All these need to be looked at individually and then compared to the current top ranking competitors. A site which as excessive amounts of backlinks as compared to the competition and that is not ranking, indicates that the backlinks are too spammy or the site content and user experience is very poor or there has been spamor a penalty associated with the site.
Yes solid keyword data dramatically changes the game as far as rankings go. I have seen many tools that provide Cost per click stats and meaningless charts that confuse most users. the data Jaaxy provides helps drive “organic” traffic to your site on a consistent basis which will out perform PPC sites every time. I like how you say thinking like the end user, as I feel that way when I search. I dive into what people are looking for and it really helps drive content idea’s. I have seen great results from that.