As we all know, the Academy Awards are highly political. It's not what you know but who you know that's important in Tinsel Town. So in the lead up to the Oscars, there's a flurry of partying, calling in favours, influence peddling, schmoozing, etc. While the event purports to be a pure gauge of quality, it's not really ... But for the purposes of this analogy, let's assume it is. The film deemed to be "Best Picture" really is that.
Okay, so if you're a film-maker, how do you get one? Well, there seem to be two main approaches. Either you forget about winning entirely and just set out to create the most well produced, well written, well directed, well acted, well scored, visually stunning, deeply moving movie possible. If you get the gong, great. But if not so what -- you gave it your all. Audiences loved it. You told the story you set out to tell and didn't bow to any pressure -- financial or political -- to change it. You kept your artistic integrity.
The other option: Focus solely on winning the award -- or at least getting nominated. Be willing to make any change to the script necessary to cater to the Academy members' political and aesthetic sensibilities so as to get their votes. Hire lobbyists. Pull in favours. Impugn the integrity of other film-makers to try and create bad press about their films.
Now, if the Oscars are a true gauge of quality then the first approach would be the most likely to garner you a little gold statue. You could win because you didn't even try to!
Back to the Google side of he analogy. Sure, the search giant is not perfect and impartial. It can be manipulated, but not anywhere nearly as easily as in the past. Its ability to detect dodgy tactics improves weekly. And it is sincerely trying to return the very best, most relevant results possible. Its business model depends on its ability to do so, after all. Without a doubt it is getting increasingly refined in the regard.
That's why I believe that the webmaster-business owner -- just like the film-maker -- should not focus entirely on search engine rankings. Sure, be mindful of the SEO aspects of what you're building. But don't obsess over them to the exclusion of everything else. Just set out to make the most interesting, original, informative, content rich website you can.
If you do this Google will eventually figure out you're quality and reward you accordingly. You may even snare the top spot for a juicy keyword or five. If not you will still get some good rankings for sure. But if you take the other, cynical route, in which you do absolutely anything for rankings you will inevitably have less success in the end -- and you may even be punished heavily for your use of dodgy tactics.