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How Many Backlinks Do I Need to Rank?

You found the perfect keyword.

But there’s a question holding you back:

“Will I ever be able to rank?”

If you knew exactly how many backlinks you need to rank as the #1 result, it would help so much with your keyword selection.

While there is no simple answer, there are methods to deduce roughly how many backlinks you’ll need to rank.

In this post, you’ll learn about the two major backlink factors you need to consider when evaluating your ability to rank.

Then, I’ll give you a few theoretical examples you can follow to learn how to estimate how many backlinks you’ll need.

Note: we’re only going to look at backlinks in this article. I’ll assume you’ve created a high-quality page that deserves to rank.

Research your competitors

Before you evaluate how many links you’ll need, you have to collect some data.

There are two critical metrics you need to collect from each of your competitors.

The Two Backlink Factors

To find out if you can rank, there are two metrics you need to consider.

Total backlinks: the total count of all backlinks pointing to the site.

Linking root domains: the number of unique websites linking to the site.

I’ll be referring to linking root domains as RD’s throughout the rest of this guide.

For example, let’s say your competitor has a single guest post link from Site A and a footer link from Site B. The footer link shows up on all 300 pages of Site B. This means they have 301 total backlinks from 2 linking root domains.

301 total links and 2 RD’s

When you first see 301 backlinks, it might seem like a lot until you realize there are only two websites linking to them!

And this leads us to an important question…

Which is more important?

While the total backlinks metric is important, it’s often skewed by footer links and mass links from low-quality scraper sites.

For this reason, most SEOs agree that the number of linking root domains is more important. You can check out this study from Moz showing linking root domains to be the most important backlink ranking factor.

This analysis is older, but still holds true today

You should look at both metrics, but understand that getting more RD’s is the key to outranking competitors, not getting more total backlinks

Knowing these two metrics for your competitor’s domain is a good start, but you also need to know these metrics for your competitor’s ranking page.

Evaluate the ranking page too

Google doesn’t rank domains, it ranks web pages.

In addition to finding the total backlinks and RD’s for your competitor’s domain, you need to find these metrics for their ranking page too.

For example, their site may have 1,000 total backlinks from 20 domains, but only 2 links from 2 domains pointing at the page ranking for your target keyword.

Total Backlinks (Site)Root Domains (Site)Total Backlinks (Page)Root Domains (Page)
1,0002022

If their ranking page has very few backlinks, this is a good indicator you can outrank them, but we’ll talk about how to estimate the backlinks you’ll need in a moment.

There’s just one more step to complete your backlink research.

Repeat for the top 3 results

Getting the total backlinks and RD’s for your top competitor’s domain and page is necessary to make your estimate.

However, getting this info for just one competitor isn’t useful enough.

To get a clear picture of how many links you’ll need to rank, you should repeat this same research for the 2nd and 3rd results too.

You need to know the total backlinks and RD’s for the domain and ranking page of the top 3 websites.

This will make it way easier for you to create an accurate estimate that you can rely on. Plus, you can always expand your data to include results 4-10 if you’re still unsure how many links you’ll need.

Once you’ve finished this research, you’re ready to create your estimate.

Wait, where do I get this backlink data?

If you don’t have a backlink research tool yet, you can create an account with any of the major backlink analysis apps:

I prefer SEMRush, but to be honest, they’re all great.

How to estimate the number of backlinks you need

With your data collected, it’s time for your evaluation.

Your ability to estimate how many links you’ll need will improve over time with practice, but I’ve set up some hypothetical scenarios below to guide you through the process.

This is theoretical and based on my own observations of building links and ranking websites for the past decade.

Backlink analysis #1

For all of the estimations, we’ll assume your website has the following backlinks metrics:

Total Backlinks (Site)Root Domains (Site)Total Backlinks (Page)Root Domains (Page)
50012500

Your website has 500 links from 125 sites. The page you want to rank doesn’t have any backlinks yet.

Here are the backlink profiles of your top 3 competitors:

Total Backlinks (Site)Root Domains (Site)Total Backlinks (Page)Root Domains (Page)
Competitor 12,500250155
Competitor 21,300,00250,00000
Competitor 350,00093500

The first result is a site that’s a little bigger than yours and has managed to outrank more authoritative sites by getting links directly to its keyword page.

The second result is a massive site that ranks easily for keywords, sometimes without really trying. This might be a site like Wikihow or Wikipedia.

The third competitor is a lot more authoritative than your site but doesn’t have any links directly to its page.

Creating the estimate

Looking at these results, you know you have a chance to rank because Site #1 isn’t that much more authoritative than your site.

Your site has fewer backlinks and RD’s than Site #1, which means your site is less authoritative. When your site is less authoritative, it means you will need to get more RD’s linking to your page to outrank your competitor.

Most SEO tools have created their own metrics like Moz’s Domain Authority, but looking at RD’s is also an accurate way of measuring which site is more authoritative.

Now, there’s no magic formula to find this number, but you know for sure that you will need more than 5 RD’s to outrank Site #1.

Exactly how many more is hard to say, but since Site #1 isn’t that much more authoritative, I expect 10-15 RD’s would do the trick.

Backlink analysis #2

Here’s another example with Site #1 removed and a new #3 result added:

Total Backlinks (Site)Root Domains (Site)Total Backlinks (Page)Root Domains (Page)
Competitor 11,300,00250,00000
Competitor 250,00093500
Competitor 32,500,000512,000351

With Site #1 removed, it becomes much harder to form an estimate because you don’t have an example to follow, even though we know that just a handful of RD’s could be enough from the first example.

What should stand out in these results is that the third site has the most links, but is still getting outranked. When this happens, you need to evaluate the content and look at the links.

For instance, the third result here could be a Quora question, which often gets outranked by full articles. When you look at the links, you might find they’re all from one garbage website that reposts Quora threads.

In other words, the third result is low value and doesn’t have a single high-quality backlink.

Tip: When you see discussion threads in the SERPs, that’s usually a good sign you can rank.

Creating the estimate

Based on the quality of Site #3, you might be able to take the third result with quality content alone.

Furthermore, while Site #2 is a lot more authoritative than your site, it’s not massive, and its page has no links. It could potentially outrank Site #1 if it had any links pointing to its ranking page.

This means you likely have a shot at ranking #1, but not without a good number of links pointing to your keyword page.

With results like this, it would be best to get 5-10 RD’s to your page and then see what happens over the next few weeks. A good estimate for these results would be anywhere from 5-30 RD’s to take the #1 spot. It’s tough to estimate without seeing another site outrank the authoritative site at the top.

Backlink analysis #3

Here’s one more example to show you the kind of SERPs you want to avoid:

Total Backlinks (Site)Root Domains (Site)Total Backlinks (Page)Root Domains (Page)
Competitor 13,000,000525,0001,200375
Competitor 21,300,00250,0003025
Competitor 350,00093555

If you see a result like this, you have virtually zero chance at ranking.

The top site is extremely authoritative and its ranking page has a huge number of links. This means you would need a lot more than 375 RD’s pointing to your page to have a shot at ranking.

There’s no point chasing after a keyword like this when those 375+ links could get you a bunch of #1 rankings for other keywords instead.

It’s best to move on and find another keyword when the SERPs look like this.

The big takeaway

What I hope is clear after looking at these examples, is that you have the opportunity to outrank more authoritative sites by getting more links to your keyword page (and by creating better content).

When you see another small site doing it, it makes it much easier to estimate how many backlinks you’ll need. When there isn’t another site doing it, look at the quality of the content and links of the ranking sites, and if you think you can do better, try running a link building campaign and monitor the results.

I know that these examples are totally made up, but the backlink data you find in the real world is going to carry a lot of similarities. Keep these lessons in mind while you evaluate your target keywords.

Then it’s time to build your links!

Here’s how you can build your backlinks

Now that you have a good idea of how many backlinks you’ll need to rank, the next step is to start building links.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered 😉

Check out these guides next to learn the most effective modern link building tactics:

Links that point to an inner page on your site (non-homepage) are commonly referred to as “deep links,” and these guides include numerous tactics you can use to build deep links to any page you want.

I hope this analysis comes in handy next time you wonder, “how many backlinks do I need to rank?”

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