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How many backlinks do I need to rank?
If you’re asking yourself this question, you’re in the right place.
Often, the answer is not as many as you think.
In this tutorial, I’ll show the 5-step process I use to quickly and accurately determine how many backlinks are needed to rank content highly on page one.
We’ll also look at how to prioritize your targets and determine how many backlinks you need to build on an ongoing basis to remain competitive in the SERPs.
This upfront analysis will ensure your link building resources are being used as efficiently as possible.
5 Steps to Determine the Number (and Quality) of Backlinks You Need to Rank
Below, I’ll walk you through the steps I use to select backlink targets and determine the number and quality of links needed to rank now, as well as each month to remain competitive in the SERPs.
Step 1. Identify your highest priority backlink targets
You want to build backlinks to content that can drive leads and revenue for your business.
More specifically, you want to identify high-converting assets that need additional backlinks in order to move inside the top 3-5 positions.
Here are a couple ways to quickly identify those assets:
A lot of websites will house their most important content inside subfolders.
The fastest way to identify if subfolders are being used is to check the URL paths in the main navigation and footer areas.
Alternatively, you can enter the domain into the Ahrefs Site Explorer and check the Subfolders report:
Once you’ve identified the subfolder location(s), enter that subfolder URL path into the Ahrefs Site Explorer and go to the Top Pages report:
Next, apply a Positions filter to only return the URLs that are already ranking in Positions 4-10 for their respective primary keyword targets.
This will leave you with a shortlist of priority assets that are already ranking mid-bottom on page one.
In this example, we can see all the product pages that Beardbrand already has ranking on the bottom of page one. Improving rankings across these pages would likely provide the best ROI:
Next, you need to determine how many (if any) backlinks are needed to rank that page higher.
Use keyword modifiers
Not all websites organize their content inside subfolders.
If this is the case, no worries. You can use keyword modifiers to quickly extract high-priority backlink targets.
Enter your domain back into the Ahrefs Site Explorer and go to the Top Pages report.
Next, apply a Keyword Contains filter that includes any of the following modifiers that apply to your business:
I’m going to be using my Best SERP Trackers article as a working example to illustrate this process.
This primary keyword for this article, “serp tracking tools”, is a high-priority keyword for my blog, which monetizes primarily through affiliate revenue.
I can see that the article hasn’t been updated in close to a year as of the time of this writing, so it’s a perfect opportunity for a content refresh and to run this exercise and see how many backlinks I might need to the post ranking higher in the SERPs.
Step 2. Review SERP data
From the Keywords dropdown in the Top Pages report, right-click on the primary keyword and open in a new tab:
This will open the Keyword Explorer overview report for that keyword:
Scroll down to the SERP overview report to see all the URLs currently ranking in the top 10 positions:
The report shows that if I could rank in the top three positions for this keyword, I’d potentially triple the amount of organic traffic to the article, and in the process, generate more referrals and affiliate commissions from the blog.
The first thing you want to focus on here is this Referring Domains column.
Important note: this number can be misleading at times. It’s often going to be a lot higher than the actual number of links that you need to rank, so what you want to do in this report is focus on a competitor that has a similar domain rating score to your website.
In addition, you want to focus on sites that are ranking with a similar content type and format.
So for this example, it would be a blog post content type in a listicle format. Finally, pick out the one that has the lowest referring domain count as this is going to allow you to compare apples to apples as much as possible and get the lowest feasible backlink target.
A good example here would be Marketing Arsenal. They have a domain rating of 56 which is lower than my domain rating of 70, and are also ranking with a blog content type in a listicle format.
The SERP Overview report is showing that Marketing Arsenal has 85 referring domains pointing to its article, while my post is only showing 9 referring domains.
The next step is to determine if I really need another 81 links in order to rank higher for this keyword.
Step 3. Review competitor backlink profile
To analyze the backlink profile, right-click on the the RDs link and open up the Referring Domains report for that URL in a new tab:
Next, we’ll add some filters to get a better idea of the true number of backlinks needed to rank:
- Dofollow: we only want to look at links that are passing authority.
- DR30+: we want to remove low-quality domains that have little-to-no impact on rankings.
- Domain traffic > 1: we want to remove sites that are receiving zero traffic and have artificially inflated DR metrics.
We started with 85 referring domains, but after applying the filters we are left with 22 domains:
Next, we scan the remaining list of referring domains and note any topically irrelevant results. I like to also subtract those from the target.
Skimming down the list, I can see most of these domains are either SaaS or marketing agency websites. Since they all seem to be topically relevant, I won’t eliminate any more results.
My final referring domain count is 22.
Step 4. Assess domain rating distributions
Once we have an accurate estimate of the number of referring domains needed to rank, the next step is to understand the quality of backlinks needed.
We do this by assessing the domain rating distributions.
Marketing Arsenal has eight DR80+ links and another nine in the DR 70-79 range:
Since these are all from quality domains, it’s going to be very challenging to replicate this link profile. Not impossible, but it’s just going to take a while to close this gap.
Click on the dropdown next to the referring domain to see how your competitors are building backlinks.
In this example, I can see that Marketing Arsenal has used guest posting:
And collaborations to build backlinks to its article:
Use this insight to guide your link building strategies.
Step 5. Determine link velocity targets
Now you have a good idea of the number and quality of backlinks needed to rank right now, as well as some potential strategies you can use to build those links.
But, for really high-priority assets, you’ll often find that competitors are actively building new backlinks each month to defend their position in the SERP.
As a result, you’ll also want to gauge how many backlinks you might need to build each month or quarter to remain competitive.
To calculate this, toggle the report to only display New backlinks:
In this example, I can see that Marketing Arsenal has generated zero new referring domains to its article (that meet the filters that we just applied) in the last 30 days.
I’ll also check the report for the last 3 and 6 month periods to get an accurate idea of the ongoing backlink activity to the article:
This is really helpful information as I know that I’m not going to need to build out a lot of backlinks on an ongoing basis.
I’ll need to build ~22 backlinks to close the current gap, and then one or two more links each quarter to remain competitive for that keyword.
Here’s another example:
I can see that my enterprise SEO tools post is ranking down in position nine:
I can see that Plerty (DR71) is ranking in position five with just three referring domains pointing to its article.
If I open up Plerty’s referring domains report and apply the same filters, it trims the referring domain report down to two results in the DR70-79 range.
When I compare that to my article, I can see four results, but all of them are topically irrelevant or low quality domains:
This isn’t surprising because I haven’t done any proactive link building for this article, so these are just links that organically popped up over time.
Given this insight, I feel confident that with a content refresh and a couple DR70+ backlinks, I could move this post back into the top five positions.
The SERP Overview report shows my article getting around 96 organic visits a month. So, if I could move it in the top five, I could potentially triple or quadruple the traffic to that article:
Repeat this process for all of your high-priority content assets.
Often, you’ll find that you really only need a few quality topically relevant domains to rank higher on page one, all else equal.
How many backlinks do you really need to rank?
By now, you know how to more accurately determine the quantity and quality of backlinks needed to rank your content. Repeat this process for your highest-priority assets and ensure your link building resources are being used as efficiently as possible.
If you like this content, check out my YouTube channel and advanced training program, The SEO Playbook.