Your customers are like everyone else in the world--they rely on search engines to find information. You've undoubtedly thought about the possibility of being one of the top-ranked entries on Google's SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), whether you're pursued a formal SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy or not.

Already, some of your competitors have likely used SEO to gain the top spots in Google searches pertaining to your industry--but that doesn't mean they can't be taken away, even if they've been at it for longer than you have. As you're probably aware, SEO has many facets, and there are several different paths you can take to overtaking your competition:

1. Drive a Harder Content Campaign. Content serves as fuel for your SEO campaign. Google evaluates the quality, nature, and relevance of your onsite content to categorize and establish the authority of your site, and your ongoing content work builds on that authority. More content means more pages for Google to index, but only high-quality, original, well-researched content is going to add to your site's authority. Drive a harder content campaign than your competitors by doing more research, finding more original topics, delving into greater detail, and publishing more often. Eventually, you'll earn more authority, more online real estate, and more inbound links, propelling you to a better organic search position.

2. Get Better Inbound Links. Link building is a necessary strategy for SEO, but there are several different ways to build and earn links. One of the best is through guest posting, the act of publishing content on external blogs. The value of links built this way is roughly proportional to the authority of the domain you're linking from; if you can get a link on a .edu domain, .gov domain, or a nationally recognized publisher, you'll earn more authority and a higher boost in rankings. Get many of these high-authority links, and you'll blow past your competitors (unless they've already earned similar links).

3. Use Social Media to Attract More Links. Though quality is far more important in link building than quantity, quantity can come into play. The more links you have from different domains, the better your site is going to look to Google. Building hundreds of links, all on different domains, takes time and strategy, so consider taking a shortcut by letting your social media followers do it for you. Post your best content on social media, and consider using influencers and personal brands to spread that content even further. When people see it, and see the value in it, they'll be more likely to link to it--and if it goes viral, those hundred links could come to you in just a few days.

4. Cater to a Different Demographic. Instead of competing directly with your competitors, try taking a bit of an angle on their approach. If your business model will allow it, consider targeting a different demographic. For example, if your main competitor has a hard lock on keywords related to marketers of well-established businesses, consider targeting new entrepreneurs or less experienced marketers. You can do this in the topic and keyword selection portion of your strategy.

5. Target Alternative Niche Keywords. Similarly, you can target alternative keywords in your industry, with different products, services, or other offers. For example, if your competitor seems to pop up frequently for "solar panels," you could target more niche keywords like "monocrystalline solar panels." Doing so may reduce the number of potential viewers and visitors to your site, but will result in higher-qualified and converting traffic, and could give you the competitive edge you need to succeed in the rankings.

6. Offer Material for Rich Answers. Organic rankings aren't the only way to get more visibility in search engines. Google relies on microformatting on websites to draw in what it calls "rich answers"--concise, objective answers to common questions and queries drawn in from outside sources. Implementing this formatting on your site isn't hard, but many modern businesses have neglected to do it; implement it, and focus on answering as many common user queries as possible in concise ways. Eventually, your answers will start turning up for those queries, and you'll get the credit for posting them (above the fold of organic search results).

7. Go Local. Local SEO operates on a separate algorithm from national SEO. If your competition is national, you could go local to reduce the intensity of the competition and narrow your focus. Currently, Google offers up the top three relevant results for a local query in its local 3-pack. To get there, you'll have to ensure the accuracy and consistency of your NAP information (name, address, and phone number) on your site and on as many third-party directory and review sites (like Yelp or TripAdvisor) as possible. From there, you'll need to earn more positive reviews and write local content to maximize your chances of getting a local rank.

Though any of these strategies can feasibly allow you to outrank your competitors on search engines, don't be fooled into thinking it's a simple, fast, or easy process. Depending on how competitive your industry is, how authoritative your competitors' sites are, and how much prep work you've done in months and years past, it could feasibly take months or years of effort before you get results. But in the SEO world, as long as you're directing your efforts toward improving user experiences, complying with Google's standards, and ensuring the technical performance and structure of your site, your efforts will eventually pay off.

Further reading:

The Fundamental Guide to SEO in 2016