When developing a website, many people who are new to the process think that a website will succeed or fail in search engine rankings according to the content of the web pages. They put a lot of effort into adding keywords to meta tags and body content and assume that if a site doesn't have many visitors it must be due to the combination of keywords, or the quality of the page content. To some extent this may be true, however there are several key factors that happen "offsite" that have an important bearing on a website's ranking success.
Perhaps the most important of these factors is the number of incoming links a website has attracted. If you create a link from your website to another, it could be assumed you have an interest in that site and it is worth linking to. Similarly, when someone links to your site, it will be seen as a vote of confidence in your site and a measure of its worth. Important websites have lots of incoming links. In practice, it can be difficult to attract incoming links. You do need to have good content to justify the relationship. While one-way incoming links are best, many website developers swap links with other websites. This process is known as reciprocal linking and forms a large part of the website optimization task. It is important that the number of links grows naturally and you don't simply arrange a sudden influx of links and then forget about them. Search engines look for trends in linking and will penalize your site if the linking pattern is unnatural.
The source of incoming links also has an effect on your website's ranking status. Links that are provided through "link farms" specialising in providing reciprocal links, will be of minimal value. Some of these relationships may even harm you website's ranking. It is best if you can attract links from other websites that are in the same subject area as yours. There is strength in similar websites linking together.
Search engines note the server that websites are held on. You may own many websites and can quickly add a new one into the collection. Unfortunately, search engines will see that they are hosted on the same server and will assume the links have no value. They are looking for links from unrelated websites. Some website developers have their websites hosted through a number of different companies to avoid this issue; however the cost and effort involved may not be worth the effort in managing the process. It is better to build a good site and have others link to it because it is worth it.
There used to be a benefit in having your website listed in directories such as DMOZ. This directory was an important supplier of content for search engines and bestowed a measure of kudos by listing a website. The benefits are less obvious now, however it will not harm your website to be listed in directories and may generate a stream of visitors.
The length of time your website has been live for is an indication of its importance and is another factor in search engine optimization. The best websites have usually been built over a period of time. A website that has had a long life has usually more content and has also shown that it can survive for a period of time. Some websites come and go and the longer they survive the more stable and mature they are seen to be.
A factor that is related to a website's age is its maintenance record. A poor website developer will build a site and then forget about it. There will be a flurry of activity and then the website will be inactive. Search engine have long recognized this pattern of activity and will penalize websites where it is prevalent. Search engines want to see a consistent maintenance record. A good website will undergo continued development and will have frequent updates and amendments. Ensure your website is carefully looked after and it will be seen as a site worth listing.
It can be seen from the factors outlined above that search engines look for steady growth in content and activity in a website. If you want your website to climb higher in the search engine rankings, look after it consistently and frequently. Search engines will love your website if you do.