Search Engine Optimisation is a funny business. The problem with it is, so many people are guessing - and the goal-posts are constantly moving. What worked 6 months ago now has a negative effect, and what was frowned on a year ago is now ok. And I guess that's the way it should be. If there was a guaranteed 'pay this much, tweak this widget, and your website will be top', then the small guys would never stand a chance.
The best SEO is the natural sort that money cannot buy... If you could visit your website for the very first time, ask yourself the questions, "Why would anyone visit my website again? What would draw them back time and time again? Better, what would encourage them to sign up for my newsletter, buy my products, and link to my website?" The websites that have achieved this are (most of the time) the ones that stick to the top of Google. They are the sites that Google wants you to find - the useful websites.
So next time you are thinking, "I need to search optimise my website", instead, try thinking, "How can I make my site easier to use?", or "How can I offer really useful information that isn't found elsewhere?"
In the long time that I've been involved with building sites, the ones that have had the most success have been the ones we've built for 'fun' - just to provide something interesting, or useful. That seems to come through in a website, and for whatever reason people appreciate this, and frequently link to it. We've run news websites that publish unique, original content - these always get linked to. We've built calculators and tools, and give them away to embed on other websites - these get linked to. We've aggregated other content and provided a useful search or index - and this gets linked. In fact, whenever we build something original and useful - surprise surprise, it gets linked to, and this helps the SEO.
The best SEO is worth nothing if the site itself is no good. Many times, I've been approached by companies wanting me to look at their site. Proudly they show me their 1st page Google ranking - but then they show me the Google Analytics, and I see the 60% bounce rate. Bounce is where people visit, then leave straight away. Frequently, these customers have 'over-optimised' their site - they've filled their home page up with content, and wonder why visitors cannot be bothered to wade through to find their products or services.
I get asked a lot, "Do you do SEO?" - I always answer yes, but the very 1st thing we'll always do is look at the website to ensure it's right. Does it work properly? Is it easy to use? Is it visually appealing? Is it filled with jargon, or is it easy to read? Funnily enough, we find that's how Google thinks - and more often than not, fixing a site in this way brings the ranking up, all on its own.