I still see old fashioned tricks working from time to time. For example, doorway pages, or spammy hidden text. Granted that the sites I see this working for tend to be smaller sites that are competing for terms that are at best moderately competitive. I have seen it enough times that I finally sat down to think about why this might be.
My best guess is that it relates to the demands that it would place on the search engine infrastructure to try and detect even the obvious tricks on all web sites. This might mean that we are really looking at is a post-processing function of some sort that is run on selected sites or selected portions of the index. This function may even be largely driven by the spam reports that the search engines receive.
So whether or not a trick will get discovered becomes a hit or miss proposition. This fact leads to a continued use of these practices, even though they are clearly not for users, and in some cases reduce site usability. I was contacted just today by someone who found a site they were working with was using doorway pages (sorry, no link will be provided because I am not outing anyone), and it appears to be working for them.
Unfortunately for the site owner, this is likely not a situation that will continue forever. Someone who competes with them will report them once they discover it. At that time, they may pay a heavy price for their short term gains. It’s just another example of how far the search industry has to go.