SEO can be something of a “black box.” It’s certainly much more widely accepted as a marketing practice than it was when I was first starting out, but even though more business owners understand that SEO is something they need to be doing, they still may not understand what, exactly, SEO entails.
In some ways, this is a good thing for us as SEOs – we’re in possession of an in-demand skill set that not a lot of people possess. Can anybody say “job security”? But in other ways, SEO’s esoteric nature makes it easy for unscrupulous SEO providers to hide the fact that they’re not providing real value. In a world where business owners understand that they need SEO, but may not have much (or any) idea of what good SEO entails or what results they should be getting, there’s a lot of room for advantage to be taken.
To add to that, there are a number of “black hat” SEO techniques that still work disturbingly well even today. These tactics can gain success for a business, but also run the risk that the website will be penalized by Google if it detects the use of those tactics. Since black hat tactics aren’t illegal, just risky, there’s really nothing stopping SEO practitioners from using them, often without their clients’ awareness or a full understanding of the risks involved. Nothing, that is, except the individual practitioners’ sense of ethics and integrity.