you get the results you're after is to always provide real, genuine value on each and every page of your site.