While most search engine companies try to keep their processes a secret, their criteria for high spots on SERPs isn't a complete mystery. Search engines are successful only if they provide a user links to the best Web sites related to the user's search terms. If your site is the best skydiving resource on the Web, it benefits search engines to list the site high up on their SERPs. You just have to find a way to show search engines that your site belongs at the top of the heap. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in -- it's a collection of techniques a webmaster can use to improve his or her site's SERP position.
For example, we regularly create content on the topic of "SEO," but it's still very difficult to rank well on Google for such a popular topic on this acronym alone. We also risk competing with our own content by creating multiple pages that are all targeting the exact same keyword -- and potentially the same search engine results page (SERP). Therefore, we also create content on conducting keyword research, optimizing images for search engines, creating an SEO strategy (which you're reading right now), and other subtopics within SEO.
You have also mentioned Quuu for article sharing and driving traffic. I have been using Quuu for quite sometime now and I don’t think they’re worth it. While the content does get shared a lot, there are hardly any clicks to the site. Even the clicks that are there, average time is like 0.02 seconds compared to more than 2 minutes for other sources of traffic on my website. I have heard a few guys having a similar experience with Quuu and so, I thought should let you know.
There are a few competitive tools we tend to gravitate towards in our industry. SEMrush is a fantastic tool allowing anyone to look up a website and get an estimated search visibility and traffic share. Drilling in shows how well pages perform independently. Gleaning through exports can quickly reveal what topics are driving traffic, to which you might replicate or improve your own version.
You mentioned: "many times clients have already done this work.  Ask them for copies of their market research reports when you start a project.  It will save you a ton of time and effort!"  We do this with most of our clients, like you said we have found that around 75% of the have some kind of Market research done, that saves you a lot of time and helps setting up the right SEO Strategy. 
Early versions of search algorithms relied on webmaster-provided information such as the keyword meta tag or index files in engines like ALIWEB. Meta tags provide a guide to each page's content. Using metadata to index pages was found to be less than reliable, however, because the webmaster's choice of keywords in the meta tag could potentially be an inaccurate representation of the site's actual content. Inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent data in meta tags could and did cause pages to rank for irrelevant searches.[10][dubious – discuss] Web content providers also manipulated some attributes within the HTML source of a page in an attempt to rank well in search engines.[11] By 1997, search engine designers recognized that webmasters were making efforts to rank well in their search engine, and that some webmasters were even manipulating their rankings in search results by stuffing pages with excessive or irrelevant keywords. Early search engines, such as Altavista and Infoseek, adjusted their algorithms to prevent webmasters from manipulating rankings.[12]

Optimization techniques are highly tuned to the dominant search engines in the target market. The search engines' market shares vary from market to market, as does competition. In 2003, Danny Sullivan stated that Google represented about 75% of all searches.[64] In markets outside the United States, Google's share is often larger, and Google remains the dominant search engine worldwide as of 2007.[65] As of 2006, Google had an 85–90% market share in Germany.[66] While there were hundreds of SEO firms in the US at that time, there were only about five in Germany.[66] As of June 2008, the market share of Google in the UK was close to 90% according to Hitwise.[67] That market share is achieved in a number of countries.
Expertise and authoritativeness of a site increases its quality. Be sure that content on your site is created or edited by people with expertise in the topic. For example, providing expert or experienced sources can help users understand articles’ expertise. Representing well-established consensus in pages on scientific topics is a good practice if such consensus exists.

There is no magic formula for content marketing success, despite what some would have you believe. For this reason, vary the length and format of your content to make it as appealing as possible to different kinds of readers. Intersperse shorter, news-based blog posts with long-form content as well as video, infographics and data-driven pieces for maximum impact.
Having a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain (for example, searches using the site: operator). If your site has thousands or even millions of pages, hand-crafting description meta tags probably isn't feasible. In this case, you could automatically generate description meta tags based on each page's content.
A backlink is a link to your website from another website. Backlinks from complementary businesses or industry influencers will not only get your business in front of a larger audience, but it will also drive qualified traffic to your website. In addition, Google picks up on backlinks and will increase its trust in your business if it sees other trusted sites pointing to yours. More trust from Google leads to higher rankings, which leads to more traffic. Get noticed on Google for free with quality backlinks.
Whatever industry you’re in, chances are there are at least one or two major conventions and conferences that are relevant to your business. Attending these events is a good idea – speaking at them is even better. Even a halfway decent speaking engagement is an excellent way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry and gain significant exposure for your site.
I first heard you talk about your techniques in Pat Flynn’s podcast. Must admit, I’ve been lurking a little ever since…not sure if I wanted to jump into these exercises or just dance around the edges. The clever and interesting angles you describe here took me all afternoon to get through and wrap my brain around. It’s a TON of information. I can’t believe this is free for us to devour! Thank you!! Talk about positioning yourself as THE expert! Deep bow.

An SEO technique is considered white hat if it conforms to the search engines' guidelines and involves no deception. As the search engine guidelines[18][19][52] are not written as a series of rules or commandments, this is an important distinction to note. White hat SEO is not just about following guidelines but is about ensuring that the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see. White hat advice is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the online "spider" algorithms, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose. White hat SEO is in many ways similar to web development that promotes accessibility,[53] although the two are not identical.

Thanks for bringing up this point - I agree Eric - competitive positioning can help you determine value that you bring to the table that your competitors dont.  I'm all for it.  Neilsen does some reports that provide awareness, likelihood to recommend, sentiment and other insightsfor your site/brand and your competitors. You can also pull some of that type of insight out of social listening platforms like NetBase, SM2, Radian6, Dow Jones, Nielsen, and so many others.  I've even done some hacked compeitove sentiment comprisons before using Search: searching for [brand or feature] + "like", "love", hate", "wish" etc. 

Social media. The algorithms have truly changed since social media first emerged. Many content websites are community-oriented -- Digg began allowing users to vote which stories make the front page, and YouTube factors views and user ratings into their front page rankings. Therefore, e-commerce stores must establish a strong social media presence on sites like Facebook , Pinterest, Twitter, etc. These social media sites send search engines signals of influence and authority.
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