First and foremost, we should probably establish that all SEO programs are not going to be created equal, because they do not have to be. The intensity of your SEO program is going to have to do with how competitive the space is that you are trying to capture. What this means is that if you a re a local business selling a unique product with no competition in the area, you are probably not going to have to do a lot of SEO work to gain rankings in your local area. If you are one of a hundred businesses selling the same products nationwide or worldwide you are going to need a lot of SEO work to gain rankings globally. How much SEO is necessary is dictated by your competition at all times, which translates to the possibility of a business that has always enjoyed top rankings because they were the only game in town suddenly being outranked by a new competitor simply because the new guy has done more work than you. Rankings are not permanent, and you can be knocked out of your top placement at any time by someone doing more. The question is “how much do you have to do to gain those rankings, and will you stay in that position if you stop?”
If you are in the 5th position for a word that describes your business, it means that 4 other businesses are doing more SEO work than you are. There are very specific things that Google is looking for on these websites, and they have fund more of them on the other 4 websites than on yours. If suddenly you drop another position and are replaced by the business that was below you yesterday, it is because that business is now doing more than you were as well. Rankings are constantly in flux based upon the comparison of the strength of your site vs the strength of everyone else’s, and the strength is determined by a myriad of different factors that can essentially be translated into only a few methods.
Websites rank based upon their level of expertise in a subject. Google is looking for the website that has the best information on a subject, the information that is most useful to real people. In order to be viewed by Google as the best in your subject area, you are going to need to create content about that subject. Google is going to read that content looking for certain phrases or comparative terms, and then they are going to make a decision if your content is better than the content on another website. This is accomplished by looking at links to your site, and even more specifically to links to that content. You need to create content that is very specific, and has important information about the subject that is beneficial to people. You also need to keep creating more content both on the website and off the website linking back to the site in order to develop a bigger link base. Within the website, content on the subject that is created should be linked to the page that Google ranks on that subject, this builds up the internal link base and shows Google which page is the most important for that subject. Externally, the links coming in to the website do the same thing, establishing the source of the good information that is being discussed outside of your site. A simple link off another website will have almost no value to you, and instead those links must be within content on the subject itself. There are debates about how much content is needed, but we prefer to always use at least 500 words on the subject because that is typically how much is needed in order to get a point across. There are no hard-set rules, but Google realizes that the longer an article is the more in-depth it usually is.
So how much content and linking do you need? The answer is “enough to get you into the top position.” There is no way of knowing how much your competition has done (although we can make guesses using scanning software.) There is no way of knowing how much they will do in the future. The best SEO programs assume that there will be ongoing competition and that rankings are in flux, so we do a specific amount of work every month to keep building the strength, even once top rankings are achieved.