Search engine optimization is one of those things that most marketers pretend to know a lot about (myself included). The truth is, no one really gets SEO.

What Google does is highly secretive, based on complex algorithms and machine learning. You’ll probably hear a lot of mumbo jumbo from some SEO consultants.

Once upon a time, it was easy to fool Google’s crawlers with keyword stuffing and backlink spamming. Nowadays, Google’s natural language processing is much better, and older “black hat” SEO strategies are more likely to hurt you than help.

What we do know for sure is Google’s ultimate goal for search results: Put the most relevant content at the top of every search page. It has gotten pretty good at this over time. So, where does that leave regular business owners? How does anyone go about “doing” SEO in 2020?

Stay on top of each Google update.

Google launches updates to its algorithm several times a year. While updates over the last year have made elements such as Google Voice a little more important, overall, search works the same as we were accustomed to before.

With the sheer amount of content already out there (over 1.7 billion websites and counting, according to Statista), it’s going to be a battle to rank on page one, and especially position one, for any target keyword you might have in mind. That leaves businesses with two options: Go big or go niche.

How can you ‘go big’ with SEO in 2020?

Let’s pretend, for the purposes of this article, that you own a second-hand bicycle shop in New York City. Let’s say you want to target the obvious big keywords, such as “used bike nyc” and “used bicycle.” The good news is that a ton of people are searching for these terms. But because they’re so popular, they’re also some of the hardest keywords to rank for.

What does that mean for you, the bike shop owner? Simply put, you’d need a massive content strategy with some powerful backlinks. That means dozens of well-written, targeted articles each month. You also need to ensure that your content is getting in front of the right influencer sites and blogs for an effective backlinking strategy.

If you’re a large corporation, the solution is simple: Throw money at the problem until you start showing up on page one. This is what a lot of challenger brands do in content-heavy sectors such as online prescription drug coupons, for example. The ROI will be there, but it takes a lot of time and quite a bit of money.

How can you ‘go niche’ with SEO in 2020?

In this case, you’re a used bike shop owner. Your budget is pretty limited. You can’t possibly compete with “Big Bicycle” that is currently dominating the major keywords. So, what do you do?

You go niche. You do your homework and find a smaller segment within your target audience. You look for related, low-hanging fruit keywords that, for whatever reason, aren’t as competitive.

Instead of trying to capture the entire New York City used bicycle market, you could try “used bike parts nyc.” You could go local and use “used bikes east village” or “used bicycle bushwick”.

Yes, you’ll still need a compelling website with helpful, educational content that your ideal customers actually want to read. Try to get a backlink or two from reputable local blogs. Whatever the case, identifying those low-hanging keywords is the first step.

There are no shortcuts.

SEO is about the fundamentals — smart keyword research, quality content creation and helpful backlinks from real sources (not black hat ones) — more than it ever has been.

Don’t get taken for a ride by a nefarious SEO agency. Do your homework, and make sure they’re not pushing a strategy that worked back in 2010.