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.