One of the first lessons you learn when studying search engine optimisation is that backlinks are vital for rankings. But, nobody teaches you how many backlinks are needed to rank high, or even rank at all.
There is a very good reason for that.
You cannot simply apply a math formula to the number of backlinks necessary to rank at a specific position in search engines. This makes it impossible to set a goal like “X backlinks until Y date”.
Do you need 100 backlinks to rank? 200? 5000? More than that?
The truth is, nobody can give you a number.
An experienced SEO professional can give you a really rough estimate in regards to how many backlinks are needed in some cases. However, there is never a guarantee that the estimate is correct. You might need more or less.
With all this in mind, let’s dig deeper and give you more information to help you figure out that rough estimate.
Every single website needs backlinks to rank. This is a given.
Also, it is more difficult for new sites to get backlinks when compared to sites that already rank. A study by Ahrefs showed us that the top result for the search query “keyword research” was actively gaining around 20 times more backlinks thank the number 8 result. This is a huge number.
Why does the top result get more backlinks? Is it because there is SEO work constantly done and this leads to more links? NO.
The truth is, when you are already ranked high, you have authority. More people will naturally link to your site and will trust the information you offer.
When you want to rank a keyword, there are numerous things you have to analyse. It is this analysis that helps you to figure out how many backlinks are needed. A great way to perform the analysis is to take into account the things mentioned in the following paragraphs.
We will assume you already analysed keyword difficulty. If not, read this article from Backlinko and then proceed.
The first step you have to take is to perform a good backlink audit. It is impossible to know how many links you need if you do not know how many you have.
Use your preferred SEO tool to get data about your backlinks pointing to the page you want to rank.
Usually, there are two things that you can determine:
This audit should be regularly done, at least once every few months, although once per month is ideal. It is normal to gain and lose backlinks but you still have to keep monitoring the process.
Although this is a complicated topic and we could say many things about it, at its foundation, you have to identify backlinks that are negative, which means they negatively impact your ranking. Some examples of having too many negative backlinks include:
When you identify many negative backlinks, there is a high possibility your rankings are lower than they could be. Use the Google disavow tool to remove all the negative/spam links you identify.
Backlink quality is immensely more important than how many you have.
For instance, as an SEO agency, when you get a backlink from a reputable source like SEMRush or Moz, the value of a single link can be hundreds of times higher than from small personal blogs talking about search engine optimisation.
The reason why quality is so important is actually logical. The top sites in every single industry have a reputation they need to live up to. As a result, they only link to very good pages that provide the best possible value to their visitors. Google understands this and so should you.
Getting back to the topic, it all means 2 things:
When your backlink audit identifies that most of your backlinks are low-quality, you will need many more to rank.
To put things as simple as possible, if your backlinks come from pages that have nothing to do with your business, they are worthless.
For instance, when you have many backlinks coming from blog comments or have suspicious anchor texts, they are bad. In fact, you might want to disavow them.
A special note: Remember that you should never overuse the disavow tool. When you see irrelevant backlinks, the best thing you can do is to try to remove them without getting Google involved. If you created them, just delete them. If they were created automatically, contact the webmaster of those irrelevant websites and ask them to delete the backlinks.
Your goal is to get as many relevant backlinks that you can. A relevant backlink is:
“A link positioned on a page that is in the same niche or discusses the same subject as your page.”
As an example, if you run a blog about dogs, a link from a blog about cats is not necessarily irrelevant. But a link from a tech blog, from an article about smartphones, is irrelevant.
It is so easy to be tempted to build as many backlinks as you can. But do the backlinks fit?
Let’s say you run a clothes store in Melbourne. Doesn’t it look weird when you get backlinks coming from South America or Russia? Backlinks coming from Australia-based businesses, preferably related to fashion are much better.
Obviously, you will need to use your common sense. If you have a blog post about how to wear a tie and it is very informative, it is normal to naturally get backlinks from all around the world. But if the site is in English and you get hundreds of backlinks from sites in Chinese, it might be a big problem.
This is, most likely, the most important part of your initial backlink audit. In SEO, you always need to analyse your competition. You need to know what it does, what backlinks it gets, and basically where you stay when compared to numerous other websites.
To get a rough estimate of how many backlinks you need to rank, you should know how many the competition has. I also have a little “bad” news about it. Besides knowing the numbers, you have to perform the same analysis highlighted above, but for the competition.
As you analyze the competition, you use all the information you gain to determine the number of backlinks needed. Also, you take into account the SEO work the competition does. For instance, if the competitor builds 1 high-quality backlink every day, you will need to create at least 2 to eventually rank higher.
Use your SEO tools to identify where the competition gets backlinks. If they are high-quality and completely relevant, try to also get a backlink there. At the same time, work hard to identify new opportunities your competition missed.
When you use the analysis we highlighted above, it is so much easier to figure out how many backlinks are needed for your project. However, we do understand that you might have some more precise questions. So. let’s go through the most common questions we hear about the subject.
If you build 10,000 new backlinks in a single day, your site is most likely going to be penalised by Google. This is because the backlink generation is instantly flagged as unnatural.
There are countless ads online that promise thousands of backlinks for ridiculously low prices. Never use those deals because the seller surely uses shady backlinking strategies. Google will eventually identify them and you will get penalised. If this happened to you, please look at our Google Penalty Recovery service because you need professionals to help you.
Getting back to the question, remember that generating backlinks naturally does take time. And Google wants you to do it naturally.
All this means that the number of backlinks per day that you can generate and stay safe is whatever number you can reach naturally.
Do you do generate your links alone? Perhaps you can create 5 good ones per day. This is safe. Do you have a team of 5 people doing it? In this case, you might be able to generate 25-30. This is safe.
Obviously, Google understands that as a site grows, it will organically gain more backlinks. We do not count those. We only talk about the ones you get through legit strategies, like guest posting.
If you look at the backlink profile of any large site, you quickly notice it is very diverse. This is why SEO professionals work hard to gain several types of backlinks, from profile links to guest posting links.
Generally speaking, the more diverse your backlink profile is, the better! However, the best type of backlinks you could get are:
The answer is not what you might want to hear. The truth is that nobody can tell you how many backlinks are needed for rank 1, regardless of keyword difficulty or niche.
This is because while you gain backlinks, your competition does the same thing. Also, fully predicting the effectiveness of a specific number of backlinks on rankings is impossible.
Google uses a secret algorithm. While we can definitely guess to a certain extent, you should remember the following:
Now that we understood the fact that it is more important to build quality backlinks than as many backlinks as possible, how do we identify if backlink quality is high or not?
Remember that there are many webmasters out there that are very good at making it seem like their sites are much stronger than they are. We cannot blindly trust a single metric like domain authority or site traffic. We have to conduct a thorough backlink quality assessment.
The techniques presented below allow you to check the quality of the backlinks you have and might get through whatever link building strategy you use.
Most large sites have thousands of backlinks. However, they might come only from a limited number of referring domains. Regardless if this is the case or not, it is better to first analyze the domains, not the actual backlinks.
Use your preferred SEO tools to identify as many referring backlinks as possible. Whenever possible, use several tools because the data they offer might be different.
The best scenario is to have unique backlinks coming from every single referring domain. Look at the authority of the domain and then analyse the backlinks that domain has. If the domain has several spammy backlinks, you should consider the domain as not suitable. You do not want to associate your website with spam domains, especially if link exchanges were used.
Domain authority checks are mandatory for qualitative backlink profiles.
Generally speaking, the higher the domain’s authority (DA), the better the domain. When the website analysed is large, it naturally shows a domain distribution in the backlinks profile with zero influence and very high influence.
When you analyse a smaller website, the number of high authority backlinks linking to it should be much higher. This is because the low authority backlinks tend to appear naturally in time.
Improve the accuracy of your backlink quality assessment by verifying anchor texts. Usually, you only want to focus on 2 anchor text types:
As an example, a brand anchor text would be “Adidas” and a commercial anchor text would be “street running shoes”.
Use your SEO tools to analyse anchor texts pointing towards the domain you analyse. They should be mostly a mix of these two types of anchor texts, with only a small percentage featuring other types, like naked URLs or IP numbers.
When you assess link quality, you have to perform what we refer to as “on-page analysis”. This is needed for every backlink you get. Review the page that links or will link to your site by taking into account some strict metrics and guidelines, including:
An example of a bad backlink would be a link that is placed on a page that features numerous links, or spam ads, maybe questionable content, like ads to male enhancing pills. When the page that you could gain a backlink from is spammy, you need to avoid it.
Only get backlinks that are as natural as possible. A simple rule of thumb to follow is: get only backlinks of the type you would naturally add to your own pages with a manual action.
Last but not least in your analysis, analyse backlink quality by looking at social sharing. This means you should check if the page where you get a backlink has social media shares, and a suitable engagement level.
When you see that a domain generates numerous social shares and its pages often get shared, with high engagement online, the domain is most likely very good for you to get a backlink from, as long as the link is appropriate in terms of relevancy.
Hopefully, now you understand more about why you have to focus on gaining high-quality backlinks as opposed to a specific number. You basically need to build a complex backlink profile. And it is close to impossible to accurately guess how many high quality links you need to rank very high in search results.
The good news is the number of links you get will keep growing as you work hard on your high quality content and you build backlinks with really high authority. Use the tips we mentioned above and it will be much easier for you to make the smart choices that rank your pages high in search results.