During 2011 and 2012 Google made some major updates to their search engine algorithms. These two updates were given the names of Panda and Penguin. Panda was created to deal with poor content and Penguin was created to deal with spammy linking practices.
In the past, webmasters were able to “game” their way to the top of search engines by creating “average” content and shooting hundreds or thousands of links to those pages using software and services found online. They could get away with writing short amounts of content and generally make the page unappealing to visitors (but the site owners could still get their sites to page 1 using all manner of techniques).
Eventually Google found out and gathered mountains of data.
The resulting algorithm updates from February 24th 2011 onwards literally changed the face of search engine optimization techniques that had long been the backbone of SEO services for years. It was originally called the farmer update as it dealt with so called content farms and link farms that dealt with poor quality content.
Now you simply cannot get your page ranked in the same way. It takes a lot more work. SEO has evolved into something completely new. These days you have to write content that is truly engaging to the reader, and it has to be content that specifically answers their direct query (the phrase they typed into the search box on Google).
Relevance is critical!
If your web page doesn’t directly answer their query then chances are your web page will not show up on page 1 in the results page. If someone searches for “how to knit a Red sweater” then your web page must talk “exclusively” about how to knit a Red sweater.
Your web page can also include a few related phrases, for example “Red sweater benefits” or “why a Red sweater looks cuter than a Green sweater”. If your page talks about “the benefits of Blue knitted socks” then this is a definite “no no” and is not going to help.
With regards to the techniques used by webmaster to game their sites to the top, Google eventually caught on and released it’s Penguin update on April 24th 2012. The reasons and causes are not entirely understood but webmasters believe that a variety of things such as using “exact match domains” (i.e. “www.redknittedsweaters.com” might have been the domain name for a site dealing with red knitted sweaters).
In the past this was a way to gain extra traction and rankings, even if your site content was poor.
Webmasters where also aggressively using the same keyword(phrase) that people were typing into Google (for example “how to knit a Red sweater” – and using this same “anchor text” when writing articles that were placed on other sites and linked back to the main site.
So it all starts with content. Make it as helpful as possible and you stand a chance. Google is recognizing quality over spam, and about time too!