irishsolar - 9:00 am on Apr 26, 2012 (gmt 0)
@Play_Bach it's not that I don't believe you but your idea of a competitive niche and mine might be very different. Don't take it personally.
My experience in these things quite clearly shows me that on-page and off-page optimization is a huge factor in ranking and up until these recent updates it was 100% necessary to engage in SEO if you ever wanted to rank in Google for a COMPETITIVE search phrase unless you were Coca Cola or some other huge brand (where your on-page keywords reflected your brand and you got relevant, keyword targeted backlinks naturally anyway).
Perhaps your friend's site has such links and got them naturally. All I am saying is this: if a competent webmaster with SEO knowledge had decided to take her spot prior to this update then it wouldn't have been that difficult if your friend does indeed gave her site no attention at all.
I believe the competing sites in her niche have very little SEO done on them probably on-page and off-page.
You seem to be adamant that it is a competitive niche. Tell me, have you analysed the competing websites to see if they have been optimised at all?