SEOs come in all colors. The black hats game the system. The gray hats sort of game the system. The white hats play by the rules.
SEOs constantly assess the mood of Mother Google (as well as the lesser search engines, such as Yahoo!, Ask, etc). And, yes, it pays to pay attention to what the SEs like and loathe — what spiders find interesting and what they pooh-pooh. But don’t lose sight about what this whole game is about. Your SEO should deliver something of real value — that doesn’t yet exist on the web — to a niche group of customers. That something could be a service, a product, or even just good information. But whatever you do, do it (ultimately) to benefit people in some way.
Think about it. Say you spend all of your time just focusing on the search engines. You might win short-term victories by “beating Google at its own game.” But that is ultimately a rat race. To build a real business, you need customers who love your brand and who will want to return to you again and again for more services/product/information. To that end, if you clutter up your website with Google-pleasing stuff that turns off your visitors, your business will suffer over the long-term, even if you do see those short-term bumps.
So how do you provide the good stuff for people?
Organize. Get input from your visitors. What do they like about your site/blog/whatever? What do they find cumbersome or frustrating about it? Correct those problems. Is your “core competency” clear? If you are writing a bodybuilding site, is it clear from your home page that you have built a bodybuilding site? Or do visitors think it is a diet pill website or something? With clarity, organization, a clear statement of purpose and credentials, you stand to win.
Finally, do you provide unique and useful stuff for people? It’s not enough to “be Wikipedia.” There already IS a Wikipedia. You need to offer something different and better and special. Otherwise, people will just go to Wikipedia. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how many websites simply deliver ho-hum, poor-mans-Wikipedia content in the hopes that they will win at the SEs. You need to do better than that. You need to create something that people will love and that they will love for a long time to come.
Think about what the search engines are designed for. They aim to deliver excellent information to people searching for specific keywords. If you build a website specifically to deliver that excellent information, Google wins, you win, Google’s advertisers win, and your visitors win. It’s win-win-win-win. Think about that as you craft your SEO approach.