Forgive me for the late response.
You're right - I do get tirades of derision from people whose vested interest it is to make SEO seem complex. It's the same with social media. All of this stuff is simple if you have strong, realistic goals and a level of commitment.
SEO 'experts' are becoming obsolete and rightly so. You simply can't game the system anymore.
Your point about keyword search hit the nail on the head. I think the big difference - and something I’ve experienced myself - is that we tend to be one of the other. For example, I can write great content that helps my readers, but if I don't have a strong headline, it might not be found in search. On the other hand, (and I see this with a lot of SEO folks), I can write a compelling headline - something the audience is searching for - and the content is regurgitated crap.
Thanks for reading and chiming in with thought-provoking analysis!