tedster - 2:51 pm on Aug 16, 2012 (gmt 0)
Welcome to the forums, natedog. I've been at the SEO game since the mid-nineties, so I have some experience to draw on. We've got a number of members here who have been around just as long as me - and total post is not always the best way to spot quality input, but it is a beginning.
Things were a LOT simpler when I started, but it was still on the edge of mysterious. I fell in with a group of webmasters who were testing some ideas about how to rank, and over time some basic rules fell out of that, as well as some ideas that only worked for a shorter while.
Google, Yahoo and Bing (then MSN Search) changed the game a loot and they continue to change it. I learned in more recent years that I cannot test the algorithms the way we used to, but I can read the patents to get some idea of where all those engineers seem to be going.
We've got a thread pinned to the top of the Google SEO index page called Hot Topics - FAQs. [webmasterworld.com] That's a good place to start studying areas that might interest you. And down at the bottom there a decent list of Google patents and papers.