Is it true?
Can you rank a website without backlinks?
Are all these SEOs wasting their time?
If this was true, you could save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on link building.
But I’m afraid the answer to this question isn’t so straightforward. There is an important nuance to grasp, but once you get it, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Keep reading for the definitive answer.
There’s two parts to the answer.
First, yes, you do need backlinks to rank.
I can’t imagine a site with ZERO backlinks showing up in any search results in Google, Bing, or any other search engine.
And I’m not alone on this. There has been plenty of research that shows backlinks are a vital ranking factor.
But there is an important distinction to be made here.
While your site does need backlinks, even to rank for low competition keywords, that doesn’t mean you have to build backlinks.
Every website attracts some links naturally, but you can rank well without ever engaging in link building if your site is great at getting links organically.
One of the best examples I can think of is Matthew Woodward’s website, which he ran as an open experiment to show SEOs that you can build a successful website and rank it without any active link building.
For obvious reasons, getting backlinks without doing any work is appealing, so how exactly does one get links without link building?
Here’s the tldr; for getting organic backlinks.
You attract links by creating something remarkable.
If you have a product that gets people excited, they’re going to talk about it. If it’s worth talking about, websites will write about it and link to you.
While having a stand-out product is an excellent way to attract links all the time, you can also use content. For example, I just linked to Matt’s website above because his live case study was remarkable, and I wanted to share it with you.
Doing things differently, whether it’s with a product or content, will help you attract links organically.
Is it really that simple though?
I promise you I’m not pulling your leg. Remarkable products and content do earn links naturally.
If your site is brand new and you’re struggling for visibility, your chances of people linking are much lower.
And there’s no reason to avoid link building entirely.
You can get the best of both worlds and create outstanding products and content while also engaging in basic link building.
This will greatly speed up your search traffic growth, especially for a newer website.
And when it comes to link building, a few tactics are especially effective for beginners and routine link builders.
- You can’t rank well without backlinks
- You can attract backlinks naturally
- Getting natural backlinks is hard, so you should build them yourself too
If you want your link building to be a success, you need the right mindset.
Rather than thinking of link building as a “campaign” or “sprint,” think of it as a routine.
Link building is a grind, and the results are slow. Typically, a link will take 10 weeks to affect your site fully. This is likely a tactic by Google to de-incentivize link building and makes the results hard to track.
If you spend ALL week building links, you’re going to get demotivated when your rankings haven’t budged two weeks later.
Since it takes a long time to get the ball rolling, it makes more sense to start building links right away and make it a habit. You don’t need to get thousands of links. As long as you’re targeting low competition keywords, you’ll get great results aiming to get 1 link per day.
After a year of steady link building, you’ll have hundreds of links, and you can reassess whether you even need to build more.
With that out of the way, let’s get into some of the top tactics.
HARO is an easy way to get links every day of the week.
With HARO, you can create a free account as a news source and reply to journalist requests.
These journalists need expert quotes and feedback, and that’s why they’re using HARO. As a source, you’ll receive three emails per day with a handful of requests. If you send a response and a journalist likes it, they’ll quote you in their article and include a link back to your site.
While using HARO can be time-consuming, it can supply you with a constant source of high-quality editorial backlinks.
My in-depth tutorial will teach you how to use it to full effect:
List post outreach
This is another one of my favorite link building tactics.
Unlike most backlinking tactics, this one is great for getting new customers, and it’s dead simple.
All you have to do is search Google for the same keywords your customers use to find your products/services. Then, scan the results for every single list post result. For most keywords, there will be a lot.
You can find more list posts by navigating deeper into the results, and I like to do this until I’ve reached the bizarre spam content around page 15.
Every time you find a relevant list post, save the URL in your notes. Then, repeat the entire process with a new keyword variation. For instance, switch out “wireless headphones” for “best headphones in 2021.”
Once you have a nice fat list of link targets, you can begin contacting them one-by-one with the following pitch:
Hey there, I saw your collection of PRODUCT and I noticed you didn't include OUR_PRODUCT. I think it would make a great addition because it has FEATURE that none of the others do. I'd be happy to send you a high-res image and write a 150-word description just for your site if you're interested. And to be clear, this is the page I am talking about: Thanks!
Just swap out the all-caps placeholders with your own product info, and you’re good to go.
Your outreach emails won’t work if you don’t offer something in return, which is why you’re offering to provide them with content. Showing people you’re interested in working with them and not just using their site for your own gain is critical for link building success.
If you like this tactic, then you’ll love this post where I outline 13 tactics with copy-paste templates:
Outreach is a killer link building strategy, but it does take a lot of time.
This next tactic is extremely quick and simple to implement.
You’re not the only one looking to build links.
The web is full of sites and people looking to rank them higher. If your site has any authority at all, you’ll regularly receive backlink requests.
Reverse outreach is the simple process of flipping a link request into a link for your own website, mostly through link swapping.
Unlike traditional outreach, it works nearly 100% of the time, and no prospecting is required.
If you’ve exhausted your list post link building and want to keep going with outreach, another tactic that is highly accessible is the link swap.
With link swapping, you’ll request a link and offer them a link in return. Here’s a simple and concise example email:
Hey there, I saw your guide on TOPIC and I was wondering if you could add a link to our article on SIMILAR_TOPIC? I'd be happy to return the favor and link back to your site if you're interested. Let me know!
This tactic is especially useful when you’re looking to rank an article or specific page on your site. These “deep links” are normally tough to get, but most people are happy to link to you when you return the favor.
Now that you know your website needs backlinks to rank, the path forward is fairly simple…
Build something awesome that people will link to naturally, and dedicate time regularly to go out and get links for yourself.
When it comes to link building, it’s not something you need to hustle on for hours per day, but you should dedicate time to it regularly.
In the long run, getting a few links per week will add up and lead to significant ranking increases.
I hope this post clarified your mind on how to rank a website without backlinks, and if you’re looking for more ways to get links, I’d recommend signing up for the Image Prospector launch announcement:
Reverse image search link building is a killer tactic, and it’s totally under-utilized. If that sounds like an interesting strategy to you, then join the list, and I’ll be talking to you soon!