The 5 Insanely Simple Difference-Makers in the World of SEO

What’s the difference between the companies on Google’s front page and the ones relegated to Page 2? Did the page-one-people spend more time or money? Do they know a top-secret SEO hack that they’re not sharing with anyone else?

All of the SEO agencies in Toronto have access to the same SEO research tools. We all read the same blogs and tweets. So what separates a successful SEO campaign from one that flounders?

What’s in their secret sauce? We can’t speak for everyone, but we use a mix of five key ingredients. They are the core strategies that we have built our entire agency on.

However, they’re not really secrets, per se. Because we’re going to share all five of them in great detail today… Just because we like you.

So, here are the five biggest difference-makers (in our opinion) in the world of SEO today.

1. Do Smarter Keyword Research

It very literally all starts here. You can’t succeed at any of the 4 steps that follow if you don’t have good keyword research.

If your company’s keyword research is more than 2-years-old, it’s time to run the numbers again. Keyword research definitely has an expiration date.

Updating your keyword research could reveal that, yes, you still need to go after many of those big-ticket/ high-competition search terms that you and your competition have been trying to own for the last few years. But trust us when we say a number of ripe keyword opportunities have popped up over the last few years.

Like we said earlier, we all have access to the same SEO tools. SEMrush and ahrefs are not invite-only. However, you want to hire an SEO agency that knows how to take a deeper dive into the research. You want someone who can find the new and less obvious keywords that could actually help your business in a major way.

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These “low-hanging-fruit” don’t have a high competition score because your competitors aren’t aware of them yet. However, they still have a high enough search volume to be worth your while.

Find these keywords before the other guys do. Make them a part of your on-page optimization, content, and link building strategy. Ranking for these keywords will send a ton of new traffic to your site.

2. Now, Do Next-Level Keyword Research

It is possible to do all of the right SEO-things for a piece of content, yet still see it underperform. It happens to the best of us.

Not too long ago, we created a piece of long-form content. We did our usual thorough keyword research. We wrote a strong piece (in our opinion), seamlessly worked the keywords into the text and optimized our brains out. However, the damned stubborn piece just wouldn’t perform the way we had hoped.

Then we performed some TF-IDF research and went full-SEO-nerd on it using Surfer. TF-IDF stands for “Term frequency–inverse document frequency.” It doesn’t replace your keyword research; it gives it a nitro boost. It shows you “the other words” that you may need to include in this piece to earn Google’s attention, based on what is already ranking.

It shows you the relevant words that appear in the top 10 results for whatever keyword/phrase you’re looking to rank for. These words could be viewed as conspicuous by their absence if you don’t use them.

Let’s say you’re writing a blog about Ontario’s best ski resorts. You’re going to do the usual keyword research and probably go after keywords like:

  • Best ski resorts in Ontario
  • Best ski hills in Ontario
  • Best skiing Ontario

You’re also going to include and optimize lots of tertiary keywords that talk about the cheapest lift tickets, the highest elevations, and the best apres ski spots.

That sounds like a great article. I’d click on it! But will it rank? Maybe, maybe not. If you want to give it the best chance to rank, give it a nitro boost of TF-IDF research.


Now we can see the top 10 rankers for this search term, and the frequency that certain words appear in these blogs.

What do we do with this research? Do we make sure the word “Resort” appears in at least 2.29% of our blog? No.

Look at this research and notice that the word ‘Toronto’ appears prominently in all 10 of the top-performing blogs. Does it appear in yours? This research tells us that you should probably mention each respective resort’s driving distance from Toronto. If you don’t, Google may see your blog as slightly less comprehensive than what you’re competing against.

You don’t have to optimize the word “Toronto,” but you should damn sure include it. Trust us when we say TF-IDF can uncover entire sub-topics that you forgot to cover. It can also make the difference between ranking and not-ranking.

3. Optimize for Search Engines, BUT Write For Human Beings

This is a balancing act that a lot of people in SEO struggle with. Google had been our target audience for years. But now Google is telling us to ignore them and to write for human users again.

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Google is telling us to pretend they’re not watching and just write naturally. That’s a bit like a driving test instructor telling you to pretend they’re not watching and just drive naturally. I wouldn’t exactly do 80 in a school zone in that situation, nor would I write a blog with no keyword optimization.

The art and the science of what we do is creating a blog that is well-optimized for Google bots, yet still enticing for human beings. But how do we do this?

Well, you still need your keywords. You still need to work them into your headlines, body copy, header, meta description, and image attributes. 

But notice how we said “work them into,” not “stuff them into.” For years, trying to meet a keyword density of 2.5% resulted in a lot of keyword stuffing and a lot of god awful blogs. But, in 2020, Google is more concerned with the quality of your keyword usage, not the quantity.

There’s No Such Thing as an ‘SEO Article’ Anymore

Write with a human audience in mind. You need to give humans a reason to click on your content, read it all, and maybe even share it. 500 words of keyword-stuffed nonsense won’t do that.

This represents a total shift in thinking for many. Marketers used to start writing a blog with only two goals: Hitting the word count and the keyword density. Now, there are bigger and more complex goals that may include:

  • A compelling headline and lead sentence
  • An interesting image
  • A logical flow
  • Being interesting, funny, or thought-provoking
  • A satisfying conclusion

This is a lot more work and it’s nearly impossible to automate, which is why a lot of agencies haven’t done it yet.

They’re still trying to squeeze 5-star articles out of 3-star writers. That’s not how it works anymore. You need actual writers who know how to write for actual human beings.

4. Built Relationships, Not Links

seo firm toronto

Now it’s time to turn your attention to your off-page optimization.

This is sort of a blanket term that includes things like:

  • Your Google My Business listing
  • Online reviews
  • Social media
  • Directory listings
  • Media mentions
  • Guest blogs, and…
  • Pretty much any links pointing to your site

You may read that and say, “Guest blogging. Isn’t that dead? Does it still work?”

Well, in 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts famously said, “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.” However, it’s important to remember that most guest blogs in 2014 really sucked. 

So, sucky guest blogs died in 2014. But in 2020, writing quality guest posts and getting them published on relevant and respected sites should be the core of your link building strategy.

It all starts with the focus on quality we mentioned in the previous section. If you can consistently write quality pieces that human beings actually want to read, an incredible thing happens: Site owners and bloggers actually want to publish your stuff. And they are the gatekeepers to good links.

If you approach them with a canned message offering them irrelevant and all-around-sucky blogs, you’ve blown the first impression and you will likely never get anything posted on that site. Your email address will go to their spam folder from now on.

You need to approach these site owners via good old fashioned manual outreach and a personalized message. And, you need to approach them with high-quality blogs that their readers will actually want to read. This means you won’t alienate site owners by:

  • Pitching them something that’s below the quality of their other blogs
  • Pitching them something that’s out of their theme (i.e. going to a food blogger with a plumbing story)
  • Pitching them something they literally just wrote about

Once these site owners get to know you and the quality of your work, they start to trust you. Now, the manual outreach is much easier because you’ve built a relationship.

Be Aware of Your Current Link Profile

Bad links don’t simply hold no value. They may hold you back. You might be getting punished with a penguin penalty as we speak.

You need to stay on top of your entire web footprint and be aware of all links pointing back to your domain, good and bad.

We could tell you how to perform a backlink audit, but we would rather let the experts at ahrefs show you how. That is the tool we recommend using, and their step-by-step is perfect.

5. Spread Your Link Juice Around Strategically

We’re spending a lot of time talking about links for a reason: They’re gosh-darn crucial. In fact, Google has confirmed that your links are one of the top 3 rankings signals.

If you get a good one, you want to make the most of it. Let’s say you’re a lawyer who gets quoted as an expert in the local paper for a story about divorce. That’s amazing and this is an incredible opportunity to get a nice link back to your site.

Where would you send this link? To your home page? Sure, that could work. This is what most people do and it’s always a win. But maybe you could do more. 

Maybe, instead of pointing the link to your home page at, you could send it to a high-value service page like

Do you want links from authoritative sites pointing to your home page? Of course. But once you start earning a few of these links via guest blogs or media mentions, you need to be strategic in how you spread the link juice around so you can also elevate your high-value commercial pages.

You don’t always get to choose where these links point. Newspapers, magazines, bloggers, and publishers may only send links to your home page, which is fine. This is still a win and a nice link back to your domain. But if you have the opportunity to specify your backlink and anchor text, be strategic by linking to a related commercial page using a keyword as anchor text.

Other publishers or media outlets may only offer you a nofollow link. This is not as good as a standard link, but you should still take it. As we have covered before, nofollow doesn’t mean no value.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are no cheats or hacks in this list. Just tested and proven SEO tactics that really work.

Everything we’ve covered today is what Google wants to see today and will still want to see 5 years from now. You don’t have to worry about being blindsided by an algorithm update. Most of Google’s major updates in recent years have rewarded the companies that produce quality content, and earn organic links.

As they said when they announced the Panda Update in 2011, “Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem.” Everything they have done in the subsequent years has also been to reward high-quality sites.

So, focus on quality and strategy. The rest will take care of itself.

As always, if you don’t have time to worry about any of this, we would happily do it for you! Feel free to call us at 1-647-448-4449.

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