One website in the client's top 10 has very comprehensive content - it's head and shoulders above any other site in the category. But, because of the way it is designed, it doesn't appear anywhere near the top of the SERPS; in fact, only a handful of its many pages are even listed, let alone ranked!
The above quote is from my original post about this site. Perhaps my post wasn't as lucid as it might have been, but I agree that the site architecture (I called it: 'the way the site is designed') is dreadful - that's exactly my point.
In fact, it is so dreadful that it hides the textual content which is probably the most comprehensive and relevant textual content in the category - ie. relevant to the audience it was supposed to reach and not the public at large.
Hence, I argued, it would take an SEO who knows a thing or two about both spiders and usability to release that great content to both SEs and users.
I agree that, in its present state, it doesn't deserve to be ranked, but if it was re-engineered to present the current textual content properly, then it would be worthy of very good rankings.
BTW, I've re-read your RedPlanet analogy a couple of times and, maybe because it's late or because I'm thick, or both, I'm afraid I can't understand it. Perhaps someone could enlighten me??