Hehe, PalaceGuardian. I have the same experience. I learned a LOT watching someone's youtube vids playing Crusades on Godlike. Every turn, he didn't miss a thing. He had perfect timing of building, perfect placement of citizens. He was amazing. After watching about 4 hours of his play, I learned quite a few things and now I'm in the middle of my first game on normal where I have a chance of winning.
* Watch for asteroids - have the cash to get them
* Yes, rush build in the begining, but don't go nuts with it.
* Depending on your settings, don't spam build too many colony ships
* You probably shouldn't smoke anything green until you've played for a while. You need your brain for this.
* Trade tech with everyone if you have open tech trading turned on. If you don't, then you'll get left behind while everyone else researches up. I really don't like this setting and I'm going to disable brokering. With brokering off, players can only trade techs they have researched themselves. This limits the field a little bit more but you should probably still trade as much as you can.
* Don't trade some good weapons tech for 3 equal value lesser techs with someone you think you may end up at war with.
* Trade 5 crap value techs for one good, useful war tech with anyone.
Now, that said, I have yet to win my first game. But those are the things I had to get my head around to get to where I'm in the mid game and *might* win if I can swing diplomacy right.