SEO in 2020: common sense, intent, and yes, backlinks are still important.

By Johnny McFadden

So you want your website to be on Google page 1? Well, join the club. There are millions of people with that same goal. Where do you get started? I’m glad you ask. Here’s how you start thinking about building your digital presence in a time where more people are getting online than ever.

Common Sense

It seems safe to say that Google’s algorithms are going to continue to get more and more advanced, and they’re already pretty damn good now. The algorithm as it stands now is so complex, the software scientists that build it don’t even understand it fully. No hyperbole, it’s AI becoming more like a human. Or at least, it’s learning to detect real human interaction to reliably predict what people are interested in – and of course what’s a traffic light.

So if Google is thinking like a human, you need to think like a human too. Google doesn’t want to reward people for paying for a bunch of backlinks and hacking their way to the top. That’s not what is going to give their users the best experience.

Ok, how do you create the kind of digital presence that makes a person (and thus an algorithm) trust a brand? Especially now, when online scams and phishing are more prevalent than they’ve ever been.

With all of that being said, and if you really want to know what google is looking for, go read the SEO Bible, Google’s 200 Ranking Factors by Brian Dean and you’ll never have to guess. But if you’re too lazy to that, read the rest of this article and remember to think like a human.


In the honor of the soul group, O’Jays, you gotta give the people what they want.

Google wants to give the people what they want too. Really, that’s the whole purpose of any business. So when people search “why is the sky blue?”, they don’t want to see an ecommerce site selling them hammers. What pops up right now is a government site scientifically explaining why the sky is blue.

Now if I looked up “hammers for sale”, that would be a different story; I might be interested in looking at some hammers.

If I search with an informational intent, Google will give me information. If I search with shopping intent, I’ll be shown stuff to buy.

So how does intent apply to SEO?

First of all and as tough as it is to avoid, don’t write an article about how to hammer a roof and then only talk about how great the hammer you sell is. Of course, conversion is the ultimate goal, but you’re getting too antsy. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Do you go in for a kiss on the first date? Do you try to close a lead on the first call? Do you trust somebody the first time you meet them? No.

What is the journey of your potential lead from awareness to close? You should map on paper the exact actions and events a lead goes through en route to being a source of revenue for you. And do this for every possible way a lead could become aware of you: social media, PPC, they saw your billboard, or they searched and found you organically. Say they saw your billboard and were interested. What do they do next? Did they call you or go to the website? Did they check out different pages on the site or did they go straight to the contact form? I digress.

It all comes back to trying to get inside the head of the user. If that aforementioned user doesn’t like what he/she sees, he/she will bounce (meaning leave the site without visiting other pages or taking further action) and not spend much time on the page (decreasing average session duration). This data tells Google that people are not getting what they want and thus no page 1.

Oh yeah, and backlinks

I usually find backlinks kind of boring. They’re just not as fun as good content. But, they’re totally a ranking factor and important. I just believe that the best way to go about getting backlinks is writing good content. Content that people want to reference and thus link to.

Remember when I gave Brain Dean and Google’s 200 Ranking Factors a backlink up there. Look, I did it again. That sure is nice of me. But, I’m not just linking a million random URLs. I’m creating a do-follow link (links Google values as opposed to no-follow) because I read something and found it useful. And that’s what people want, to have their questions answered.

That’s why that page has 160k backlinks, 1.7k organic search traffic, and $2.6k in traffic value. The traffic creates the backlinks which creates more traffic and more backlinks.

You may be asking, should I not do active backlink building and only focus on content?

And that is a good question, some days I say yes and some days I say no. I would certainly say no to buying links directly. No good can come from this in the long term.

But if you write a guest article for someone and link yourself, that might be helpful. And you should definitely reach out to anyone citing your work and not linking you.

But, Google is punishing people who “trade” links and agree to link to each other just to boost their numbers.

From Google itself:

“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  • Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.”

You have to be really careful that your strategy doesn’t go from helpful to hurtful in one software update.


SEO Button

From the trends that I see from the data I have access to, digital traffic skyrocketed in April, June, and July. And even before a pandemic made people stay inside, more people were using the internet throughout the world.

If you want a piece of that action, then settle up at the table and play the game. But just know, you are in for the long term or at least you should be. If you want to see immediate ROI for your dollar, just don’t spend a dime on SEO. You’ll just be wasting your time and dollar. What are you going to do? Write two 500 word articles and call it a day. What traffic are you going to get from that? You may get to page 5 for a keyword with a 100 monthly search volume. But, how many people ever make it to Google’s page 5. How many people make it to page 2? The answer: not many.

Don’t try to cheat the process. If Google wants you to appear reliable, be reliable. If Google wants you to answer people’s questions, answer the question. Be value add and actually help people or at least be entertaining. Once they’ve got to your site, give them a reason to stay.

If you want ROI in the first month and you have a good website, just put your dollar into PPC (pay per click). Or hell, go sponsor a podcast or do literally any outbound marketing.

SEO is inbound marketing and requires a completely different state of mind.

SEO in 2020: common sense, intent, and yes, backlinks are still important.

SEO in 2019: No More Gaming Google’s Algorithms

By Johnny McFadden

Increasingly, the things you do in real life (meaning anything that doesn’t involve the backend of WordPress) have a huge effect on ranking. 

The most important word found in the acronym SEO may just be “optimization”. You can’t create a high ranking site with only technical SEO techniques – you can only optimize what you already have. If what you already have is a well respected company and brand, SEO techniques can be extremely effective. If your sales funnel has holes and your brand does not convey trust, you may not get the results you want. 

In 2019, Google and other search engines do a truly remarkable job of determining an entity or individual’s real life reputation. 

If you have satisfied customers, you’ll get positive reviews on Google My Business, Facebook, and more. If this is the case, all you have to do is continue doing a good job and maybe remind your customers to rate you.

All this is not to say that you’ll jump to the first page of a competitive keyword just because you’ve developed a good reputation. It’s cumulative and takes time. But, especially in competitive industries, it’s page 1 or bust. And for competitive keywords, page 1 is no small task.

When it’s time to build the obligatory base of content and wealth of backlinks, make sure the leads that come in won’t go to waste.

Think about organic search in relation to your overall marketing and business strategy. Think about SEO in relation to the profile of your potential customer and to your ultimate goals.

A sizable number of experts in the SEO community have speculated about the efficacy of the pursuit of backlinks in the present and certainly in the future. In a recent video, the YouTube channel Income School predicted that backlinks will be nonexistent or negligible in five years. 

Everyone understands that (right now) backlinks are absolutely necessary to rank high. It’s not that backlinks as a single ranking factor isn’t one of the most heavily weighted compared to bounce rate, page speed, and social signals – it is. The trouble comes in backlinks for the sake of backlinks; not all backlinks are created equal. Paying directly for backlinks is just as likely to hurt your rankings as they are to help. If they’re the kind of company that sells backlinks, their domains are unlikely to be deemed reputable by Google.

Good Content Changes Everything

What gets the backlinks you actually want is content. All roads lead to content. If the content is worth sharing, people will reference it on their blogs, throughout their website (resulting in backlinks), and on social media, on the internet and by word of mouth for that matter. 

And when you think about it, high quality content will directly or indirectly improve many aspects of SEO. What’s more likely to decrease bounce rate other than content that people actually want to keep reading or watching? If people are talking about and sharing your content online, that will improve your social signals.

It’s not just about the words on the page either. Whether for a post or a page on your website, think about the user experience – it’s almost as important that the actual content itself. If I click on an article and see and a huge, unformatted chunk of text, I’m probably going to click off which will hurt that website’s bounce rate and dwell time (the average amount of time people spend on a particular page or post). We live in the attention economy; respect people’s time by answering the titular question right up front, add headings so they can skim and jump around with ease, and add infographics for those we best interact with information visually.

Just like SEO and organic search, think about content in relation to your overall marketing strategy. Visualize your potential customer/client as age and other demographics give you insights into how to best reach your audience.

Email and newsletter marketing are likely in decline given that they’re not as popular with younger audiences. But if your audience is primarily in the 55 and up range, then it could be the perfect strategy for you. There are best practices, but there are no right answers for every endeavor.


Gary Vee created 33 unique pieces of content from one speech!

You may not be giving keynote speeches and you’re certainly not Gary Vee (maybe the most proficient content creator alive today), but all you need is the will and some time. The very popular content pyramid is the perfect way to make work that took one day last all month. It’s all about creating long form pillar content and using that to create micro content to be distributed through all platforms over the coming weeks.

Any long form content will work. The simplest way to do this is to Google frequently asked questions about (enter niche that you have some insight about here), turn on the camera, and spend a couple minutes answering the questions as best as you can. Google is the #1 most popular search engine in the world. The second most popular is actually YouTube. Everybody’s customer base is different, but these people generally prefer videos. 

Don’t have a professional camera or audio equipment? No problem! Take out the phone that’s undoubtedly in your pocket, prop it up on your desk, and hit record. Don’t have a set or lighting? Go outside and find something aesthetically pleasing to stand in front of (whether natural or man made). The sun just after sunrise and just before sunset will provide better lighting than any studio could.


Think about social media as a powerful publishing tool; like your WordPress blog, but even better. I think everyone has found themselves five minutes into the automatically starting Facebook videos without even realizing what’s happening.

It all comes back to reputation…

Think about the ultimate goal of a company like Google. They want people to keep using their service so they can sell ads. People will keep using a search engine if they reliably and easily find the most accurate, credible, engaging, and entertaining information.

Aside from the technical ranking factors (page loading speed, a HTTPS website, etc), Google ranks search results largely based on reputation. Just like in real life, it takes time to build a reputation, and it’s not easy either. 

So where do you start? Make sure you treat your real life work with as much integrity as possible. Then, apply that same mindset to the information you put out. Make sure it’s credible, engaging, and (very importantly) original. Simply put, if you’ve put out no information on a subject, there’s no way you’ll be deemed an authority in that field.

It can be frustrating because it takes time to develop organic search as a profitable element at the top of your sales funnel. But if your goal is to build for sustainable success in the long run, figure out how far you need to go and start working towards page 1 today!

I and the rest of Optimal Reach media believe in having a goal and getting there as efficiently as possible. With enough time and resources, you can increase a website’s ranking on Google. And, a little bit of expertise allows you to meet the same goals with less time, money, and energy.


SEO in 2019: No More Gaming Google’s Algorithms

Telling a Powerful Brand Story

By: Russ Cersosimo

I’ve done thousands of pitches over the last 25 years. Whether I was selling a product or service, advocating for legislative change, or raising capital – I can confidently say that the single most powerful weapon in my arsenal was my ability to properly get my brand story across.

Take a look at great storytellers of our time. Walt Disney. Steve Jobs. Steven Spielberg. 

These storytellers were able to paint a wonderful picture and each had a keen ability to take the viewer or prospect on a ride.

A well-told story gets the viewers emotions evolved. Involved at such at a level in which they don’t want the story to end. A level in which it affects them psychologically and biologically at a chemical level. A level that gets the pleasure center of the brain going. 

Whether getting someone to invest in you or buy your product or idea, the goal is to get them to want to become part of the story.

Let’s think about some of the movies you have watched in your life. Some had you on the edge of your seat, wanting more when the credits rolled – hoping that a future sequel was coming. These kinds of movies are the ones that we talk about and would gladly pay to see again. We can relate to these experiences and revisit in our minds again and again as if we were in the movie. We can do this easily because there was a strong emotional attachment. 

Emotions help with memories. Good emotions = good memories = more success.

On the other hand, you have most likely watched movies or TV shows that were terrible. Because there was no emotion tied to it, you got disinterested quickly and probably didn’t think about it ever again. If you want to test this, try to think back on your earliest memory as a child. Chances are it was an emotional moment. 

The farthest I can remember back was my first haircut. I was crying like a baby (cause I was a baby). It was so emotional that I couldn’t stop crying and after so long told the Italian barber I hated him. With no patience left, and without skipping a beat, he calmly looked down at me and said in a heavy Italian accent responded, “Yeah, I hate-a-you-too kid”. 

The point is, it was my first memory because there was emotion tied to it. Try it at home if you don’t believe me. 

As a marketer, you have the ability to architect the brand story to create a certain emotion in the viewer. 

Ideally, you create a story that the viewer wants to take part in – a story they don’t want to end. A story that they remember. A story they tell to their friends. In a sense, you create a brand experience that tells the viewer just who you are and what you’re about. 

For example, Natierra, a food brand with the motto “Superfoods for the soul” is owned by BrandStorm Inc, a specialty food manufacturer that believes in conscious business practices and fostering sustainability. 

“Superfoods with Soul” is achieved in that for every bag or shaker of select superfoods and Premium Crunchy Fruit Snacks, a meal is provided to a child in need in Haiti. Natierra has cleverly branded it “Buy One Bag, Feed One Child”  

Goji Berry Storyline ExampleImage copyright

This “Feed a Soul Project” really helps to tell a great brand story. The back side of the packaging traces the process back to Goji fields in China and further creates an emotional attachment by explaining to the reader that purchasing this bag will help provide a meal for a child in need. 

In fact, they even word it in past tense so the reader gets a sensation of helping before even making a purchase. It makes it an almost intimate, 1 on 1 situation between the person holding the bag and a hungry child in Haiti. 

It’s good to think about your pitch (or marketing, or product design) like the back of this bag of goji berries. If you can pair the right backstory with an awesome future, you will beat your competitors. 

Stories work even when you our your marketing materials aren’t around. 

For example:

Did you hear about that shoe company that buys a pair of shoes for the poor every time a pair of new shoes is sold? I’ll bet you did. 

In 2006, 30 year-old Blake Mycoskie was vacationing in Argentina and met a woman who was working as a volunteer delivering shoes to children. Blake offered to help and got to see first hand the many shoeless children in Argentina. The lack of shoes was a major contributor to diseases in children. 

This problem gave him the idea for his eventual company.

Blake set out with the goal of providing a new pair of free shoes to youth of Argentina and other developing nations. For every pair he sold in North America, he would donate a pair to children in need in developing countries.

He commissioned shoe makers in Argentina to manufacture 250 pairs of shoes. After an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, the company secured online orders for nine times the available stock and over 10,000 pairs were sold in the first year. In their first year, the company distributed 10,000 free shoes to Argentinian children. 

Talk about a great brand story to get the company off the ground! 

To keep the story going, In 2007, Blake’s company launched the first annual “One Day Without Shoes” event, which encouraged participants to go shoeless for one day in order to raise awareness about the impact shoes can have on a child’s life. AOL, Flickr, and the Discovery Channel sponsored the event.

500 retailers were carrying the brand by 2011. Toms launched its eyewear line in the same year. By 2012 over two million pairs of new shoes had been given to children around the world. 

The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the University of New Mexico has described the company as an example of social entrepreneurship. 

Now that’s one heck of a brand story – and all good stories end with the hero prevailing. On August 20, 2014 Bain Capital acquired 50% of Toms. Reuters reported that the transaction valued the company at $625 million. It was reported that Blake Mycoskie’s personal wealth following the deal was $300 million. 

Mycoskie retained 50% ownership of Toms, as well as his role as “Chief Shoe Giver”.

But wait…There’s more! The story doesn’t end there.

Blake Mycoskie said he would use half of the proceeds from the sale to start a new fund to support socially minded entrepreneurship. Bain agreed to match his investment and continue the company’s “one-for-one” policy. 

Knowing Blake’s brand story, I can honestly say that I would buy whatever he is selling because I can connect with him and his personal mission. That connection is the kind of connection you want to get with your customer. The most effective way to do so is through proper storytelling. 

Psychology is a science. The brain wants to see a hero prevail. Give the brain what it wants, a hero. 

You have 2 chances to create that hero. You can make them feel like a hero for making a purchase, or get them to buy into you as a hero

It’s all about how you tell the story. 

Telling a Powerful Brand Story

In Design Psychology We Trust: Psychology Behind Beautiful Design

In Design Psychology We Trust 

The Psychology Behind Beautiful Design

By: Russ Cersosimo

Psychology is a science, and just like math or physics, psychology works the same every time.

While math and physics can be easily translated via written text or drawing, psychology is invisible. It’s like believing in magic. 

In a way, it is magic. It’s just extremely difficult to see the effect on the human brain.  You can trust that when the trick is done correctly by a magician, it will produce the intended result with the subject. 

That’s where knowing how the brain works comes in handy. Once you know what it wants to see, you can give it what it wants with confidence. Just like a magician that has practiced the same trick over and over again – he gets the same result 100% of the time. You can see measurable results over time based on a few small changes. 

Keep this in mind when designing anything, and relate it to colors, images, icons and anything else that may invoke a feeling. When the brain comes to a decision point, you want to sway them in the right direction. The proper use of these simple but effective practices will ensure you are best utilizing all of the invisible psychology you possibly can. 

Let’s use a very simple example. 

A smile is a smile in any culture. What that means is that we are biologically built to react with a physical smile that turns up the outside corners of our mouth to let the world know that we are happy. No matter what language you speak, a smile gets the “happy” message across.

Nonverbal communication is 70% of the message.

That being said, your brain looks at the “whole picture” to make a judgement. When you know these things, reverse engineering the best website design is simple. You just have to stay within the right guidelines. 

Images of people smiling exude a certain positive feeling in the viewer. Colors invoke certain feelings. Everything all works together to create a feeling. You want that emotion to be tied to your brand. You want to control that feeling. 

The brain needs balance and contract. The brain wants to achieve homeostasis. Give it what it wants and you’ll be amazed at how predictable it is. 

Margins and Whitespace

Trust in whitespace. Enough said.  

Rule of Thirds

Take a look at the images below. Focal points (on the cross areas) make for great images. 

It’s everywhere you look (at least everywhere that you are looking at something professionally produced. Take a look at the best music videos on YouTube. Every 3 seconds or less, the imagery changes, yet the rules are never broken – everything that makes the final cut is perfectly “thirded-out” (as we like to say). 

The brain likes rule-of-thirds. Trust in it. When designing anything, make sure to incorporate this as a design “must”. Taking a picture, elements of a logo, product design, packaging design. 

Golden Ratio

This one is kind of mind blowing, but mathematically sound. When we design logos, we make sure to utilize this rule, sometimes referring to it as God’s Rule.

Think about this: 

People thought the world was flat, until 1492, when they realized it wasn’t. 

Psychology has only really been studied for around 150 years. 

Psychology as a self-conscious field of experimental study began in 1879. Wilhelm Wundt, often regarded as the father of psychology, opened the world’s first laboratory dedicated to the study of psychology. The Institute for Experimental Psychology in Germany opened in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. 

The beginning of modern psychology began in 1879. That means the study of psychology is less than 150 years old. 

We don’t know what we don’t know yet. But, we do know some things about psychology in design. 

Trust in these simple psychological design tips (over your gut if it’s breaking the rules). If you are ever in question, watch any professionally shot movie, music video, interview, magazine ad, or newscast. They are using it, so should you.

In Design Psychology We Trust: Psychology Behind Beautiful Design