Onders - 2:14 pm on Jul 5, 2011 (gmt 0)
A few good points have been made - but essentially the overriding trend is that traditional SEO is no longer a stand alone way of getting to the top of the rankings.
What Google has been doing (and this shift has been happening for quite a while) is moving towards a full knowledge model, where everything about your company, your product, your website, your clients and your general site visitors is analysed to determine where you should be.
It's very clever, potentially fraught with mistakes, and if you look at how sites were rankings a few years ago, a major and relatively fast change. Traditional SEO was about content, having your infrastructure set up well, and links. It was stand alone. You could do all of these (to whatever extent, or using dubious means!) and rank, whilst still have a rubbish product or service. Sites would rank highly just because they were doing SEO well.
To be fair, that's how conventional marketing worked as well. You could have a pretty rubbish product but spend millions on marketing and you'll get visitors and potentially some sales.
Everything has changed though - people now leave reviews about products and services, share thoughts, talk to millions of other people. Everything can be seen and virally spread. Brands can be almost irreparably damaged by people who all of a sudden have a voice, and can get a following. It's a huge shift towards more power for consumers.
Whether Google's decision to look at every facet of a company is related to this trend or not is almost irrelevant - the fact is, they are now looking at so much more than they used to, perhaps nearly everything a company does.
It makes it more difficult for us - but as someone has said above, it's been relatively easy freeloading for quite a while! There's still huge potential out there, and I don't think this is a case of "we're all doomed". I see this as a wake up call. We need to work harder to preserve (or improve) what we have. We need to focus more on consumers and the product or service we are delivering. If you've got a good company, and you're providing something people are happy with - Google should and I believe will, reward that.
Shame it has got harder, and a sad farewell to just link and content building, my to do list has just got a lot longer!