The bottom line is that it's still just a machine.
Google can't "detect" good content. They can't "detect" the motive of a link. And they can't "detect" a legitimate site from one that's been built for promotional purposes. They truly can't. What they can detect though, are on-site relevance & UX factors, off-site trust factors, and behavioral data from their own user base (people using Google & Chrome).
Let's walk through each of these key factors.
This is the simple science of ranking any site, like clockwork: Know what your keywords are "worth". And then target 1-2 keywords per page, max.
SEO is driven by keyword data. This is why we're amazed that so many people really have no idea what the most profitable keywords are for their market. I strongly suggest that you run a short (or ongoing) Adwords campaign before you start planning out your SEO strategy... so you can actually get data-driven insights, and see first-hand how much traffic & ROI is actually on the table for each of your primary keywords.
Once you know which keywords are the "golden targets", then adjust your on-site targeting accordingly. Each page of your site (including the homepage) can only really target 1 or 2 keywords. Go after the "big keyword" with your root domain (homepage). And have dedicated pages no more than one click away from your root, that target all of your other primary keywords. How do you "target" a keyword? Feature it naturally in your title tags, heading tags, & make sure your unique content is relevant to that topic (keyword density doesn't matter).
On-site SEO matters. A lot.
Everyone ignores this because it seems too "easy", or something. Or, they THINK their sites are fine. But 9/10 times, they're atrocious. Thin content, dupe on-site content, slow-loading pages, mobile unfriendliness, poorly-written titles... these are signals that Google spots in microseconds, and they actively suppress your potential rankings by orders of magnitude.
We have literally seen sites "instantly" multiply their organic traffic by 200% or more, just by taking on-site seriously.
This isn't about "ranking higher". This is about ranking where you SHOULD be ranked, rather than being intentionally held down by Google's Panda algorithm. So, please, take this seriously. It's not difficult to implement these standards across your sites, and the ROI is staggering (and evergreen).
Build a Few GREAT Links Each Month. Do NOT Buy "Cheap" Links.
Off-site SEO is no longer a numbers game. Instead, what we've seen consistently, ever since mid-year 2014 up until posting this today (Nov. 11, 2015), is that Google responds most effectively to sites that get a steady drip of QUALITY tier-1 links.
(Tier 1 means that the links point directly to your target site, client, etc.). And by quality, I'm talking about actual publicity on established industry sites, real blogs, & news sources. In other words? When it comes to driving SEO at scale - it's all about Guest Posting.
What about boosting guest posts? And private networks / cheap high PR links?
Boosting your quality tier 1 links with a layer of high PR links is very effective, as it effectively amplifies the ranking power of each of your actual publicity events. And in Google's eyes, it makes that one link much more authoritative. So if you've got the budget, definitely do this! Just absolutely make sure that you do NOT point any of those links at your actual, target website. Under any circumstances! Lastly, on this - you need to maintain an ongoing drip campaign to not only build your rankings - but also to defend them. SEO is a traffic source. Not a "one time investment".
And that, folks, is how you can rank sites like clockwork - every time. Even in today's SEO climate. Have questions? Need further strategic insight on how to drive results please contact us.