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De-optimizing is a fast way to get better ranked. Try it, you will be pleased.
And this phenomenon has always existed. (Google has a word for it: spamming.) The aspect most people are immediately familiar with is keyword stuffing. It's important to have your search term on your page; and good to have it in a link... however that doesn't mean you should make a page that merely repeats your two word phrase five hundred times, and includes all that in a single hyperlink. (I wish I bookmarked the page I saw that did that as its only "content"...). This is not optimization, or natural. It's just dumb spamming. Now what most people are talking about is not so dumb or blatant, but that blatant example is on the edge of the spectrum being talked about.
Even though some sites get away with it, the point is that Google doesn't like "over stuffing". It is one thing they call "spamming". They algorithmically devalue many sites that spam this way.
The way to go is to follow the guidelines, do what is naturally correct, use elements like H1 and alt text for what they were intended for, and don't stuff things in that don't belong. Send Google signals of quality and relevance, not signals of desperation.
SEO has become harder. It used to be anybody could rank with a few simple rules. I like it. The harder the better. That just means I have less competition.
We can't be so self-righteous that if we don't happen to get hit we can assume that others who did get hit were being bad boys. In fact, until someone has gotten hit they can't really legitimately call themselves an SEO.
Good point. I can think of seeing a number of amateur pages where obviously the webmaster knew nothing about SEO that are stuffed to the gills with the relevant keyword(s) *and* are also ranking well in Google. The reason for the huge number of the keyword(s) on the page was just because that was what the page was about. SEOs do this on purpose to rank well in SEs. Amateurs end up doing this because they don't pay attention to use synonyms (or, just don't care.)
Have users who post studies, research etc, give this data with every study:
1) Total results returned for said keyword / kw phrase
2) Total results returned for said kewyord / kw phrase when enclosed in quotation marks (ie "keyword phrase")
Why? This; while not being industry specific as to break the TOS, it will provide a fair estimate as to how competitive the term in question is, which will help others to assimilate the data, and determine if how closely it matches with their studies, results or situation.
I have never much liked it when someone equates the number of results with competitiveness.
[click here] gives 15,500,000 results, and gives the same number when it is in quotes.
[diamond tennis bracelet] (I have no affiliation with this term, it was just a high dollar item that I tried) returns 119,000.
Which would you consider more competitive?
It might actually be harder to displace adobe on click here for the #1 spot, but they aren't "competing" for that spot, they just happen to have a few million links to their download with click here as the text.