Sometimes I think if your titles are spammy, your keywords are spammy, and your meta description is spammy, Google might stop right there – even they probably will want to save bandwidth at some time. Putting a keyword in the description won’t take a crap site to number 1 or raise you 50 spots in a competitive niche – so why optimise for a search engine when you can optimise for a human? – I think that is much more valuable, especially if you are in the mix already – that is – on page one for your keyword.
The caveat in all of this is that, in one way or another, most of the data and the rules governing what ranks and what doesn't (often on a week-to-week basis) comes from Google. If you know where to find and how to use the free and freemium tools Google provides under the surface—AdWords, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console being the big three—you can do all of this manually. Much of the data that the ongoing position monitoring, keyword research, and crawler tools provide is extracted in one form or another from Google itself. Doing it yourself is a disjointed, meticulous process, but you can piece together all the SEO data you need to come up with an optimization strategy should you be so inclined.