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@Tim Parker I don't know what is basis of your post. If you are looking SEO as in terms of poor quality submissions or just playing with search engine algorithms then probably its a narrow view.
In fact SEO is a method or a consistent process to fill the gap between a searcher and most relevant result. way of presentation, transforming a business to brand.
Of course content is most important element since it helps in educating audience, quality of it create trust, loyalty, awareness.
At the same time SEO follows three simple steps - Educate ->Engage -> Convert
All the processes it has have wider prospect, I agree many SEO guys has done injustice with it, many of them didn't understood their accountability and treated it as data entry job!.... and so you see they are being failed.
But you too have to understand, it (SEO) introduce itself in decision making process of a end user,
1 year, 2 months ago on Focus on Content Marketing Instead of SEO