Are There Any High Volume, Low Competition Keywords Left?
If you’ve done SEO in a competitive industry you know how hard it can be to find topics to rank for that no one else has covered or that don’t require extensive amounts of link building.
You’re smart enough to know that the good old-fashioned “publish and pray” approach to ranking content just doesn’t work.
This is why SEO pros must leverage low competition keywords into their overall strategies so that they can get their sites to compete with the big boys.
Why Are Low Competition Keywords Important?
As SEO pros, if we are starting out with a client who is:
- A startup.
- Has a new website.
- Has little to no domain rating.
- In an industry that is super competitive.
- A combination of the above.
…then we are plagued to try and get results, fast.
Beyond the standard optimizations of the website, building our product or service pages, and trying to convince our clients they need a bigger budget for PPC or social promotion, we need to use our SEO expertise to make sure our clients stick around (or our bosses don’t fire us!).
While every client agrees that they understand SEO takes “six to eight” months, come month three with no sales generated they get squeamish.
And this is exactly why we need to use low competition keywords in our SEO and content marketing strategies. Low competition keywords are those that can rank with little to no link building and little to no domain authority.
Performed properly, merely publishing a blog based on a target of low competition keywords can provide (relatively) quick traffic and long-tail rankings.
Better yet, it provides us a solid foundation in which to write more competitive topics and go after more difficult, and often more volume-rich, topics.
Who Should Be Going After Low Competition Keywords vs. High Competition Keywords?
We’ve all reverse-engineered competitor websites in an effort to determine why they outrank ours.
We think, my topic is more in-depth, we have better graphics, better references, more social shares, and my blog is more-up-to-date, so why doesn’t it rank better?
More often than not this is because or competitors have a higher domain rating than us.
Sidenote: I say domain rating (DR), Ahrefs definition of the strength of a website’s backlink profile on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 100, with the latter being the strongest. Domain authority (DA) can also be used interchangeably.
Domain rating is why sites like Forbes can publish articles, do zero outreach, and generate a fraction of the backlinks as the rest of and still outrank us.
Sites with high domain rating are usually trusted resources and can publish content and rank for it while the rest of us have to work a lot harder at it.
Therefore, if you have a site you are trying to rank a blog for, chances are you’ll be going up against a media site or some very-well established juggernaut in your vertical.
This is also why you should be spending more of your time finding and developing content around high volume, low competition keywords, and topics.
Bottom line: high DR sites can go after high keyword difficulty topics and will usually rank for them; low DR sites, well, can’t.
So how do we define a high DR site?
High DR sites are measured generally, from the 0 to 100 scale, but can also be measured on the industry level which can also mean a high DR is industry-related.
For example, a site like Forbes is a general site that covers a broad range of topics and has a DR of 93. Forbes may or may not be going after keywords that you are.
In that case, you may not have to compete with general high DR sites like Forbes (you lucky dog).
If you don’t you are probably competing with other industry sites with a higher DR than yours, meaning you still have to be deliberate with your keyword research and topic creation.
Then again, there are industry sites that have huge DR.
For example, if you’re in the real estate space, there’s a good chance you’ll be going up against Realtor.com (DR90) or Zillow (DR91). In many cases, we’re up against industry sites and general sites for the same keywords/topics.
That’s OK though, we can still compete with these sites!
Where to Find High Volume, Low Competition Keywords
Now that we have an understanding of why low competition keywords are so important to so many of us, let’s take a look at three great ways I like to find high volume, low competition keywords.
Note: The definition of high volume keywords can be subjective. During your research you may find that you are targeting topics that have thousans of searches every month while other times you may be targeting those that have hundreds. Either way, keep in mind that the target keyword and topic may generate lots of long-tail traffic, which is why we will dive into using this research to piece together complete topics.
Method 1: Using Google SERPs to Reverse Engineer Results
Sometimes with keyword research, you can have a direct topic in mind to begin your research and other times you just visit competitors sites to find ideas. This first approach has to do with the former.
For example, my financial planning client Castle Wealth Management does a lot of wealth management for clients that are high net worth and thus wanted to create a blog on the topic of trusts.
So, before diving into a specific topic just because they wanted to cover it, as an SEO and content marketing agency, we push our clients to be more intentional about what we cover.
Being in the finance industry, I knew we’d be up against huge juggernauts like Forbes (DR 93), Nerd Wallet (DR 86), and Kiplinger (DR 84).
Taking to the Google SERPs and using the Ahrefs Chrome extension for its data on DR, Referring Domains, and Keywords a URL ranks for, we quickly found that generic posts on trusts such as “What is a trust?” were indeed dominated by the likes of huge brands like Bankrate.
Further, the topic had a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 29, the top post had 40 referring domains (RD), and the top site, a domain rating of 89. Since the goal is to generally get within the top three rankings, we decided to move on from this topic.
After a handful of searches we discovered the long-tail topic “why would you put your house in a trust?” was opportune for the picking. Below we see this exact keyword gets 200 searches per month.
Now, 200 is not really a pot of gold by any means in terms of volume, but you’ll see that sometimes you have to look beyond the primary keyword volume and keep an eye on long-tail traffic.
When researching this topic we found that a site (Darrow Wealth Management) with a similar DR (31 to our client’s 27) was ranking #1.
Further, their post on the topic only had 7 referring domains and was ranking in the top 100 for over 1,600 keywords, many of which were in the top 10. Long-tail goldmine? Perhaps…
Inside Ahrefs, you are able to take a look at all the keywords, their volume, their keyword difficulty, position, and more to get an idea of how your competition stacks up.
As you can see, Darrow Wealth Management ranks within the top 5 for a ton of searches related to “why would you put your house in a trust.”
With this knowledge in the bank, we can now take an even closer look at our primary keyword to see what kind of backlink profile we need to build if we want to rank on Page 1.
According to Ahrefs, the keyword difficulty of 3 means we’ll need links from about 4 websites to rank in the top 10 for this keyword. I’ve found this metric to not always be true as we were able to rank #2 for this search with only one backlink.
Fast forward about three months post blog production, and you’ll see our high volume, low competition strategy worked.
Check out how our client’s site now ranks for related keywords:
While the site is not in Position 1 for the target keyword, we only actively built one backlink to the page and have benefited tremendously from our strategy. The blog ranks for a ton of long-tail searches, over 500, and grew organically over the next eight months:
This is all but one strategy to find keywords and topics to write about. You can also let software do all the work for you.
Oh, and if you’re saying “well there really isn’t any competition for that at all what a joke this strategy is” just check out the high DR sites that are also going for this keyword that our strategy has beat out.
Our strategy put our client in the second spot and beat out sites like SFGate (DR90), CNN (DR92), and Pocket Sense (DR70) all with one referring domain.
Method 2: Using Keyword Software to Target Specific Topics
Another method that is really good for finding high volume, low competition keywords is by using software to help you filter through data. Using the Ahrefs Content explorer, we can utilize some great filters to find low hanging fruit content.
Start with a generic keyword search. For example, “garment bag.”
Now, you’ll see a bunch of pages in the index that mention your target keyword. In this case, there are over 14,000 pages in the index so I want to filter them out.
There are a lot of considerations and filters that can be applied, but part of the fun is playing around with the tool.
First and foremost, however, you’ll want to filter out any pages that are not ranking for anything. I’ll set the organic traffic filter to “From: 500” for starters so we only see pages that rank for over 500 keywords. You can be more aggressive or less aggressive depending on the results.
In this case, the filter leaves me with 173 pages which is pretty good considering where it started.
Because I want sites that have a low, or relatively modest domain rating, I’ll also filter sites that are above a DR30.
I do this because I will know my chances of finding a topic that a low DR site ranks for means my site can probably do the same.
This is not always the case, however. Sometimes high DR sites can be goldmines for low competition, high volume topics. But in this example, we’ll stick to low DR sites that have low competition, high traffic blogs we can steal from.
With our new filter set, we now see there are 10 pages to evaluate based on our “garment bags” topic:
Now, all we have to do is open up the organic traffic tabs on the various sites to see if we can find some keyword opportunities that fit the Holy Grail bill.
Voila! Holy Grail SEO goldmine!
The first blog has a bunch of topics and the metrics tell me it is a good option to cover.
First off, the referring domains to the site are at one, the site has almost 1,200 keywords in the index, the keywords I see showing up are all really low keyword difficulty, and the volume of the keywords collectively and of a few isolated ones are great (ex. “Garment bag carry on” 1,600 volume, KD1; “garment duffel bag” 500 volume, KD1).
I can repeat the same process of investigation on the other sites that showed up in the list and jot down the other keywords I want to hit in my blog.
This approach is great, but the other approach can often find topics even faster. And that is using competitors to find high volume, low competition Holy Grail content.
Method 3: Looking at Competitors to Find HV/LCK Keywords
One of my favorite Holy Grail SEO techniques is to mine competitors sites for keywords and blog topics.
Even sites with high DR can be goldmines for high volume, low competition keywords.
And as we’ve seen in the Castle Wealth Management example, you can beat out sites with high DR with a well-written low competition keyword target.
For example, let’s stick to our finance example. This is an extremely competitive industry with competition in niche sites, industry sites, and general news sites like CNN.
I’ll visit one of the most popular financial advice sites, NerdWallet, to see if I can’t find some high volume topics to cover.
I bring the site into Ahrefs Site Explorer to dissect it. Inside this tool, we can sort topics by the Top pages – pages that the software tells me ranks for a ton of keywords – as well as set a filter for Keyword Difficulty.
In this case, I set the KD filter to 10 (although you could probably go a lot lower to see what you find).
Take a look at the filtered settings to see if there are contextually relevant topics that you think your audience would enjoy.
For example, let’s say I run a general financial advice site, right off the bat I see “how to fill out a money order” and “best time to buy a tv” as some potential targets.
To investigate further, I open the Organic Keyword report for each and look at the Volume and Keyword Difficulty of the results.
The Position is also worth noting as well as this shows that solid rankings here can likely be duplicated with a similar blog.
Looking at these two side by side, we see that the “Best time to buy a TV” topic has a slightly higher keyword difficulty. Most of the keywords sit around 8 while the “How to fill out a money order” sits around 6.
Further, there seems to be a lot more keyword volume for the money order primary keyword – 23,000 versus 11,000.
Ultimately you may decide to cover both topics but if you were to choose one over the other, you’d want to go with the easier of the two.
Digging a little further still, you’ll want to see how many backlinks you may need for each. You’ll need about 7 and 9 links, for the money order and TV blogs, respectively.
Putting Your Keyword Competition Data Together to Create Complete Topics
I’ll be the first to admit that good keyword research is only the beginning. You’ll still need to implement it properly if you want the research to help drive traffic.
Here are some more tips on bringing the grail home.
Keyword Research Still Needs to Be Complemented with Great Writing
Yes, good keyword research does not mean you can get away with writing crappy blogs. This may be an obvious point, but let’s get that out of the way. Here are some resources to help you with that:
Beyond good writing, one tip I have for you is to be exhaustive with a topic. Being exhaustive with a topic is part research and part logic and I find often involves a lot of keyword rich sub-topics.
For example, let’s take a look at our keyword data for the aforementioned “garment bags” research:
From here, we know we have keyword data and volume but that alone doesn’t make the blog come to life.
What we want to do is then use some logic to determine what would make good talking points in our post while also being intentional about the keyword opportunities. So, let’s say you decide on a general post of “15 Best Garment Bags of 2019” as your topic.
You can then use this keyword data to break down some good sub-topics that obviously have some volume behind them.
Note: For the sub-topic portion I don’t always focus on topics with low keyword difficulty. This can be helpful to do but if a sub-topic is appropriate for your post, don’t be afraid to cover it if you find it is a competitive keyword.
Perhaps in this post, I’ll have my writer cover the following as sub-topics:
- Best roll up garment bags
- Best carry on garment bags
- Best garment bags with wheels
- Garment bag carry on rules
- When to get a tri fold garment bag
In this case, my keyword research is dictating my sub-topics, making it a win for the overall topic but also for the implementation of my keyword research.
Also, check out Google SERPs for even more ideas that Google is telling you people are also interested in within the “People also ask” and “Searches related to” sections in the SERPs.
The Quest for Holy Grail SEO Never Ends
The ability to drive traffic to sites that are high volume and low competition is very real. It is a great strategy for startups, new websites, sites with little to no domain rating, and sites that just want to build more traffic.
The research is actually quite simple and with a little practice can be implemented in just a few minutes. While we never rule out link building as a deliverable, it is nice to show gains in traffic without having to spend a bunch of time and resources building links.
Give Holy Grail SEO a try for yourself and I promise, done right, it will work wonders for your content marketing strategy.
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How to structure a local SEO strategy for your business
- Take advantage of Google’s search market domination with two spots on the first page of Google – Local pack and localized organic search results.
- Optimize for high converting local keywords, establish a local content schedule, and more.
- Founder of Digital Ducats Inc. shares a thorough guide on everything you need for a successful local SEO strategy.
For many companies, an effective SEO strategy for local business is the key factor for increasing revenue from high converting traffic. Local SEO can mean the difference in outranking authority websites for vital keywords within your city.
Along with the overall benefits of SEO, optimizing to compete locally improves your search visibility for keyword searches made from your location.
Many aspects of local SEO have remained the same over the last few years however, the weight of local ranking factors has shifted creating new priorities for local businesses.
One aspect that remains the prime focus for every local business is the significance of Google My Business.
1. Gain instant visibility with GMB
Google My Business has been instrumental in driving customers to a local business. Considering the search engine market share that Google holds, you’re literally losing money by not having a GMB listing.
As of June 2020, Google tops the charts for search engine market share boasting 86% of desktop and 95% of total mobile searches.
It should be clear that failing to prioritize your presence in GMB can cost your company thousands of dollars.
One of the many advantages that Google My Busines allows is instant search visibility for a business operating in a locality. Rather than going through the process of ranking your own domain, your website receives instant search visibility from local searches within close proximity.
The Possum update made proximity a primary ranking factor for achieving a top position in the Local Pack. Your company can appear on the first page of results based on the distance between your location and the location of a user.
In 2020, according to the State Of Local SEO Industry Report, proximity has fallen to the third most influential ranking factor behind on-page optimization and reviews. The general consensus among those surveyed is that optimizing your listing is the top priority for ranking in the Local Pack.
2. Optimize your GMB profile
Optimize your GMB listing just as you would your website in terms of providing as much information to search engines as possible. The more detail you can provide in your profile, the more information search engines have to reference your business for keyword related searches.
Fill in every option available to maximize your opportunities to appear in the Local Pack. Name, address, and phone number (NAP details) are extremely important to have spelled correctly.
Obviously, this is important for users to receive the correct information. Search engines will also verify your business details with third party citations.
Explore all category options
One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is failing to include the correct categories. There has been a countless number of clients that have been able to rank in the Local Pack by simply adding the correct category for their business.
Google updates the list of eligible categories your business can fall under. It’s advisable to check periodically for new categories that would enhance the accuracy of your listing.
One way to explore any options you may have missed is to search Google for the local keywords you’re targeting. Check the Local Finder for the categories that your competition is using to rank in the top positions.
It should be noted that on-page optimization is proving to be the strongest ranking factor for ranking in the Local Pack. This can be a source of frustration for those who operate under Google guidelines since Google has allowed keyword stuffing to trump other ranking factors.
If you’re adhering to Google’s guidelines, the name of your business should be the only thing in your GMB listing. What should be happening and what is actually working are two different things that have created somewhat of a loophole and a grey area for SEO.
The fact is that using the keyword in the name of your business will get you results. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re starting a business that operates in a specific city it’s highly effective to incorporate your main keyword in the name of your business. It’s been so effective that it’s led to keyword stuffing-which, in theory, should be penalized-but seems to be left unregulated.
Here is an example of successful keyword manipulation for the phrase “bespoke suits Toronto”. Each of these sites outranks other sites based on the name used in the GMB profile.
It’s hard to say what will prevail in the long run because the evidence points to the fact that this is working to rank sites. After monitoring this listing for over 6 months, it continues to rank and undoubtedly reaps the benefits of local traffic from a prime placement in the local pack.
3. Build your local presence with citations
Structured citations an essential element in local SEO despite the reduced effectiveness they once had as a ranking factor. Their purpose serves two functions; to validate your business information for search engines; to provide additional targeted traffic.
List your business in well-known directories
List your business in the largest and most relevant directories for your city or region to get the most coverage from relevant citations. Some of the most obvious are Bing and Yahoo since they both have local business listings.
Major directories will typically serve as a source of information for much smaller, but relevant websites. Your business information is essentially distributed to dozens of other directories that will help to establish the validity and credibility of your business.
The major directories from each country and region can vary so it’s important to establish which sites will have the most impact with the least effort.
In Canada, posting your business on Yellow Pages results in a wide distribution of sites that are relevant to Canada. Moz provides an excellent visual as an example of the distribution network Yellow Pages provides.
Here’s an example of the U.S. local ecosystem provided by Moz (keep in mind these images are now a few years old). According to this illustration below, there are many major directories that can have a large impact on your search visibility in the U.S.
Search for niche and local directories
Enhance the profile of your citations and improve your sources of traffic by searching for directories that are niche-specific and location-specific.
Getting a few links from directories that are in your niche and location will improve the relevance of your site in both areas. Look for relevant directories by using the following in a search:
[Your niche] + directories
[Your location] + directories
Qualify each directory
Make sure the sites you choose to place your business have a decent amount of traffic and authority. Even if a directory is unique in your city, if it has a high spam score (use Mozbar to filter these sites), or has extremely low domain authority it may do more harm than good.
SEMRush is also a good tool to use for a quick reference on the amount of traffic a website receives. If the organic search traffic is a bust, don’t list your company website on it.
You don’t need a lot of these sites to complete an effective citation profile. Google won’t give a whole lot of credit for acquiring easy links. The goal of this endeavor is to create significant ties to your city and industry and position your company on sites that get relevant traffic.
4. Establish your content strategy
Your website is only as good as the content you publish. Create content to serve as a resource for clients. Educational content produces three times as many leads as paid ads. Keep in mind you will need to publish both educational content as well as local SEO content for more localized search result appearances.
The initial stages of your content strategy should be to create the most important pages with local service areas in mind. Is your business focused on one location only, or will you service multiple areas? This determines whether you will be publishing location pages for multiple cities or have a central location.
Single location businesses
If your business is focused on one location, you can incorporate geo-modifiers in your URLs and titles. Optimize your service/product pages to appear in city-specific searches using your location as part of your keywords.
Businesses with multiple service areas
For multiple service areas, you will need to publish location pages to target the areas you want your business to appear for in city-specific searches. Location pages should have unique content for each city and include the NAP details of each location.
Publish content for each level of the marketing funnel
The most important pages of your site are the bottom of the funnel pages that urge visitors to make a purchase. Focus your initial content strategy on publishing mid-funnel content that targets long-tail keywords.
The sweet spot for identifying target keywords is low competition, high volume keywords. What determines “high volume” can vary depending on the industry. Aim to beat your competition with long-tail keywords that convert at a higher rate.
Publish local content
Your local SEO content strategy can include a variety of options to increase the relevance to your location. Your content can include city-specific events that you’re company is involved in, or events that are related to your industry.
Your local content strategy should include regular posts on Google My Business. Approximately 17% of businesses post to GMB on a weekly basis. Create a competitive advantage by sticking to a bi-weekly posting schedule.
The posts don’t need to be extensive, persuasive essays to get the job done. They can even be excerpts from blog posts to lead users to the actual article on your site. Posting to GMB creates more entry poPosting images can attract a lot of search views and get people to your site as well. Images of products or finished projects will grab the attention of users to help drive more traffic to your site.ints to your website and promotes more user engagement through your business’s knowledge card.
GMB has a category to post special offers, updates, and important information about your company. Capitalize on the areas that other companies are not doing well by including GMB posts in your local content strategy.
Posting images can attract a lot of search views and get people to your site as well. Images of products or finished projects will grab the attention of users to help drive more traffic to your site.
5. Local link building
The majority of local businesses have a backlink profile that is primarily made up of directory links and profile links. An effective link building strategy for a local business is one that appears natural and above all, demonstrates evidence of relevance to your industry and city.
Build domain authority with linkable assets
The blog of every local business can be used to build authority in your industry. Publish linkable assets and insightful resources for both clients and amplifiers.
Amplifiers, as explained by Rand Fishkin, have a significant impact on the backlinks you acquire since they are the people most likely to link to your site. Creating content for amplifiers gives your site more reasons to acquire links and increase the domain authority of your site.
Linkable, shareable content makes link building much easier. You can publish guest posts, submit press releases, and reach out to authority sites in your niche to link to the inner pages of your website to increase domain authority.
Increase local ranking power with local links
Local links are considered the most powerful when it comes to localized search results as well as appearing in the Local Pack. Local links are also considered unstructured citations. Local links can come from local businesses, local newspapers, local chambers of commerce, and local event sites.
Form a local business alliance
Finding businesses within your industry is ideal for creating a local alliance and boosting your ranking ability. For example, if you’re a hot tub retailer some of your best links would come from local businesses that sell swimming pools.
As long as you don’t compete for the same products, a local business in your industry or a close vertical is the most ideal source of links.
Resource link building targeting vendors and client sites
You can improve the likelihood of obtaining local links by using your own network of resources. Companies you already do business with make for ideal link prospects.
For example, a restaurant can ask the baker who supplies their bread rolls to link from their site.
A plumber can ask his equipment suppliers and vice versa.
Ideally, you want to target business owners with whom you already have an existing relationship.
6. Review management
The reviews your business receives have the power to influence a user’s decision on whether or not to choose your company. Review management remains a top priority for local businesses to improve search visibility and maintain a good reputation.
A review strategy should include a way to get more Google reviews as well as reviews on review sites that get search visibility for related keywords. If customers are reviewing your business on sites that are niche-specific it will impact search visibility as well as promote positive ranking signals.
Identify the most important review sites in your industry
There is a major review site for every industry. It’s important to identify what review sites get a lot of traffic and reviews to position your site to receive quality prospective clients.
For example, people use Yelp or Trip Advisor to find a good restaurant in a city they’re no familiar with. People read the reviews and experiences of previous customers before making a final decision.
If you’re in the home goods business Homestars would be important sites to ask a few clients to write you a review. Here’s a 10/10 review left for Canadian Home Leisure, a hot tub retailer in Whitby, ON.
Look at the domain metrics for a site like Homestars. Not only can you get a quality backlink, but there is a ton of traffic that goes through their site.
If you’re not sure which review sites play an impact on search visibility, search for:
best + [your keyword] + [your city]
The intent of most searches that use best at the start indicates that users are looking for options, which trigger the major reviews and directory sites in your niche. Here’s a search for best suits in Toronto:
Each of these sites could be an additional way for customers to find you. Yelp looks like it’s the only review site that you can manage for free.
In fact, Yelp ranks #3 and #4. If you’re in the business of selling suits in Toronto, Yelp is definitely a site to put effort into building a detailed profile and customer reviews.
In many cases, keywords that you’re targeting will display a few directory and review sites in the search result. These are indications that those sites are not only relevant to enhance your optimization, but they will drive traffic to your site as well.
Establish your review acquisition strategy
This doesn’t need to be a major operation but you should have a plan in place that consistently gets you reviews. Avoid mass emails or anything that would look spammy such as a review station at your location. Too many reviews from the same IP could cause red flags and result in your reviews being ignored and discounted.
You can influence five-star reviews on the major review sites for your business by asking customers that you’re sure has had a good experience with your company. You can do this in a few ways:
- Train employees to ask for a review after the completion of a sale.
- Email satisfied customers thanking them for their business with links to a few different review sites.
- Hand out instructions on how to review your business along with a receipt.
Respond to as many reviews as possible
Make it a point to respond to both negative and positive reviews. Approach each response as a form of advertising for your company and a chance to showcase your customer service.
Customers will appreciate a thank you when they’ve taken the time to give you a good review.
Negative reviews demand immediate responses in order to neutralize the damage that is being done to your reputation. Show every reader how you deal with a disgruntled customer by offering to fix the problem.
People will understand when mistakes are made and offering a free service, free product or free meal can be the best form of advertising for your company.
A local SEO strategy is worth the investment
Small businesses can’t afford to miss out on the opportunities that a local SEO strategy has to offer. Following these guidelines and best practices, you can outrank authority sites (who aren’t local) and capitalize on high converting traffic.
As competition intensifies so does the need to specialize in your area of expertise. Use your location to leverage more opportunities and promote long-term growth in your industry.
Christian Carere is an SEO consultant in Toronto and the founder of Digital Ducats Inc. specializing in traffic and lead generation. He can be found on Twitter @digitalducats.
What are Backlinks? And How to Build Them in 2020
Backlinks are created when one website links to another website. Google (and other search engines) consider backlinks to be “votes” for a page. In fact, Google’s original PageRank algorithm used backlinks as a signal of content quality. Many studies have found a correlation between backlinks and organic search engine rankings.
In this guide, I’m going to show you data that proves the importance of backlinks, and then I’ll show you how to build backlinks (the right way).
Here’s everything you’ll learn:
- PROOF That Backlinks Matter for SEO
- When to Build Backlinks
- What Do Quality Backlinks Look Like?
- 4 Proven Link Building Methods (For Getting Powerful Backlinks)
Why Are Backlinks Important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
There have been many search engine studies conducted on the importance of backlinks. But, these studies support what’s already available to the public. If you want your head to explode, read about Google’s PageRank algorithm.
Here’s an explanation of PageRank in Layman’s terms:
Backlinks can improve or decrease your SEO performance on Google. Backlinks can improve your SEO performance if they come from high-quality sources. And vice versa.
If you’d like to geek out about PageRank and Google’s various algorithms, then Bill Slawski is your man.
It’s easy to conclude that backlinks are essential based on PageRank alone.
But, as of September 24, 2019, PageRank and all associated patents have expired. 
What’s Google scheming up? Don’t know and don’t care.
All that matters in the world of SEO is what works and what doesn’t work in search engines.
So how do you figure that out? You have to test and analyze Google’s search engine results daily.
The good news is that many studies have done that already.
Check it out:
PROOF That Backlinks Matter for SEO
Most SEO companies know that backlinks are critical based on their experience. But it helps to have additional data to support our experience.
That’s the purpose of the following section. I’ve gathered data from several in-depth SEO studies so you can reference whenever you need to.
Let’s dive in:
1. Powerful Sites = Better SEO Performance
Look through any Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and you’ll see one thing in common:
Search engines like Google love authority sites.
“Authority” in this case is defined as having a number of backlinks from trustworthy sites. And there is overwhelming data to support this idea.
Backlinko studied 11.8 million Google search engine results and found that:
“A site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher search engine rankings.” – Backlinko 
SEMRush conducted a 2.0 version of their ranking factors study and found that:
“The more backlinks a domain has, the higher is its position on the SERP.” – SEMRush 
To solidify this point even further, Rankings.io conducted a ranking factor study in the personal injury sector and found similar results. They said:
“While the number of referring domains per page appears not to influence rankings, the overall number of referring domains for the domain was a top indicator of overall domain traffic.” – Rankings.io 
Let’s start by saying that “Domain Rating” is not a metric that search engines use.
It’s a third party metric created by Ahrefs.
It’s not complete, but it’s a useful gauge for anyone doing SEO.
In short, your goal should be to increase your DR (Domain Rating).
Moz also has its metric for measuring the strength of one website.
It’s called DA (Domain Authority).
You can also look at the Majestic SEO Trust Flow metric as a way of gauging site strength.
Your goal should be to grow these metrics. The stronger your website is, the better it will rank in search engines.
You get the point by now. The data supports the idea that you need to work super hard to get more backlinks to your site. That is how you grow your website authority.
But you must also acquire website links to the actual pages you want to rank on search engines like Google.
Here’s the data to support that:
2. Powerful Pages = Better SEO Performance
It’s possible for a page to rank without a number of backlinks hitting it directly. That’s what happens when your site has established authority.
For example, when Forbes publishes a new article, they often rank on the first page (without any direct links).
That said, Forbes is the exception. Most sites will need direct backlinks to SEO-driven pages.
Here are data Ahrefs to support this idea:
“The more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it gets from Google.” – Ahrefs 
“Only one in every ~20 pages without backlinks has traffic… and the majority of these get 300 organic visits or less each month.” – Ahrefs 
This data point is easy to take out of context. Why?
Because it didn’t specify the quality of links. There are many pages online that have a large number of backlinks, but they have terrible search engine performance.
That’s because their backlinks are garbage.
The key isn’t to get backlinks.
The goal is to get backlinks from QUALITY sites.
Reread that ten times.
There is no nuance more critical.
Have no standards, and you will pay the price.
3. Better SEO Performance = More Backlinks
The rich get richer in SEO. Meaning, the better your SEO performance, the more backlinks you’ll acquire. I call this “The Snowball Effect.”
Backlinko’s study proved this be true:
“The #1 result in Google search has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.” – Backlinko 
Ahrefs found similar results:
“Top-ranking pages do tend to acquire more backlinks (and at a faster pace) than the pages that rank below them.” – Ahrefs 
And SEMrush’s study agreed as well:
“The higher the domain’s position on the SERP, the more referring domains it has.” – SEMRush 
In short, once you achieve high rankings, you’ll start to get organic links. As a result, your page strengthens and will often solidify your positions.
Keep in mind that the exception to this rule is with competitive keywords.
Here’s the truth:
Having more inbound links isn’t enough to maintain rankings for competitive SERPs.
You also have to keep your page updated and fresh.
For example, a powerful page with stale content likely won’t maintain rankings.
In short, don’t get complacent once you start ranking.
You have to battle to keep those rankings. That means consistent link growth and fresh content.
4. Your Website Needs Vote (Backlink) Diversity
“The number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings.” – Backlinko 
You should aim to get backlinks from many different trustworthy sites in your industry. If we equate backlinks to votes, this makes perfect sense.
Many votes (backlinks) from different sources are more valuable than many votes from one source.
It’s hard to measure, but there are likely diminishing returns from getting backlinks from the same website.
Now would it hurt to get several backlinks from The Washington Post? No way.
Let’s say you had the choice between two links from The Washington Post or one link from fifteen different DR 20 blogs in your industry.
What would you pick?
Here’s a comparison:
The Washington Post has 730,000 referring domains.
And this example, DR 24 blog, Retailbound.com has 80 referring domains.
So let’s assume that most sites around 20 DR have ~100 referring domains. That means that 15 DR 20 sites equate to 1,500 referring domains total.
730,000 vs 1,500.
Let’s assume there is a 50% reduction of strength for the second link from The Washington Post. That’s still the strength of 365,000 domains.
Keep reducing it further, and it will continue to crush 15 backlinks from DR 20 sites.
I barely passed Algebra II, but the math is clear here:
Getting several links from one authoritative website is better than getting a bunch of weak links.
That said, it’s not always that simple, and that’s by design!
Getting backlinks from The Washington Post is difficult, so you don’t need to worry about getting too many.
5. Most Pages Don’t Get (Deserve) Backlinks
“66.31% of pages don’t have even a single backlink.” – Ahrefs 
“94% of all blog posts have zero external links.” – Backlinko 
Most pages aren’t worth linking to, so this makes perfect sense. Also, most sites aren’t engaging in link building campaigns.
The whole “build it, and they will come” mentality doesn’t work well with SEO.
You need to build and then spend 80% of your time link building. It gets easier over time.
That said, every SEO campaign requires a massive link building campaign in the beginning.
The key is to create things that are worth promoting. Now before you dive into link building, you need to first understand what quality backlinks look like.
What is a Quality Backlink? Here are 7 Indicators to Look for:
I’ve mentioned “quality” backlinks throughout this article, but what does that mean?
Here are seven indicators you should use to prioritize your link prospects:
You should spend most of your link building time trying to get links on sites in your industry. I recommend using a model I created called The Relevancy Pyramid.
The Relevancy Pyramid can help you prioritize your link prospects based on relevance.
The model is simple:
There are fewer link building opportunities that are 100% relevant to your website. You should focus on these first.
Then, once you’ve tapped those out, move down the pyramid where there will be more prospects with less relevance.
Now there are two exceptions to this prioritization strategy.
First, it’s ALWAYS okay to get links from super authority sites like the New York Times, Washington Post, or .edu/.gov sites.
Second, The Relevancy Model changes if you’re working in local SERPs.
I recommend focusing on geo-targeted opportunities first. Then move onto topically relevant prospects on the national level.
This will create the most natural and relevant link profile.
Now, of course, it’s not all about relevance. If that were the case, you could create hundreds of relevant websites yourself and link to your site.
That doesn’t work because it would be missing all the other factors that make a backlink powerful.
Bringing me to standard #2:
You need to get links to your site from websites that are relevant and have organic traffic.
Think about it:
If Google is sending organic search traffic to a site, what does that say?
It means that it’s likely a trustworthy website. In general, sites that are popular in organic search are valuable link building opportunities.
You can use SEMRush to see if a website is getting organic search traffic (and to see the “value” of that traffic):
If a website is getting organic traffic, it likely has authority. You can use Ahrefs’ DR to prioritize link building prospects based on their site authority.
The stronger a website is, the harder it will be to get the link.
That makes those links even more valuable, so it’s worth the effort.
4. Link Quality
It is possible to manipulate third party metrics like Ahrefs’ DR or Moz’s DA.
So that’s why you need to analyze the backlink profile of all your opportunities manually.
I like to run the website through Ahrefs and filter their links by “DoFollow.”
I then sort them so that the strongest links with the highest DR are at the top.
In short, you want to see that the site is getting links from high-quality sources.
Use the same criteria from above.
5. Editorial Standards
Why are diamonds valuable?
Because they’re difficult to get. That’s how you need to approach your link building. The harder it is to land a backlink, the more valuable it is.
The opposite is true, as well:
The easier a backlink is to get, the less valuable it is.
Focus on getting links on websites that have high editorial standards.
6. Outbound Link Quality
Websites with strong editorial guidelines will likely only link out to quality resources. You want your link to “live” around other trustworthy outbound links.
Examine every prospective website and ask:
- How are they linking out?
- Are the outbound links relevant?
- Are the outbound links going to respected, trusted sites?
- Do the outbound links look natural, or do they look like paid links?
Nothing is more important than making sure you get links on indexed websites. If the site isn’t indexed in Google, then your links will be worthless.
Go to Google and search “site:example.com”.
If they don’t show up, avoid the website.
8. Bonus: Anchor Text Matters
Anchor text is the words you’ll see in a clickable hyperlink. Most people who are new to SEO don’t realize how impactful anchor text is. That applies to both how you use on your website (through internal links) and how you use it off of your website (backlinks).
In the case of internal links, you should use keyword-rich anchor text. Notice how I used “anchor text” as my anchor to link to my guide about “anchor text”. This is known as exact match anchor text. It’s safe to use with internal links.
However, you need to be super careful when it comes to backlinks. Read the guide above to learn more, but in short: exact match anchor text is a big footprint that you’re building links (which is against Google’s guidelines).
The catch 22 is that keyword-rich anchors work well. That means you need to be careful with how you use your anchor text when you’re link building.
Read this anchor text guide to learn how to use it the right way.
4 Proven Link Building Methods (For Getting Powerful Backlinks)
There are many ways to build backlinks, but not everything is worth pursuing.
Here are 4 link building techniques worth using:
1. Steal Your Competitors Backlinks
The first place you should do your backlink research is from your competitor’s backlink profile. The good news is SEO tools like Ahrefs makes this super easy. Watch this video:
2. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is when you write content for another website in your industry. From a link building perspective, it’s an opportunity to get links on relevant websites.
But guest posts have other benefits such as getting more referral traffic and growing your brand.
The key is to focus on guest posts using the criteria above.
Check out Backlinko’s guide to land more guest posts.
3. Link Reclamation
Link reclamation is the process of reclaiming backlinks that you should likely have in the first place. Some examples include reaching out to websites that used your images, logo, or any assets without linking.
Siege Media has an impressive guide you can follow.
4. Create Link Bait
Link bait is the process of creating a content marketing asset that websites are likely to link to. Some of the best forms of link bait are data-driven content, free tools, and even paid tools. For example, examine the link profiles of SEO tools.
They’ve attracted enormous amounts of links like SEMRush:
I recommend diving into WebFX’s guide to learn this method.
Need a full-scale link building strategy? Watch this video:
TLDR: Backlinks Matter for SEO
Shocking development, I know. Here are the two big takeaways:
- You need to acquire quality backlinks to your website as a whole so you can grow its authority.
- You need to acquire quality links to specific SEO-driven pages you’re trying to rank.
Now go out there and start acquiring more links. If this guide was helpful, please share it. Thanks for reading.
1. “Method for node ranking in a linked database“. Google Patents. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
2, 7, 10. “We Analyzed 11.8 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO“. Backlinko. 28 April 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
3, 9. “Ranking Factors SEMrush Study 2.0“. SEMRush. 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
4. “SEO Data Science: A Study of 112K Personal Injury Law Firms“. Rankings.io. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
5, 6, 11. “90.63% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google. And How to Be in the Other 9.37% [New Research for 2020]“. Ahrefs. 31 March 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
8. “How Many New Backlinks Do Top-ranking Pages Get Over Time [New Data by Ahrefs]“. Ahrefs. 3 April 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
12. “We Analyzed 912 Million Blog Posts. Here’s What We Learned About Content Marketing“. Backlinko. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
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