SEO, living with it.

SEO companies have created an interesting dilemma. On one hand, they have created a market for their services which is self perpetuating: a company without good SEO is at a disadvantage compared to one with strong SEO behind it, which creates more demand for their services. The amount of disadvantage depends on the companies business.

Impulse buys for products in a narrow category may be profoundly impacted by search rank as that may be the primary customer acquisition technique. On the other hand, companies providing highly specialized services to corporations that do due diligence before purchases are probably fairly immune to search rank as long as they rank on their own trademarks.

On the other hand, there are only a limited number of things that can be done to a website before it is "optimized" 95% of the way and further effort is going to yield poor return on investment. That is when people turn to "link building". Link building is one of those practices that falls into a grey area. Overly aggressive link building campaigns can lead to results like The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.

The specific rules that most SEO companies like to play fast and loose with are Little or no original content and Cloaking, redirects and doorways. At the end of the day the goal of these techniques is to allow "non organic" linking to be hidden from the search engine enough that they won't be discounted. The problem of course is that when you are too successful, you end up like JC Penny: trying to do damage control on their reputation and search position.

A clearing house for techniques that I really like is the link building wiki. The opinions linked from that page are varied and understanding the sum total of those links will put you in the head of the SEO professionals, minus the worst practices.

SEO isn't going to go away, so living with it, understanding it and coming to peace with the techniques that you can live with and understanding that avoiding those that you can't will go far farther than most SEO firms which focus heavily on building links inorganically (and thus, eventually, drawing the eye of Google's spam team).