Until a few years ago, SEO used to be about targeting set "key phrases". You could build hundreds of links with the exact phrase that you wanted to rank for, place that phrase multiple times in your website content and most often you would get a first page result for that phrase.
Things have changed! Google keeps getting smarter everyday!
Ranking results differ significantly based on multiple factors (where you're browsing from, device being used - desktop/mobile, search history, browsing history, etc.) Now, Google's focus is even stronger on providing the most relevant results to the end-user.
For your website to rank for a particular search phrase, your content has to actually be relevant to a specific user's search. An increasing number of users are also searching using longer sentences, rather than just short key phrases.
For your content to be relevant to the most number of searches, you have to generate fresh, original content regularly, taking into consideration what people are typing in their searches. The quickest way to find out what users are typing in their searches is to go to google.com (or any of their country-level domains) and start typing a phrase related to your business that users may possibly use; and Google gives you a list of auto-complete suggestions! Professional search engine optimization specialists use Google Adwords Keyword Suggestion Tool, Moz and a bunch of other free and paid tools.
The primary facets of SEO
- Optimizing primary on-site content. This includes your titles, meta tags, alt tags, etc.
- Mobile compatibility of website. With over 50% of worldwide visitors on mobile and over 80% of Indian visitors on mobile, this point cannot be taken lightly. Google ranks mobile compatible websites higher, when users search on their mobile / smart phones.
- Generating fresh on-site content, to keep your site relevant. An on-site blog is a good way to do this.
- Social signals. Generating fresh content on a regular basis on your official social media handles, including, but not limited to - Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube. Content that is liked / shared / commented on increases visibility.
- HTTPS - Secure and safe browsing. This enhances the user experience and is a ranking signal for Google.
- Site load speed. Users expect pages to load quickly. In their endeavour to provide the best user experience, Google uses this as a ranking factor.
- Generating off-site content that points a link to your site. Ideally, this has to be organic - asking your past customers to write a blog about you on their own blogs, online newspaper writeups, online magazine write-ups, Wikipedia entries, etc.
- Brand building / recognition. A decent percentage of your incoming links should have your brand name mentioned in the anchor text. All incoming links shouldn't contain just key phrases. This is mostly considered spam.
- Increase click-through ratio. Create optimized and compelling title and description text to increase CTR.
- Lower bounce rates. Create interesting content on every page to keep the user engaged.
The final aim being increasing relevant traffic to your website.
Instead of focusing on where your site ranks for specific phrases, focus on traffic stats and whether enquiries have increased. When checking statistics, keep in mind that some industries are seasonal and so is their website traffic. So, you need to compare stats and enquiries of a particular month to the same month in the previous year to see the actual effect of your optimization efforts.
In conclusion, SEO is not something done overnight, but is a process that needs constant work.