What surprises me with the relentless pursuit of SEO is that everyone seems to believe it is the be all and end all of a website's presence, it is very important, but it is definitely not all there is to running a successful website.
The whole gamut of skills required to run a website are acquired through years of learning and then putting that learning into practice. There is of course the basic SEO that is in books, or handy tips on-line including many versions of top ten essential SEO tips. These are all very well and good, but, don't answer all the nitty-gritty day to day questions: reliable hosting, quality of content on the page, quality of products to sell or to sign-up for, ease of navigation &c.
An SEO agency will often write a long-winded optimisation report, which the client, on the whole, won’t understand, this report will be in minutia detail about the technical optimising of the website, this is great of course for those with rather large pockets of money. If there is the cash to spend on completely rebuilding a site from the bottom up, there is a good chance you will reach the first page of Google, because naturally the agency will have sold you a linking package as well.
The problem arises when your site does reach the pinnacle of Google's search, if it still possesses all that terrible original content, then it will just develop a bad case of bounce rate, Google will notice this and then slowly but surely allow your lovely, newly developed site to slide back down the rankings, this is partly due to most agencies not having the time of day for usability, if you read Jacob Nielsen you will know all about the importance of usability.
What am I saying; well basically websites are not compartmentalised, for SEO to work, then a site needs to meet high usability standards, the content has to be useful, not necessarily for everyone, but at least for those people who have an interest in its field.
I suppose what really surprises is that someone believes they can optimise a website without having the slightest nonce of business acumen, so for the next seo job, don't just concentrate on the Webmaster accounts, which by the way are incredibly important (how else will you know when the sitemaps done a bunk or someone's accidentally updated a page with incorrect URLs), but also take a look at the site your going to work on, check out what they really want to do and apply your trade towards that.