Im all for whitehat SEO...However...and this is what I'm curious about...I think totally neglecting how the algorithm works and "just creating the best content", imho, is pretty naive. The reason:
As long as there is only a slight margin of error in the search engine's algorithm (there certainly is, and probably will be for some time to come)...and if the search engine has hundreds or thousands of pages it considers displaying on page 1...then neglecting the algorithm completely ("I dont do SEO I just try to create the best content!") can make all the difference between ranking on page 1 for many search queries, and ranking on page 2.
And page 1 gets an abnormally high percentage of the clicks/traffic..in comparison to page 2 (let alone page 3 and beyond).
My point is: because of the extreme difference in click-throughs between "page 1" and "not page 1", only creating great content and completely neglecting the way the algorithm works would often mean losing out on a lot of traffic (even if one has the very best content).
Am I right about this? Has anyone ever taken a website that received a good amount of traffic, but had absolutely no SEO done to it...and then did SEO for it, and ended up turning lots of "not on page 1"-rankings into "page 1"-rankings?