How Many Backlinks Does It Take to Rank On Page 1?

The core pillars of SEO are:

– Technical

– Off-site, and

– Content.

There are wafts of information out there on ranking signals. It generally falls into technical or ‘on-site’ SEO, content or ‘relevance’, and backlinks or ‘off-site’ SEO.

We can control technical and content SEO. We can do keyword research, create content based on that, optimise title tags and metas. We can fix structural issues at their core with smart solutions, with an understanding of how Google crawls and indexes pages.

The core component that is left: backlinks.

The age-old question that often arises, much to the dismay of SEO specialists is: “How many backlinks does it take to rank on page one?”

This question usually comes straight from the potential / current client you’re working with. The answer SEO specialists will go to is: “It depends”. Let’s be real, clients don’t want to hear those words. They want to know when – the year, the month, the day, the hours, and probably even the seconds!

What if we could better predict when a website will see that big success? To hit the first page, and hit number one for their core target keyword. What if instead of saying “It depends”, we could confidently predict “It will take 6 months to hit the first page, no worries”?

How important are backlinks to an SEO strategy?

Think about a website like a bar you own. You’ve made sure it complies with government regulations, you’ve picked your demographic, decorated the interior, and have a ton of booze on offer to serve the dearly inebriated.

How are you going to start getting people through the door?

People may walk past, come in, and have a great time. But, to build up the credibility you need the word of mouth to spread and you need good reviews. It’s those external factors that will get waves of people coming in asking for Pina Coladas and shots.

When it comes to the question of what’s the most important ranking signal? What’s the silver bullet for SEO? The answer is backlinks. Studies show that the greater number of linking domains a webpage has, the higher up the SERP they will likely be. For instance, #1 rankings had an average of 168% more domains than those further down the SERP.


Google’s now-famous PageRank Algorithm changed the game. Instead of simply analysing the content of a page, Google looks at how many links to that page came from external sources.

Nearly 20 years later, links are STILL the best way to determine the quality of a webpage. That’s why backlinks remain Google’s go-to ranking signal.

Backlinks are the growth factor that SEO can’t avoid. Gain them and you have the building blocks for a successful campaign.

How many backlinks do I need to get to the top?

There isn’t a straightforward formula for calculating the number of backlinks you need to rank number one. If SEO consultants knew this with 100% certainty, it’d change the entire game.

The critical factor is quality. This can’t be stressed enough.

Google is savvy enough to know that the logic of backlinks help you rank doesn’t mean more backlinks, more rankings.

Based on my experience from seeing long term effects of gaining backlinks, the metrics to critique them with are:

Niche relevance

Website theme and/or content relevant to the industry of the client. This contextualises to search engines and provides relevant authority to that domain.

Domain Authority (DA)

Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.

Organic traffic & keyword relevance

The amount of traffic a domain attains is an important factor taken into consideration when acquiring backlinks. Domains with a moderate to a high volume of traffic will equate to a higher click-through rating and help to rank higher for relevant keywords.

When establishing a backlink, it is key to include relevant keywords within the content. Keywords that are relevant to the client/site will leverage rankings and visibility

Writing quality

Domains that contain excellent content that is in-depth, within scope, and meaningful are highly valuable.

Do follow & no-follow

By default, all links are do-follow links unless they are modified. Do follow links pass along what the SEO community commonly calls link juice. Do follows are preferred, however, if you acquire a no-follow from an extremely high-quality domain, you’ll be still in a great spot for boosting your ranking

Not all backlinks are created equal

Backlinks are not created equal. Much like with general ranking signals, each one of these has a scale of which it can hit all these metrics.

One might have a fantastic DA, yet its organic or keyword base might not be as relevant to the website.

You could have the most amazing content piece written about you, but the website barely has DA to make it worth it outreaching for.

Having a high-quality link connected to your website is worth its weight in gold.

There are ways to build links very quickly that can give you those results. However, over time you’re at risk of unbalancing your backlink profile with spammy or low-quality links.

Think of it this way, if you were looking for restaurant recommendations and 1000 people all said: “Check out this place it’s amazing, it will blow your mind away”. Later finding out that they’d never even been there, sampled the food, and perhaps had an obvious cash incentive to endorse it.

Now, what if Gordon Ramsey recommended the same place publicly saying it was the “best pizza in town”. Links are endorsements by entities that are authoritative in the eyes of the public – I’d take the “Gordon Ramsey of backlinks” each and every time if given the chance.

What’s the best indication of how many you will need to get to the top?

… Competitors!

Their backlinks are available to us through tools such as SEMRush and AHREFs so we can start digging into what their authority is built on.

One of my most frequently said phrases at StudioHawk is “Competitors have done all the work for you, figure out what they do and steal the good parts”.

How can we gauge it with the tools available?

Moving past ideas like “quality content” and “searcher intent”, the estimation tool that we’re utilising for this is AHERF’s Keyword Explorer tool. Alongside “Keyword Difficulty” This can indicate the average number of websites needed to rank within the top ten of search results.

AHREFs calculates this by taking a “weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top-10 ranking pages and then plotting the result on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100.

Numerous case studies from the past few years show that backlink factors have a higher correlation with rankings than anything else. That’s their Keyword Difficulty (KD) score is based solely on the average number of linking websites to the current top 10 ranking pages, which makes it super easy to comprehend.

While AHREFs does not fully endorse this as the be-all and end of how many links you need, it is helpful. The KD score cuts through on-page factors and tells you what the likelihood is, based solely on the number of referring domains linking to the top-ranking pages for your target keyword.

Let’s put it to the test:

I thought, why don’t we analyse websites that have achieved the coveted top 10 ranking in our course. How many backlinks did they gain with us?

What does AHREF estimate they need?

And for those outside the top 20, how long will it take?

The clients I analysed ranked within the top 10 of search results. The majority of their backlink profiles were made up of ones that we acquired as part of our SEO strategy, and the words assessed were clustered around their main organic traffic driver.

I discovered:

On average, when a client has 3-5x the backlinks of AHREFs backlink estimation, they are highly likely to rank within the top 10. This was great for a very small sample base. However, expanding across their entire keyword profile, there were still a ton of low difficulty keywords that were ranking outside the top 10, the perceived ‘low hanging fruit’. Keywords that, according to AHREF, they should have placement for but are not even on the map for.

If you go right now into AHREFs and start checking up on your own website for this, you’ll see variances in the pool of links needed to get on page 1. AHREFs do express that this Keyword Difficulty estimation isn’t an exact figure but, for my own curiosity, it was interesting to see these variances directly through the view of StudioHawk’s client base.

It’s a great tool regardless. Using it you’ll get a snapshot of what you’ll need backlink wise, you’ll see what links they have, you’ll see their quality, even their weaknesses, and can start building your link strategy around this important data.

This can form the basis of your Skyscraper push, use it to fire up the Moving Man Method.

Without a doubt, you’re going to need more quality backlinks to get your website into the top 10 of search results.

A specialists Conclusion

To summarise, getting to the first page of Google is no simple task.

I wish there was a secret formula, but there isn’t one that we can back with 100% certainty.

However, backlinks have been and will continue to be a vital component in achieving the goal of ranking on page one.

Without them and relying solely on other factors, it’s going to be a hard road to start driving organic traffic with only high-value keywords.

The number of backlinks needed will rely on your competitors who are winning out and jockeying for those positions. Strengthen your resources for links based on this.

Key Takeaways:

Backlinks quality over quantity every time.

Use tools like AHREFs & SEMRush to assess competitors’ profiles

Know what you’re up against.

Build your strategy using tried and test techniques to gain more high-quality backlinks than your competitors.

How to Maximize Your Use of SEMrush: Tools, Tips, Training, and More

How to Maximize Your Use of SEMrush: Tools, Tips, Training, and More

When it comes to SEO tools, SEMrush is the pack leader, the absolute grand daddy of SEO tools. With powerful features, and insights, SEMrush can run the whole garment of a website, look deeper into your competitors, identify your top organic keywords, allow you to do in-depth backlink analysis, and more. I started using SEMRush a long time ago as a newbie SEO specialist, and really only kept to the tools that I understood, SEO Audit, Domain Overview, Position Tracking, and was very meekly moving along the suite. It can be overwhelming, you constantly think “Wow if only I knew how to use all these tools!!”

So now I’ve broken down all the tools and tricks I wish I knew about before starting to use SEMRush.

Keyword Magic Tool

If your business is in an industry with some beefy competition, it will be difficult for you to dominate search results if your content strategy is aiming too high, to begin with. We’d sure love to rank for those big evergreen topics right away but websites with higher domain ranking authority will always outperform new kids on the block in search rankings.

Let’s say you had your heart set on going after popular keywords, and find out what is sitting at the top are those big websites that have dominated for years. Don’t be discouraged, just revise your strategy!

Find sneaky long-tail keywords with high traffic potential to focus on instead.

With SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, you can generate a bunch of long-tail keywords for your seed keywords. Try it yourself by logging into your SEMrush dashboard and clicking on Keyword Analytics, then Keyword Magic Tool.

From there, enter your seed words and click Search. SEMrush will then generate a list of related keywords, then show you the key metrics related to them, such as keyword difficulty (KD), volume, CPC, and competition.

To find long-tail keywords, narrow the large list of keywords down to a select few, then find long-tail combinations keywords people use. These keywords will have a lower search volume, but far less competition—which means you can begin to outrank your competitors.

My super top tip is to hit the questions tab for any keyword that will spring up all the question based keywords. Boom, you’ve just got your first run of blog topics to begin with!

Find Out Who Dominates The SERPs

Every marketing campaign should contain an element of competitor analysis. You can’t outrank your competition in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) unless you know who you’re competing against.

SEMrush helps you effortlessly identify your competitors by navigating to their Domain Analytics feature and then clicking Organic Research. Here, you’ll enter your domain URL.

To view your competitors, click on the Competitors tab. You’ll see a list of all domains your website is competing against in the top search results.

I find this visual layout is super useful for showing potential or just on-boarded clients to get them to understand what their up against:

SEMrush ranks domains by competition level—this is based on the analysis of the number of keywords two websites share in common. If interested, you can export the list of competitors by clicking on the Export button at the top right of the list.

May Update:

SEMrush have now in their Domain Overview tab a quick view which shows all the metrics we know and love, and the keyword overlap in between.

Spy on Your Competitors’ Top Performing Pages

With more competitor insights, you can fine-tune your marketing strategy. Now that you know who your competitors are, find out how they’re performing so well. SEMrush also let’s identify your main competitor’s top-performing pages (those that generate the highest search traffic). To do this, select Domain Overview within the drop-down menu and enter the domain you’d like to track. Once you ave the results, click Organic Research and then Pages. Here you’ll see a list of the company’s top-performing pages and how much organic traffic each page generates.

If there is a page you’d like to target, click on the keyword number to show the total number of keywords that page ranks for—only those within the top 100 Google results will show.

For the longest time I wished to be able to get that sneaky visibility into competitors, finding this really opened up perspective on:

  • Blog articles that were performing well
  • How their subfolders and overall information architecture was set out for mapping out site structure
  • Useful to redirection campaigns in understand what pages are organically a priority.

This way, you’ll also gain backlinks that may have gone to your competitor, which will also help your search engine ranking.

Find Your Backlinks and Reclaim Them

Obtaining backlinks is hard work. You have to create compelling content, share it with industry influencers, and hope they find it valuable enough to link to it through their website. With SEMRush, you don’t have to live in fear of losing your backlinks. You can reclaim them by going to Domain Analytics, then clicking on Backlinks and entering your name.

Once you get to the results page, click on the Backlinks tab to get a broader view of your link profile. Then, select Lost backlinks within your profile and filter them by Follow. Sort the links by Trust Score in descending order. Doing this ensures you’re tracking down lost backlinks that came from high-quality domains.

From here, you have to reach out to the owners of each domain and ask them to put up your content again or present them with new content to add value to their website.

Site Audit Fixes and Progression

Critical SEO errors can seriously affect your website’s search engine rankings.

With SEMrush, the primary tool that gets a lot of action is called Site Audit that will identify technical SEO issues and highlight the steps to take to fix the errors quickly. To perform a site audit, navigate to Projects from your SEMrush dashboard. Then click Add New Project and enter your domain.

Site Audit will then “crawl” your website and generate a report on all the errors you need to fix to achieve a higher health score

Running a site audit every week to fix any issues as they occur and strive to maintain a health score of 85% and above.

As part of is it the compare crawls section that will give you the fixes and issues compared across crawls done at different times:

As really great way to visually lay out for clients how they’ve performed through fixing these issues and some may not understand what the full scope of how bad their website might be running:

Snippet from an actual SEO Report for one of our enterprise clients!

Managing to clear off over 280,000 issues flagged was a huge achievement on a 10,000+ page website, best to let it not go unnoticed.

Bulk Backlink Analysis

A fantastic way to quickly batch out analysis of domains and even URLs of the same website. Underneath Gap Analysis you’ll see the Bulk Analysis tool:

I often use this to vet out websites that I’ve been told are super strong DA or assess the weight of what a competitor is bringing to the table.

Brand Monitoring

Clients are often asking, how can I gain more backlinks on website Brand Monitoring will track any mention of a name, brand, keyword or phase you want to get visiblity on.

Business are always keeping on top of their press, positive or negative, this a great way to see who’s talking about you, who’s linking to you, and keeping a tabs on your online reputation.

You’ll receive weekly notifications on new mentions online to keep your finger on the pulse.

Content Analyzer

Without a doubt my favourite tool using SEMRush right now, discovering and understanding how to use this this really opening up what I could do as part of the SEO strategy. A website will often have already a massive blog section that’s been pumping out content to now end, and perhaps with no SEO backing behind the topics they’ve written about.

I’ve started off with website with already over 1000+ blogs to filter through. Making it quite difficult and laborious to recommend content they’ve already covered off 2-3 years ago.

The Content Analyzer can tell you how your content is performing organically by measuring it against social shares, backlinks, keyword rankings. Critically when setting it up it will hook into Google Analytics and Google Search Console to feed back page sessions and bounce rates.

Once you set up your project inside, you’ll be fed out a 4 sets of data to look at, content to rewrite or remove, needing updating, quickly review, and poor content. These are all based on filters such as the content being older than 2 years and not having more than 15 pages views in that time.

You can customise this all to what you want to see as most important, also depending on how many on average page views you get you’ll want to set this up logically to feed you the right information.

With this in your arsenal you can prime up your content strategy to first assess what you already have to deal with, to optimise, instead of adding more content and more pages.

Keeping the crawl budget consolidated toward the top performing content that produces results.

Re-Structure Your Content

SEO isn’t always about starting from scratch. It’s vital to optimise your existing content to keep your entire site SEO-friendly.

One less-popular, but highly helpful tool within SEMrush is the Content Template. By providing a template of recommendations based on your seed keywords, this tool helps you craft content that is SEO-friendly. These insights come from Google’s top-ranking pages for your target keywords.

Take Google’s suggestions to heart and structure your content; however, you need to outrank your rivals in Google SERPs. You will perform better in SERPs if you use semantically related keywords to add more context to your topic.

You’ll also receive a suggested list of backlink targets, your readability score, and suggested text-length for your content.

Don’t ignore the opportunities in optimising what’s there to put your energy into creating content that’s not ranking yet.

More tools to come!

SEMRush are continually releasing new added tools, such as last week the new Audience Research tool:

We’re Here to Help You Drive Organic Growth

Now that you know the ins and outs, and some of the lesser-known features, of your SEMrush subscription, it’s time to start optimising your website.

If you get stuck, we’re here to help. We specialise in all things SEO, including keyword research, website auditing, content suggestions, and more. Contact me via email or fill out the contact form at StudioHawk, get in touch for an SEO audit of your website.