Long-term, the ranking of your website in Google is not going to depend upon your use of meta tags, SEO techniques, or cleverness with content. Much more important are inbound links and their associated words.
How then, do you get people to link to you? In the same way you get people to talk about you in the real world, at least in a positive sense: by being unique, being reliable, providing great content or great experiences (products, services, and customer care, if you are a company), and being gregarious, consciously creating a network of people and organizations that know, trust, and depend on you.
In the case of a company, this can be seen as horizontal and vertical marketing: forging relationships with the companies, organizations and people that supply you; that you supply, and that provide goods or services that work with your own.
For example, let’s say that you craft wooden kayaks, like those at Guillemot Kayaks. Your most valuable inbound links (and those that are the furthest from your direct control) are reviews, testimonials and recommendations from your customers and the public, in blogs and sites related to kayaks. But let’s imagine that you also supply retailers like Mountain Equipment Co-op with your watercraft. You could ask those retailers to provide a “Learn More” or “Go to Manufacturer” link when your kayak is viewed on their site. It is a win-win proposal for them: customers learn more about the product, and can ask the manufacturer questions directly.
Of course you would also look at anyone else that you supply with your product: charities, sports clubs, provincial waterways. If there are published photos of your work, ask the owner / author for a credit and a link to your site.
You also take in raw materials to make your kayaks: mahogany and other woods, epoxy and fibreglass. You probably have one or two lumberyards that you depend on for supplies: do they have product highlights sections on their websites in which uses of their lumber might be shown, together with a link to your site?
Finally, there are products and services that you do not provide but which you recommend to be used with your product: paddles, lifejackets, etc. If you have links to the suppliers of such, it is reasonable to ask for links in return.
As you can see, this process can be long, ongoing, and complex. Most SEO companies go for “quick fixes” – adding semantic markup, as well as a lot of content. Crafting long-term search value for links is much more difficult: it requires a deep understanding of the company and the commercial eco-system of which it is a part. This provides a particular opportunity for freelancers to maintain an ongoing relationship via a maintenance contract with the companies for which they build websites. Part of this relationship is a commitment to grow search results through the techniques I discuss here.