I still hold to the belief that you need to build a site that is so good that people will want to return or even tell their friends. There needs to be a good reason to link to the site. This is the part that is missing for most.
There was time when there were thousands of pages on the internet... then millions ... then billions ... then trillions...
Simple tricks that worked in a small neighborhood (of sites) may still work today, but when it comes to search engines, they are dealing with extremely large quantities of data in comparison with the past. They have enough information and resources to make sure that spam gets pushed down, while sites that are so worthwhile that people want to revisit them and tell their fiends and link to them (because they want to) will get pushed up. It's that simple.
And a final note, sites that become less worthwhile because they are not properly maintained, get infected with malware, or otherwise get spammed are also detectable by search engines.
In today's market, you really have to make a site that people love, and then work your tail off to keep it that way.