@ladydelaluna: It's experience I speak of, not assumption. I've designed and put to the web more than - counting all of them now - 400 individual websites these past couple of years - and ALL OF THEM reached page 1 or upper page 2 on keyword rank on Google and Yahoo. A high percentage (some 10-15%) by now are "standard of their topic" or primary link, quite a few I funnily found as standard info links in Wikipedia e.g..
NONE of them used any tricks or other methods than
- a good domain name
- good content
- regular updating (as in at least 3 times a week)
- select backlinking by similar high-quality sites
- a sitemap
- no ads
Nothing more, no SEO-optimized URLs, no special coding, in most cases no CSS-driven sites, quite a few framed sites, often enough not even META-tags. And most certainly I never asked a client to buy into a search engine, the most I ever did in this respect was ask someone to buy a domainname I fancied to be the best for the topic.
The topics to name a few of the most common were: languages, books, psychology, animal breeds, food, wine, photography, light, online studies, author sites, fansites, dieting, writing, dance, discussion groups, etc. etc..
None of this is in any way "exclusive". The worst ranking I ever raked in was a third page, which I managed to push to end of front page once I convinced the client to regularly update and provide better and continuous content.
Whatever the search engines change, it obviously doesn't affect what I do - and as explained, I do little which is in any way special.
@doodlebee: Font sizes can be set with the browser, and this more often than not works with html pages, whereas at least half of the CSS styled pages I encountered deliberately set size to a set size (pardon the pun, that was intended).
Whether or not someone maintaining a private site wants to cater to the elderly or blind is his beer.
Those elderly people I know over here who browse the web (at all) usually are savvy enough to change their browser settings. And my ex-boss (now getting on 60) sees no problem in adjusting his screen resolution to what fits his sight. Much more problematic than font sizes are - by the way - inverted color schemes.
Same goes for screen readers for the blind. But I explained that in a post above already.
I've yet to see site stats with less than 80-75% IE users, most are up somewhere around 95%. This won't change unless companies and shops cease to sell their computers with Windows pre-installed.
And CSS files with all the "fixes" and "ways around this and that bug" are anything but clean, so sorry, but I regularly happen onto veritable monsters there.
Some of our different experiences may by the way stem from design itself. It has been a longstanding issue for me that most CSS-driven-with-a-vengeance sites I have so far seen are technics-happy, overstuffed with gimmicks, literally non-designed (emulating and plagiarizing instead), way above their actual level in a mighty negative way and absolutely NOT designed simply and cleanly. And I do include most of the CSS themes here on WP in this, so sorry. I have yet to see many cleanly designed CSS-sites in a row to root for CSS as being "naturally clean".
OF COURSE such an overstuffed site will be heavier when you do all that using plain ole html. But I never design a site in such a manner. I'm a firm believer in "stark, simple and elegant" and this you can easily have with html and be way leaner than anything nowadays usually CSS driven.
By the way, what I don't believe in are standards. But that's a totally different discussion ;-)
@manstraw: when I want to change the look of a table driven CMS I also change only one file. I know Zengarden allright, and there are indeed a couple of nice designs to be found there. But there are also quite a few designs which you can't write in CSS and many more which will never look the same in all browsers.
And again... if you did your homework correctly and made a good simple, lean design, you can just as well change 200 html pages in a split-second simply by altering a few files, and I'm not talking about CSS files. I'm talking here about foresight and site-structure. :-)
Be it as it is, I currently compared a Websitebaker-driven site (tabular templates) with a WP-driven site of nearly identical setup. Funnily Netmechanics quite neutrally concluded that the Websitebaker-site was faster and leaner. And that even though the basic design was practically 100% identical. Curious, que no?