I can't begin to tell you how many conversations I have with current and prospective clients who think there are "tricks" to SEO.
They throw the term around like it's some magic potion behind the scenes that will get them to #1 across a vast range of Google searches. Heck: I even had one client who we are building a site for say they want to be launched by September 1 and ranked #1 in Google for all their keywords in Boston by the end of the month.
Delightful as that sounds, it just doesn't happen. And that gross misperception causes challenging conversation after challenging conversation. Clients who subscribe to this misperception are adamant that there are tricks that will get them that #1 position they thirst for so they "don't have to waste money on paid search". They also think once they are there, thanks to this unseen magic, they'll stay there forever more without ongoing efforts to build quality content, connect through social channels, publish white papers, and so on.
So the simple approach we take more and more with clients is this: their Web presence is no different than their offline business.
They take care in building the interior of their business carefully with decor, signage, lighting, furniture, etc. They invest in keeping it clean and neat and reflective of what they do. They occasionally upgrade the interior of their business to keep it welcoming and fresh.
But what happens if they do all that, and then fail to reach out to the community and market? Does anyone come in? If they deliver poor service, does anyone tell their friends and neighbors to come in? Do they not have fixed costs like electricity, telecommunications, etc.?
When they market, do they do so in one place and not multiple places? Do they develop a consistent, clear message?
Once we run through the offline business, it's easier for people to see that "SEO" is really about building the proper foundation - the right architecture to build a building that will stand for ages - but it is the whole of business activity that breathes life into the business. SEO is not a magic process that perpetually takes care of itself.