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So the question is, if one wants to do this, but does not have many resources at his disposal, what strategies can be taken to boost rank, traffic and visibility?
This is what every "niche" seeker looks for these days.
Start with your basic optimization and begin to rank naturally, keep a link in DMOZ and Yahoo DIR and begin the long process of link building/exchange with quality PR sites that are indexed (in google). If you manage to escape the sandbox then you should start getting results in Google after about 120 days, if you get sandboxed it could be a year or so.
Keep in mind that the big guys got there either from years of link building, site longevity (being online since late 90's), or natural popularity due to the service or traffic.
Once you find your niche the journey begins. Grab on, keep Webmaster World in your favorites (you'll need it), and try not to get banned in the SERP's.
Before you know it you will be competing, only of course if you have done the above things mentioned correctly! A little luck doesnt hurt either!
More Intensive Keywords (or niche) Targeting. Though everyone has equal footings to compete in Internet and SE, you have your choice to choose the battlefield. While big boys are big, they are not likely to be omnipresent. Look for the money terms where you think they are weak and you can compete. Concentrate more of your efforts on those terms that you are likely to win. In other words, don't be obsessive with big money terms with super high competition.
As your site's pagerank grows, set your sites on keywords that are more competitive.
Be different than everyone else. It's still quite possible to own a market segment on the net, but most people are not imaginative enough. Anyone with a digital camera and adventurous friends can start a pr0n site, but google says a search for "nude" yields eight million hits, nearly all of which are sites run by people who don't want you to win.
A search for, let me see, "left handed scissors" yields 224,000 hits. Many of them are still people with something to sell, but it's probably not so hard to fight your way to the top of the heap.
Best of luck to you. Webmasterworld is the whole reason I was able to quit my job for adsense this month, about nine months sooner than I thought I had any hope of doing.
It took me seven years to build my site, but I was groping in the dark for most of that. I'm pretty sure that if I had it all to do over again, but knowing what I know now, I could get to my current income level in a year or so.
As long as you don't need revenue from your site to live on right away, don't worry too much about being sandboxed. Concentrate on building quality content, inbound links, and name recognition. There's ways you can get people to talk about your site without showing up in the search engines.
If you can do that, you will find that you spring from complete obscurity into the top ten for a bunch of keywords a few google updates from now.