Changing the focus from what is in a page to what other websites and pages say about a page (the link text), produced much more relevant search results than the other engines were able to produce at the time.The idea worked very well, but it could only work well as long as it was never actually used in the real world. As soon as people realised that Google were largely basing their rankings on link text, webmasters and search engine optimizers started to find ways of manipulating the links and link text, and therefore the rankings. From that point on, Google’s results deteriorated, and their fight against link manipulations has continued. We’ve had link exchange schemes for a long time now, and they are all about improving the rankings in Google – and in the other engines that copied Google’s idea.
I have muttered this darkly myself many a time.