SEO is and has always been a collection of marketing and site development best practices that you should be doing anyway, even if Google or the other search engines didn’t exist – period.
The role of a really great SEO is to just make sure you’re following those best practices, because they are easily ignored/forgotten/whatever because, well, they’re kinda hard.
I always break it down into three groups:
- Content: Have some, actually, have a lot of it. Make sure it’s well written and speaks to what your audience is searching for, not what you believe they should be searching for. Do some research about your product or service on the myriad of keyword tools out there and then just go to town written content about that subject, but again, do it really well. Basically, if you want to show up for a given keyword, the page needs to be about that keyword; if you want to show up near the top, it has to be quality.
- Site Architecture: Sites are basically little computer programs and computer programs are notorious for being very specific in how they are created and executed. Yes, the language used to make webpages is ultra simple compared to something say like, C++, but the idea is the same. Moz and a dozen other sites have some great details on the basics, so I won’t repeat it here, but basically, if you get your TITLE and META Description tags right, you’re better off than most of the clients I audit.
- Inbound Links: Google’s algo was based on how things worked during the early days of the internet when scientists used to link to the work of other scientists in their documents. Google took this idea to the next level and made it work for everybody. It was always about a quality website thinking another website was quality and willfully linking to it as a source of more information, but the early SEOs only saw “get lots of links” and really screwed things up. Luckily, Google has gotten a lot better at catching this crap move and we’re a lot closer to the ideal of getting links to your site because your site is awesome, not because you hired some low-budget cat to go out begging for attention.
Basically, create great content on a well-built site that is so quality that people will gladly link to you because you’re awesome. That’s the secret.