@1script - thank you for your insights...I am glad to see I am not the only person seeing this. Like you said, exactly - the top 3 or so sites are doing exactly this in my niche. Another tactic is "click here for the important information" like a phone number - but instead, a huge referral form comes up blocking everything else, and in tiny print at the bottom you can click out of it to finally be taken to the phone number. @raymondcc - 55% is a really tough task for most sites - I have a lot of informational pages with a high bounce rate, but people are on the page for 6-10 minutes, so I hope that is a ranking factor, not just bounce rate.
@sgt_kickaxe - I link out to trusted state resources from my site, just to help my visitors...and to provide a trusted option for information - and I hope it helps, and I know I bounce some visitors to these sites- but this is in addition to my own content, that does display the information promised, without going around in circles. My site still ranks decently, but seeing sites like we are talking about in the first places really makes me wonder that the hell a site owner is to do.
Some other common things I see with these types of sites is that they often do no social stuff...nowhere to be found on g+, very little FB activity, etc. I also see that, in my niche, several sites are .org, but they are not 'non-profit' but they are trying to play on that...which, I think makes them seem trustworthy. I don't know if .orgs still get more favor, but I do see many sites working this angle.
I also see on many of these types of site absolutely no authorship information, no hint as to what actual human being is behind the site, and no hint of what 'expert' is behind the content. Contact forms are generic, if they exist at all.
Another item that I have discovered is that a few of the top sites are owned by the same person or company, so it is all going into the same pocket.
These sites are often very pretty and 'well done' but if you look 'under the hood of intent' - it's often a dark neighborhood.
I'm not against doing referral activity or ads, but when that is the only obvious option - i.e. all clicks and activity funnel into referral stuff, and it takes 5 minutes and a dozen clicks to do it...I think it is a horrible user experience, and a bad representation for the top spots in the SERPS.
Thanks everyone for your input. I am trying to just stay the course, keep working on my site, producing original, straightforward stuff, as I've done for many years....hopefully in the long-term it will be the right strategy.