There are just as many of them around now as there ever were, and their triumph of hope over knowledge is just as prevalent.
I don't know what factors Google or the other search engines really look for. I can guess - but doing so would make me no better than the optimists I criticize.
As the great John Taylor would say with much shaking of that bear-like head, "Test and track ... its the only way!"
What I suspect, and would like to share, is something that I've rarely seen mentioned, let alone debated. It is the idea that Google don't actually have a single-size catch-all algorithm at all.
My contention is that far from being a fixed formula, SEO is a dynamic process that is totally niche specific.
Let me give you a few examples to support my thought...
If on-page factors were generally applied in the same way for any niche, you would expect a broad similarity between the top results. Obviously not for individually ranked pages as other factors will throw extremes, but for averaged trends.
I've taken four on-page SEO factors and compared the averaged top-ten Google results for a variety of different niches.
If the traditional SEO experts are right about the ranking effects of on-page factors, you should see some similarities between niches. But you don't.
Every niche (defined as the results that a particular keyword search throw up in the top ten) is different.
Average words per page:
'Garden pond' - 760
'Sleep apnea' - 1397
'Crochet patterns' - 646
'Hdtv' - 2241
Pages in the top ten with the keyword in their URL:
'Garden pond' - 40%
'Sleep apnea' - 80%
'Crochet patterns' - 0%
'Hdtv' - 80%
Pages in the top ten with the keyword in their title:
'Garden pond' - 80%
'Sleep apnea' - 100%
'Crochet patterns' - 70%
'Hdtv' - 70%
Average keyword density:
'Garden pond' - 0.5%
'Sleep apnea' - 2.5%
'Crochet patterns' - 0.7%
'Hdtv' - 1.5%
I've looked at other factors too, and the results are equally varied.
As an aside, it is also interesting that the average keyword density of top ranked pages is a lot lower than many experts have been saying for years. The 2.5% shown for 'sleep apnea' is unusually high. Most niches I've looked at tend to be in the 0.5% to 1.5% range.
So, it is my belief that rather than accept broad-stroke generic guesswork from the search engine optimists, we should be exploring our niches individually and trying to find out what the search engines really want for that keyword.
It is a bit more work, but at least we'll be modelling proven success.
But then, I make no claims to be an expert, so take it all with a pinch of salt!