A question we get often is how many backlinks someone needs to get their site ranking. We love it when people come with a lot of excitement about results, but there’s an opportunity for education here.
There’s no such thing as a magic number to get you ranking, even in the context of your own niche. Search engines are way more advanced than most of us can wrap our heads around, but there’s plenty of data you can use to figure it out.
Here, we’ll walk you through a high-level analysis that we can do to inform a backlink strategy for a hypothetical project.
First things first, figure out your own link metrics with a tool like Moz Bar
There are a lot of great SEO tools on the market, but for the sake of this tutorial we’re going to use Moz Bar. I’m using the free version in this analysis.
Let’s say you want to rank your homepage for the keyword “escape rooms Salt Lake City”. What does “World of Escapes” (which is position 4 in this SERP) need to do to compete with the 3 sites above them?
Well, let’s look at their metrics first. Their homepage has a page authority of 33 with 8 links, and an overall domain authority of 25 with a low spam score. Not a bad start. Now compare that to the top 3 rankings for this SERP:
At a glance you may notice that the number of total links goes down incrementally the further down the results you go.
We can extrapolate to an extent that we need to focus on quantity to compete. You don’t want to sacrifice quality to do it, but this particular website has some obvious catch up work to do.
To that end, some good starting points might be:
- Projects like our Monthly Mix, for example
- Broken link building with a great resource page
Great, so that’s all, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, at least not always. That’s just our starting point. What about domain authority and page authority?
Escape on 13th has, by FAR, the lowest DA of the bunch but it’s number 2. The site we’re trying to rank has the second highest page authority but it’s in last place. The number 3 site has a domain authority just barely shy of the number 1 competitor.
Confusing right? Here’s the secret: the one common denominator of this analysis is that the site ranking at #1 consistently has the best metrics. That tends to signify a lot of quality content, consistency, and natural growth.
It’s unlikely that just building 400 links, or just hitting DA40, or just hitting PA50 will be enough to knock them out of the first spot. Google is clearly favoring the site that’s “the complete package” in this instance.
So what the hell do I need to do to rank?
Don’t look at backlink metrics as separate goals. If you just chase volume, but don’t have any great editorial links, you risk a spam penalty and a stagnant DA. If you just chase high-DA dofollow links, but have no volume or diversity…that’s right, possible penalties.
In an instance like this, I’d suggest that the client combines some of the tactics above with something like PR outreach to get a good mix of volume, link types, and high-DA referrers. It’s sustainable, it’s safe, and it’s the only way you’re going to beat the website at #1 that understands the fundamentals of this strategy.
One last note about SEO factors for ranking
There are a lot of factors that contribute. On-page SEO, content quality, traffic, site performance, schema markup…backlinks aren’t the beginning and the end of the ranking conversation, but they are arguably still the single biggest factor.
Taking a holistic, data-driven approach to a backlink strategy is the best way to make sure you’re competing in the right ways for the keywords you’re after.