Is most of SEO just a boondoggle?

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Compare the value of boondoggle SEO techniques with simply making smart Title tag changes. Now there’s something that can indeed lead to long-term measurable results in the search engines. Other techniques that make a difference when done correctly are the flattening of the site architecture (for real, not through nofollow attributes), the descriptive naming of internal anchor text, as well as the rewriting of content to better speak to the target audience. And of course, having a link-worthy site and getting the word out about it to the proper channels will always be worthwhile.

Jill Whalen, Is Most Of SEO Just A Boondoggle? (Emphasis mine.)

I've been saying exactly that for years internally at BigCo or to my clients. What makes your site bubble up in search engine result pages is, first and foremost, your content and how well you write it for the web. And paying third parties like SEO to write your content is, in most cases, a dumb idea.

The main problem is that this kind of advice usually falls on deaf ears: of precisely those who are responsible for the hardest part of creating and maintaining a web site, producing content. When those are too lazy or simply incompetent in that matter, their very first tactic to improve traffic is to turn to... SEOs. And especially the worse ones, those who don't ask their clients to do any work.

A good SEO will involve the business people with a lot of questions and suggestions pertaining to the site content and architecture. A very good SEO will educate you on how you can naturally do natural SEO yourself. (Seems pretty obvious, isn't it?)
A bad SEO will talk to business people just to make lots of promises and will get back with purely technical recommendations for the webmaster, full of markup changes such as rel="nofollow" and sitemaps, none of which demanding any significant change to actual content or structure.

Oh, and a sure sign of a craptacularly bad SEO is one who suggests using META keywords. They are still people out there who think it actually works or who make people think so. Amazing but true.