5503landis - 5:22 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)
@webboy1 - you bring up some interesting points. I guess is some ways it is the "best of the worst" but with a twist.
There is a marketing company that specializes in a specific vertical market. The following is pure speculation on my part...Perhaps they were the first ones to go this route and gained inititial success. They could have then marketed themselves to other companies in this vertical market and said "let us design and optimize your website because your competition does and look at their success.
So then this has a snowball affect and the majority of sites figure this marketing company has the recipe for success. If they go a different route (use a different web design/marketing company), they feel like they are taking a bigger gamble.
There is one site that is actively using the good 'ol fashion SEO strategies you would expect and currently ranks #4 for a few key terms. It will be interesting to see if they are able to get to the top.
Mind you, my job is to get my client's site to the top, so I too will be intersted to see if those at the top are there because of a weird chain of events or because everything I thought I knew on "best practices" was not always the "best."