Google's Cutts: Good directions drive traffic to your website [usatoday.com]
You can't make a site rank at the top without an effort. Not without investing a lot of time, money, research, building content, architecture, links, hype, trust etc. At the end of the day, you'll need to be planning sites for people, not code inspecting bots. And thus 'optimizing the big nothing' is less and less an option.
Which honestly, I don't mind.
Hmm...Paid links, right ?
Right, well if your site is *crap*, you'll go bust in no time... paying for links.
The only exception where a couple of days'/weeks' SEO can do wonders is when your site is good, unique, popular, just not in line with Search Engine standards. The original meaning of SEO. An important aspect for any site, but not a stand-alone business model.
perhaps that's why it's OK for Google Employee #n ( dunno whitenight's number for Matt Cutts *smirk* ) giving basic but important SEO tips - nothing more, nothing less than before - but a good summary of how Google works... and in a highlighted article of USA Today.
More like a wake-up call than DIY... for those who could be ranking high due to their natural popularity if their sites were optimized.
btw. the usatoday's search is powered by Yahoo! *hehe*