From 2000-2003, SEO was a simply game to win, where experienced SEO consultants (and even extreme newbies) and techies could easily manipulate the search engine rankings for their clients. To be honest, at that time it was very simple to get good rankings for nearly any keyword term because:
1. Search engines, due to the presence of a lot of loopholes, were extremely easy to game.
2. There were not a whole lot of online marketers involved in the game.
These days, SEO is turning out to be more related to the social aspects of the web as opposed to simply being a mechanical algorithm followed by a computer. For that reason, I gave this post the corny name of Social Engine Optimization.
If you following the search industry news,  you would understand that search engines are now far difficult to game. Why? Because they incorporate a huge social aspect of search, which is difficult to falsely replicate.
What this simply means is that your website needs to generate public appeal to get to the top ranking position AND to stay at that position.
I have scanned the top ranking websites for a lot of keyword terms, and have yet to find more than 2 websites which did not deserve their high ranking positions. By the way, the 2 websites which are the exception to the rule, were so crappy that I was amazed at the fact that they were ranked on the first page. I digress…
Here are a few points how you can tell that search is now more `social`:
1. Social bookmarking and news websites: Social bookmarking and social news websites like Digg are getting more and more popular today. Were there any websites like these in 2000? Nope! These websites have taken the web by storm. Any story which gets popular on Digg and similar websites will receive thousands of visitors and will ultimately rank fairly high in the search engines.
2. Changed algorithms: Google now takes into account whether websites provide users with good user experience or not. If you somehow got a crappy website to rank at number 1 for your keyword terms, it will be manually or algorithmically edited to rank much lower if the visitors to your website press the back button on the browser many times. This is a very simple aspect of using public appeal to gauge a websites position and appeal.
3. Natural link building: In 2002, you could point 2000 links with similar anchor text to a web-page and have it ranked number 1 in 1-2 months easily. Try it now and you would be lucky not to get the website banned. Natural link building is another step towards the social aspect of SEO, since search engines now look for links coming from different locations and try to figure out whether any artificial manipulation is involved. Another reason why other people need to vouch for you to rank high.
4. Viral ranks high: Anything which goes viral will have a ton of backlinks pointing to it, simply because people like it. This dramatically helps the website increase in SERPs. In contrast, you could try and get backlinks manually and it will take 10X the time to rank high. The lesson? Get other people to vouch for you!
I hope you understand that ranking high now takes a lot more than pointing backlinks to your website. You need to generate public appeal for your website as well as good quality links to stay ahead in the game.
Even if you do rank number 1 for a website which has no public appeal, you will lose your rankings soon enough, simply because people do not like your website!