The biggest trick is to not just get the basics down and then expand with all the little aspects that add up to a good SEO plan, but to anticipate the future.
In order to do this, you need to take a bit of a step outside your own personal web site realm and watch the trends in the web.
This isn't something for the faint of heart, because if you want to really be up on everything, it's a full time job. (This is, in part,why there are full time SEO people and SEO firms out there - it's not really something you can just do a few hours a week and expect top results).
One Of The Up-And-Coming Things
If you are a search engine, you need to come up with a way to establish "weight" for a page.
In the past, link popularity (or PageRank in respects to Google) has been one of the major ways to do this. Each link is a "vote" for the importance of that page.
The problem is that anyone can link to anything for whatever reason, so it's not just a matter of counting up links and seeing what pages and what sites have the most votes. They need to be good links - and they will be better if they are from a page that comes up in some of the same search results pages. There's a lot that goes into it, but there is a lot more that needs to be done in this area.
Thus, we need to work with the assumption that the search engines are looking for ways to expand their efforts in assigning value to pages. We should also assume that the search engines are following the trends of the web and are putting their eyes on: Social Networking.
Twitter is Hot
Twitter needs to make money. Twitter is a search engine dream. Why? Because you have short little snippets of information that are often #tagged with naturally established keywords. In there we have a link to things - but this link is different from most web links.
People tweet to others and for others, unlike a web site where they link and post to establish and reinforce themselves. Even those who tweet for business and to promote themselves know that they need to balance it out with their own stuff, other people's things, and even add a bit of personality to it if they have hopes of gaining a lot of followers.
The same sort of effect can be seen in almost all of the other social and shared networking solutions. I can share my bookmarks on social bookmarking sites and I can subscribe to all of my favorite blogs and allow my friends to come to my list rather than having to go out and find their own stuff to read. I can "digg" articles and keep a list on my site and I can post things to my Facebook page and I can share all sorts of things about the things that interest me.
Social networking is not all about "me" and "my stuff". Sure, I'll link to my own articles, but successful social networking isn't about my articles, it's about taking my web business and personalizing it and helping people understand who I am.
If I don't have a business on the web at all, then I'm using my social networking in a similar way, but it has absolutely nothing to do about self promotion - it's just about sharing "me" with you.
Google Knows Who ... and You
Where does this all lead the search engines in the future? Going back to being a search engine and understanding the foundation of what they are looking to do, I can only surmise that in the coming months and years, Google will be unveiling something called PeopleRank (well, they won't call it that, I'm sure, but you never know). For the first time, the search engines not only have the ability to look at a set of links that lead someplace, but they have the ability to know something about "who" did the linking.
Anticipate & Prepare
This is just one of the things that we can anticipate, plan for, and look to incorporate into our SEO plan.
How do we do this? Just do what people are doing now.
Get hooked into some social networking sites (I'm betting that Twitter is the first one to really pack a punch, but all your public Google reading lists, link lists, etc. will probably come into play sooner than later as well). We know what the search engines are looking to do, and we can imagine how capitalizing on what's going on with Social Networking can be useful to moving toward that goal. We can envision how it's not just a link but how we can combine people I follow and people who follow me and merge that into a single set and look for retweets, common threads, and all sorts of useful ranking and categorizing data. Now that we can see it, we just keep doing it.
In essence we are looking to not only establish our web site as an authority and valuable resource, but we are going one step further and establishing ourselves as an authority, too.
So, What's New?
As this series of articles comes to an end, we need to go back to the beginning. We started out looking at what changed over the past decade or so, and we realized that at a basic level, nothing has really changed at all. We moved on to looking at how those same basics can be applied to the things that have changed and know that the advanced techniques are really just evolutions of the same thing.
For nearly a century, it has been a popular science fiction theme to worry about the risks of machines taking over humanity. Computers in general, and search engines in particular have been striving to automate as much as they can - to get the search results to rank appropriately with as little human intervention as possible.
The trick to understand here is that they have never really tried to take humans out of the equation, they have only tried to take "humans on the payroll" out of it. They have always used us "people" as a key part of it. In the old days, they used the humans who took the time to review and categorize web pages in the DMOZ or Yahoo Directory. They have used the humans who generate content and links to create the data. All the search engines do is attempt to take that data and have a machine do something useful with it.
In the past, web sites grew and built content and links (both inbound and outbound). They would begin as an isolated entity and, over time, the web sites built a complex network of connections that established themselves as a part of the world wide web. This still happens, but now we have real live people who are doing the same thing for themselves. They are establishing connections to collections of web pages, blog posts, articles, news, video clips and all sorts of data. And these people are also establishing connections to other people who have their own collections of connections.
So what's new?
People are the new SEO hubs and authorities.
Well, not yet. But it's coming. And it'll be Deja Vu All Over Again.