There is little doubt small business SEO best practice has changed dramatically in recent years and the rate of change is accelerating. There is a mass of information on search engine optimisation (SEO) available online but much of it is contradictory (or plain wrong).
In basic terms, the www is simply links between documents (pages). It is a huge, and ever expanding network. Search engines are tools that help users find information among the mass of information (pages) within the network.
Given a search phrase the search engine companies (Google, Bing, Yahoo) prime mission is to deliver the most relevant results.Returning search results which do not match the search phrase or are of poor quality is against their interests.
When a user types in a phrase a search engine must select the pages that match the users intent and rank them accordingly. It is important to note it is the page that ranks, not a website.
Google uses several algorithms to determine the most relevant results. It is estimated over 200 interrelated factors influence page ranking.
You may find many commentaries online suggesting factor X is more important than Y which is in turn more important than Z. Almost all of them are complete rubbish, based on guesswork.
Occasionally, you may read a report on an experiment that shows that all any SEO person needs to concentrate on is X to see results (yeah right). In any valid scientific experiment, one factor is changed while keeping everything else constant. With the www and over 200 factors in play that is impossible.
So what do we know? We know a search engine compares words on a page with the words in the search phrase. We know that many pages will have those words and the search engine algorithm must use a range of ranking factors to decide which page to rank.
We know that inbound links to pages are relevant. We don’t know which links count or if they are weighted in some way. If links are weighted we don’t know how that weighting works. All we can do is make an educated guess based on experience.
It is obvious that some pages will always tend to outrank the rest. It does not appear that ranking is simply based on the number of inbound links. It is also clear there are many technical issues with web pages (and websites) setup that can significantly reduce the ranking of that page regardless of how good the content and link profile may be.
All any small business SEO specialist can do is assess the limited information published by the search engine companies, and call on their own experience of what works and what does not. Even then the job is not finished as the best practice will evolve over time.
For a small business with a local customer base the task can be made easier by concentrating on the subset of factors related to local SEO.