SEOs - The new pornographers of the web
The business managers in my last job wanted to give a good push on SEO to reach a wider audience, read higher page views. One part of the organization's web sites managed more page views by doing a number of changes suggested by the SEOs. The sites I managed weren't doing that great for many reasons - the primary reason being the pages do not change much to force the crawlers to visit the site more often. The belief was the more frequent a crawler visits your site, the chance of your site showing up in the first page of Google's results. The second important reason was - we just didn't have good content. That was an e-commerce site. Until the SEO buzz, getting good content from vendors means, getting a nice photograph of the product and nothing more.
In addition to the stand-alone e-commerce site, we were selling on Amazon too. Amazon's guidelines on the content gave me a good idea on what is important. I came to the conclusion that fixing the content first is the first step towards better performance is search results. Fixing the content is not easy considering the constraints from the vendor (poor detail, spelling and language) and from the application (limited fields / length).
I chose to get the content fixed with changes to the application and setting expectations with the vendors. This is better than running behind a phantom called SEO. I believe good detail and user experience are more important than search engine optimization. Translating this to brick-and-mortar model of businesses, the efforts are better spent in designing your shop in such a way that people can find the products they need easily than to put up huge hoardings to drive people to you shop.