Often we are approached by clients and potential clients to optimize their sites for search engines. Usually, the person involved is not happy that her business doesn't appear at the top of a seemingly relevant search engine. The hope is that with a few special lines of code, inserted in the right place, her rankings will improve.
Not too long ago, there was a "bag of tricks" that one could access in order to improve rankings. But such tricks like link farming, meaning creating dummy sites that simply link to your site, and keyword jamming, meaning putting in tons of keywords into your site's code, have all been undone by Google. Google engineers are always working to make sure the searches on their sites produce accurate and relevant links. To that end, Google has employed tactics to eliminate and in some cases punish sites that rely on "tricks."
Good site structure and the appropriate use of tags in your code do help you improve your rankings. But the bottom line is that Google, and the other big search engines, are doing everything they can to evaluate your content and relate it to searches. In other words, what's on your site really matters to Google. Here are some things we know Google is doing:
1. Google will reduce the value or ignore links to your site that appear without any context or on a site that is unrelated to your site. Link farms are effectively irrelevant. Links from other sites to yours are still good - but they have to be meaningful.
2. Google appears to be digging deeper into social networks. If you are not on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, you need to be. The bottom line is that social networks make it easy for people to "like" your site, and Google interprets that as a kind of endorsement.
3. Google will punish you if you use "black hat" tricks. Attempting to game the system or manipulate your rankings in disingenuous ways can result in lower rankings or even removal from Google's indexes.
Google seems to believe that "content is king." Keeping your site up to date with relevant and meaningful content is the best tactic to keep your site on top of the rankings. Second to this is working the social networks. Post relevant news and updates to your Facebook page and your Google Plus page. Tweet links to blog posts. Put meaningful comments up on forums and related blog sites.
There is no way to ensure your ranking is high on any search engine. But the higher the quality of your site and the more connections to the world you make through social media and meaningful links, the more important your site will appear to the search engines.