A question that puzzles many: how many backlinks do I need to rank? It’s a question that gets asked often. It is a valid and important question, as acquiring backlinks typically requires quite a bit of time, effort, and money.
If you are the one asking this question, chances are that you have recognized the power of backlinks. And now you want to know how to harness this power.
The straightforward truth is that there is no absolute, definitive answer to this question. The number of backlinks you need for first page ranking in SERPs depends on a few different factors. In this post, we will walk you through some of the mystifying bits.
There is no doubt that high quality backlinks can help you achieve your SEO goals faster.
These are some related questions that might have crossed your mind at some point:
- How do you build backlinks?
- Where do you start, and when do you stop acquiring new links?
- How many backlinks do you need per day or month?
- How many backlinks does the domain need?
- And how many backlinks does each page require?
There is no hard limit to the number of links you can build, but it’s not exactly needed and in the best scenario, it may be a waste of resources. In the worst scenarios though, seemingly unnatural link velocity can get your website penalized, although that is normally if you’re building low quality links, which we would recommend against for obvious reasons.
Some platforms may be confusing you further by offering loads of ‘contextual, quality’ (hundreds or even a thousand) backlinks for a few dollars. Or they’ll try to suggest that buying links of a certain domain authority or domain rating will move the needle.
Do you really need to buy such packages? Not really. You won’t need hundreds of backlinks if you get your link-building strategy right.
If you search ‘how many backlinks do I need to rank?’ on Google or any other search engine, you might find sites that give you definite numbers, asking you to aim for these generally. However, you will also find that there is a wide discrepancy between these numbers and this might leave you more perplexed. This isn’t an exact science, so we can’t give you a specific number, but we will help you learn what influences the actual number. This will help you in your quest to get a ballpark estimate on the number of backlinks that you require depending on your situation.
Let’s first talk about the factors that can give you an idea about the number of links you need to build to climb the ranks of SERPs.
Your Current Domain Authority: If you have just started a website, you might require more backlinks to increase your visibility and raise the authority of your domain. You may require fewer backlinks if you have an older and more established domain. Let’s keep in mind we are talking about true authority, rather than the Moz DA metric here. We’ll discuss that concept more in another article here.
Competitor’s Backlink Profile: The strength of your competitors’ backlink profiles will also influence how many links you will need to rank. By this, we mean your closest domain-level competitors, as well as sites that you are competing with at the SERP level. Those may or may not be direct competitors. If you’re in a sector where the closest competitors are fairly weak, you will generally be able to outrank them with less backlinks.
Keyword Difficulty: Tools like Ahrefs can give you a measure of the difficulty level for the keywords you want to rank for in the SERPs. Generally speaking, you will need more backlinks for keywords with higher difficulty and fewer backlinks for the ones with lower difficulty.
The Ahrefs KD score can give you a rough idea of the competitiveness level of those terms. For instance, in the example above, the keyword difficulty for “womens clothes’ turned out to be 88 – super hard. Usually, the broader the term, the higher will be the keyword difficulty. For a term like this, according to Ahrefs, you would require backlinks from approximately 619 websites to rank in the top ten.
Caveat 1: The calculation here is done at a pretty basic level, and doesn’t factor in the link quality, relevance, amongst other things. As Ahrefs has admitted here, it is calculated by taking a trimmed mean average of referring domains pointing at the top ranking results.
“It merely tells you the average strength of top-10 ranking pages’ backlink profiles”
It is important to note different SEO tools will all have their own metrics and ways of calculating the “link gap”. You should have an understanding of the method of calculating keyword difficulty utilized by your preferred tool. This is by no means a definitive number, and can just give you a high level overview of the competitive landscape.
Caveat 2: Keyword Difficulty or scores like this are primarily based on third party scoring systems or are link-based calculations, and are merely predictors. Something with a high KD score, may not in fact be as hard to rank for, depending on your topical authority in that area.
Important Points to Consider
Importance and Effectiveness of Backlinks
It’s necessary to understand the relationship between SEO and link-building and the overall significance of backlinks.
Backlinks serve as the cornerstone of SEO. They are one of the most important factors that determine the authority and credibility of a website.
Before the creation of Google’s PageRank algorithm, the majority of search engines just matched search phrases to the frequency with which they were used on a webpage. Backlinks were used to analyze the relationship between websites and estimate a page’s value as a result; hence, Google’s initial name, “BackRub”.
However, a comprehensive SEO strategy should take into account other elements as well, not just backlinks. If you have a low-quality or poorly optimized website, even backlinks won’t be able to do much.
For maximum effectiveness, you should combine your link building tactics with on-page optimization, a good technical SEO setup, and other nuances like ensuring your content serves the intent of the keywords you’re targeting.
Methods of acquiring high quality backlinks
Here are a few ways through which you can acquire backlinks.
- Request backlinks: You can take the initiative and ask a website to link to yours. If you have valuable resources such as extensive guides, ebooks, and original research, website owners may agree willingly.
- Earn links: Producing content or assets which just acquire links naturally. This can be a bit unpredictable, but we’d always recommend having content which passively earns links as well.
Whatever your approach, the best way to acquire links is to produce excellent content to which other people would want to connect. You can acquire the most natural, highest quality backlinks this way.
- Buy links: Paid link strategies can be really effective if you really need links pointing at some very key pages (especially commercial pages), or you need very specific links from a specific industry or locality. For instance, donating to local organizations and clubs, to get links in a specific region.
You can read more about how to get quality backlinks here.
Frequency of acquiring backlinks
Consider how frequently you are acquiring links – i.e. the link velocity.
Firstly, make sure that when you build backlinks to fresh content, that it appears natural. If you create multiple links to a new page the day it is published, it’s like posting an invitation for suspicion. There needs to be a gap between the information you publish and the links you create to it so they appear genuine.
Above all else though, just make sure you don’t completely stop link building. Even if you build hundreds of links, from the strongest domains in your industry – those links will age over time, and won’t sustain you forever. Keep the link velocity going, and you’ll be able to stay in the SERPs in the long term as well. On the flip side, if you’re in a space where your closest competitors have slowed down their link building, you may find you can overtake them, if you can ramp up your link velocity, and build fresher links.
So in this example, we have placed 3 competitors on a graph to show the amount of dofollow referring domains they have. It’s displayed here as a running count which lets you see the running count.
(Of course, only looking at raw referring domains is not the way to do this, but we’ll discuss later on how you can filter out some of the data and look at the links that are actually contributing SEO impact)
So, what you want to do next is analyze the acquisition of new links per month over that time period, and you’d see the level of link velocity. Your table could look something like this:
So we’ve displayed the average number of links acquired per month, and the median, and can see the top competitor (Competitor A) is acquiring links at a higher velocity than its direct competitors. We can take the highest number out of those 2 measures, to see the link gap between our site and the competitor. So in this example, Competitor B is only building 5 links per month, and has a deficit of 2 per month to make up. They should close this gap just to keep up with Competitor A.
On top of that, if Competitor A has a larger backlink profile to begin with, Competitor B also needs to account for that gap as well, which will mean an even higher requirement in monthly link velocity.
Quality backlinks vs quantity
The volume of backlinks is important. But, this volume should not be achieved by compromising quality. Provided you’ve done everything else right, having lots of links from reputable domains will undoubtedly improve your rankings and traffic.
We’ll discuss in another article about exactly what quality means, when we say “quality backlinks”. But there are factors to consider other than just how much traffic those sites have, or whether they have a high domain authority or not. Factors such as the relevance, the anchor text, to name a few.
|Here’s an example of a client in the entertainment niche where we had to secure results in what was a notoriously “spammy” sector.
What we found was that a lot of competitors were propped up on link farms and were established for a number of years. Some also had huge backlink profiles on the surface, and it seemed like it was going to be a colossal task to move them off.
It was! But, it was achievable, and together with the client’s own in-house HARO and PR work, we helped them achieve growth to several millions of monthly visitors within about 18 months to 2 years.
By focusing heavily on the quality and relevance of the links we are building, we were able to overcome those numbers, and make larger gains, with a lesser volume of links.
Assessing the quality of backlinks
Evaluating the quality of your incoming links is crucial because of two reasons: the benefits they can provide and the potential harm they could inflict if you ignore them.
Occasional spammy links are to be expected. Despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to prevent other undesirable websites from linking to you, and you might find a lot of sites which are scraping, and syndicating content that you’ve published elsewhere. You have the option to take action and distance yourself from the links. If necessary, you can even disavow them.But, I wouldn’t advise disavowing as a regular practice, and is generally only recommended in cases where you have taken a traffic hit somewhere.
In addition to the volume of backlinks, you can consider using other metrics, like Page Authority (PA), Domain Authority (DA), and Trust flow (TF), to assess the quality of backlink opportunities at the prospecting level. However, those are just there to act as a benchmark, and can’t be followed blindly. For our purposes, it can just be a good way of ensuring you aren’t solely relying on acquiring links from what we may consider “small” sites, which have too low an authority to have a significant impact on your rankings.
Having said that, using a combination of Trust Flow (TF) and Citation Flow (CF), can be a useful metric.
Trust Flow / Citation Flow = Trust Ratio
A Trust Flow: Citation Ratio of 1:1 (or Trust Ratio = 1) is generally considered an exemplary score. But a more practical score to aim to bear, is 0.5 At TLG, even though we do not report on Trust Ratio, or heavily focus on it – when we ran analyses after the fact, we have found that our campaigns often yield overall Trust Ratio averages, of higher than 0.5 (often in the 0.6 to 0.8 range).
Goals of the link building strategy
Your link building efforts should be based on a strategy. Before developing your strategy, you need to figure out what goals you want to accomplish using links.
Focusing purely on gaining a certain number of llinks, or trying to only raise overall referring domains (at the domain level) won’t be effective because you can’t be sure that the set number of backlinks will produce the desired outcomes, from a traffic return and ROI point of view. Simply put, there are too many ranking criteria at work in addition to links.
A small number of high-quality backlinks might be sufficient for a new website for it to begin ranking. However, it might require a lot more backlinks before it even begins to rank for its most competitive terms, if it’s in a crowded niche.
On top of this:
- where are you going to point those links?
- Are the pages you’re using at outreach good enough to build quality links to?
- Do you need to direct links to commercial pages?
- Do you need to pay for links because of your industry?
These are just some of the questions and considerations you need to consider when creating your strategy.
For example – when it’s a broader term or a commercial keyword, you will generally find it has a higher difficulty level. That will often translate into requiring more links to that specific page. It’s not to say it’s only about links (for example, you need to ensure the content matches the intent of the keyword). Let’s assume you have content quality handled and the competition have done a reasonably good job there, you’ll then be competing on links and link quality.
Competitor’s backlink profile
Depending on the level of competition in the niche, the number of backlinks a website needs can change significantly.
You might be tempted to attain and double the number of links your rival has. For instance, if they have 50, you might aim for 100.It’s not that simple. As you know, Google uses a variety of ranking factors, so you can’t just attribute a competitor’s success to their backlinks and beat them by getting more backlinks.
So when you evaluate their backlink profile, try to utilize the information you gain to improve your own link building strategy. You might need to improve your own content to surpass theirs, and then it’s more likely to attract links, and act as better link bait during the outreach. Or you’ll gain insights on the type of websites/industries your rivals are obtaining links.
Example below shows how we’d pick out strategies in the rehab sector:
If they are obtaining links from high-quality, niche-relevant sources, you need to match that quality, and then beat them on the acquisition volume and velocity.
You can pick out some hidden gems during competitor analysis as well. For instance, when working with one client, we noticed a competitor had one link from local government. It was one link out of the thousands they had. But, this was a potential goldmine. So we took the URL pattern of that government link, and did manual prospecting. We realised there were hundreds of cities around the US with this type of resource page. Fast forward a few months later, and we got around 20+ links all from local government.
Powerful links that would otherwise have been missed, if we simply stopped at reaching out to that one site.
Deeper assessment of backlink profile
This is a better question to ask because it focuses on the quality of your site’s backlinks rather than just the quantity of backlinks.
Your rankings on one page might benefit more from a single high-quality link than from a dozen spammy ones.
Let’s say we’re in the finance niche, and we’ve noticed we have a page related to a real estate financing topic. Rather than just build links from business sites, you might want to particularly focus on the real estate sector, and try to get a site from that industry, to link to it. That focus on hyper-relevant backlinks, could really give you an edge in pushing that particular page.
You can even take it a step further, and use Topical Trust Flow to analyze where competitors are securing links, and use this to inform your strategy.
For instance, we ran some analysis on a group of sites, and found that one site that was particularly growing fast and gaining traction (with proportionally less overall referring domains) was getting a lot of links in the Recreation/Travel sector.
Once we dig further, we saw that those were opportunities in the hospitality sector, tourism sites, travel portals, to name a few.
Another crucial part of the process is keeping an eye on your backlinks, and monitoring the impact it’s having on your rankings. Through this, you’ll be able to understand where your link building is working and producing real results for you.
This assessment of the quality of your backlinks is important for future decision-making. Through proactive, keen monitoring of your backlink profile, with tools like Linkody, you can also track and recover important links that have dropped off over time.
On top of that, monitoring your brand mentions is recommended if you have a lot of PR, and journalists are mentioning your company or its products – but are not linking back to you. That’s another opportunity you can take advantage of, to get some quick wins.
Number of backlinks from one domain
Contrary to what one might assume, building additional links to your site from one domain can actually be advantageous.
The new links can be valuable as long as they come from different pages and are not flagged as part of link schemes or spammy practices. They should also be contextually relevant.
When you get multiple links from the same website, it is a sort of signal to Google that the linking site trusts your site. And even if there is a point of diminishing returns in terms of link equity when you keep getting links from the same site, it still has some impact when you get a few links (albeit small).
You’ll also still benefit from referral traffic as well.
The most important thing is to concentrate on varying your links across various domains. But if you have a way of getting links easily from some quality sites, which are niche relevant, definitely don’t pass up on it.
Healthy backlink profile
There are two issues with asking how many backlinks you should acquire. It firstly suggests there is an exact science to this, and there isn’t.
Although there is no fixed number or calculation, you can analyze the SERPs against your competing pages, to get a rough idea of how many backlinks you should acquire to rank for those terms.
Second, it doesn’t take into account the variety of links you could get. There is a huge difference between securing those high quality links from reputable sources and getting them from shady places and PBNs.
A healthy backlink profile should have links from a variety of sources. Because not every backlinkstrategy works with every source, you’ll naturally get link variety if you use different strategies. Of course, ensuring that the links are still contextual and from relevant sources. If you lose the relevance factor, that can also lead to erosion of your link profile strength over time as well.
On the flip side, while relevance is still important, you also don’t want to hyper focus so much on relevance, that you lose sight of other opportunities. We’ve seen companies make the mistake of only wanting links from their immediate industry. By doing so, they’ve completely restricted the pool of sites they’re looking to get links for, and subsequently, they’ve massively slowed down their link velocity, and dented their long term results as a result.
You Can Achieve More With Less
The following tips can help you achieve optimum results with fewer backlinks in the initial stages of your strategy:
- When optimizing the content, use terms with low to medium keyword difficulty ratings and focus on about 3 – 5 keywords at a time.
- Maximize your on-page SEO, site speed and other technical factors, before you dive too deep into link building. If you don’t get that to an acceptable level, you’ll only have to clean it up later.
- Aim to satisfy the user’s search purpose with your material. Create high quality content that is similar to that of the top-ranking websites in Google for your primary keyword phrase (but adding more depth and value as much as possible.)
- Build topical authority in your niche. Call it entity SEO if you will, but the concept is fairly simple. Focus on creating content which aligns with your business and its target audience, and don’t only rely on what an SEO tool spits out. This is where having content in-house really pays off.
- Once you have published the content, create internal links from a few of your own pages. The anchor text of these links can be keyword rich, and will have some impact on your rankings as well. There is a ceiling to this though, but build on it further and make sure your site is interlinked really well.
- Where it’s suitable for the page you’re trying to rank, add an internal link to the page from your homepage, or another page which is going to pass the most value.
- Also focus on increasing the number of high-quality backlinks to the home page rather than only individual pages to raise your overall domain authority.
The right time to work on increasing the number of links to a specific web page is after you have done all possible to improve the strength of the SEO factors you can control on your site.
After you’ve effectively optimized those pages and have the right internal SEO signals, you might discover that you require fewer backlinks to rank for your keywords than you had anticipated earlier. This can save you a lot of time (and headache) later.
Remember that the volume of backlinks of a site (whether your own or a competitor’s) only makes sense when it is taken into account alongside other variables.
In a nutshell, for getting the desired results with your link-building strategy, focus on quality along with volume. A few quality backlinks can work wonders for your ranks, and as such, prove better than a multitude of meaningless backlinks.