I am by no means an SEO expert, but one can’t be successful in marketing today without a basic understanding of how search engines decide what to feature on their front pages. Below are nine elements and rules that, at least at the time of this writing, will help anybody rank better and drive more traffic from Google and other search engines.

1. Content is key
The ever-changing and ever-more-complex algorithms that govern search results are increasingly prioritizing good, relevant content. For the foreseeable future, the foundation of a great SEO strategy will be fundamentally-sound, valuable, relevant content. The more you produce, the more people read it and link to it, the better off you’ll be.

2. Google’s keyword tool lies
If you want a more accurate reading of keyword search volume, use a tool like Wordtracker. Google’s tool is great if you’re buying space on available inventory, but it’s filtered and published with maximizing paid search revenue in mind, not helping content marketers optimize their content decisions.

3. Social is important & highly integrated
The lines between SEO and social media are rapidly blurring. Your presence and influence on social media is increasingly having a bigger impact on how well you rank, especially among those in your immediate and one-degree-away network. If you’re serious about SEO as part of your inbound marketing strategy, by definition you have to be serious about your social media plan as well.

4. Google+ is vital
Say what you want about Google+ as a viable, critical-mass social network on the scale of Facebook and Twitter. But because Google+ is fundamentally tied to natural search results on Google overall, it’s a critical if not mandatory part of successful SEO strategies today. There’s a ton of great advice for how to leverage Google+ to drive more inbound traffic. Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki in particular have published accessible and strong how-to materials.

5. Link-building drives credibility
The more links you have back to your site earned of editorial merit, the more likely Google thinks that you’re an influencer and expert on that particular topic. Ensure that your inbound link source diversity is high. For example, if you have 100 inbound links from two sites, it’s not nearly as good as having 50 inbound links from 45 sites.

6. Black ops will get you banned
Long gone are the days of packing the back of your site with keywords, stuffing pages with invisible copy, and other tricks that attempt to “game” the system. Google’s algorithms are just too smart now. Avoid like the plague any SEO consultants that promise to get you to the top of Google’s first-page rankings quickly. They’re likely using these earlier tricks that can cause long-term damage to your reputation and traffic potential.

7. Google Authorship is mandatory
Your reputation, your profile and your personal brand now follow you across the Web, thanks to Google Authorship. What does it mean for your SEO strategy? It means if your company’s employees contribute articles elsewhere, it helps the SEO authority of your own site. And if you get high-authority writers to contribute articles to a blog on your own domain, it also helps drive more authority and traffic back to you.

8. The rules change, literally daily

Not much you can do about this one, but it’s a reality that few marketers realize. It’s also why you should keep track of the bigger rule changes from sites like SearchEngineLand.com, or by befriending a local SEO expert who lives and breathes this stuff.  Our SEO guru, for example, spends at least three hours a day reading, tracking and learning about what’s changed and what’s working.

9. It takes constant feeding to stay on top
You don’t get to do a bunch of work, write a lot of content, rank for some important keywords, and move on. Google likes to see that you keep your content coming, that you get and stay relevant to your readers, and that you continue to create content, generate links and increase your followers as a sign that you deserve to stay on the first page of search results.