When you start a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’ll probably be eager to see results as quickly as possible. You might be pushing the growth of your startup, or making up for lost time in the digital marketing front.
You know that links are your best tool for building domain and page authority, which in turn will make your site more likely to rank for relevant searches, and you also know that SEO takes a long time to develop. But if you’re going to invest all this time and effort, you want to know exactly how many links it will take before you start to make progress.
So how many links does it take to move your site up the ladder?
Key Link Variables to Consider
First, you need to understand that not all links hold the same value. Links work for SEO because they serve as third-party markers of trustworthiness; the link pointing to your site will fluctuate in value based on its nature, location, and relevance.
These are some key variables to consider when evaluating the “value” of a link:
Source strength. The biggest factor here is the domain authority (and, to a lesser extent, page authority) of your link’s source. Trustworthy sources that link to your site will make your site seem more trustworthy than sources that are new or low quality. You can use tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to check the domain authority of your sources. Generally, the higher the number, the more powerful effect you’ll see from the link. Aim for links that come from sources with a DA higher than your website’s current DA.
Domain diversity. The value of links from a given domain has dimishing returns with each link after the first. That is to say, in general, from a purely SEO perspective, it’s better to have a single link from each of three different domains than it is to have three links from one domain—even if that source has a high DA. Therefore, the diversity of sources that currently link to you will also play a role in how many total links you need to see a benefit.
Target page. Links pointing to your site will pass authority to your domain as a whole, but they’ll also pass authority to the individual page they specify. If you use the majority of your links to target one specific page, such as a high-quality content post, that page will rise in rank faster than it would if you used a variety of internal pages to link to. In general, it’s better to go for the diversity; otherwise, you might trigger a red flag for spam, but if you’re looking for fast results for a specific page, this may be a good strategy.
Keyword associations. The anchor text of your inbound links doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to, but there’s still something to be said for keyword associations between your off-site content, your off-site publishers, your anchor text, and the nature of the work you’re linking to. These variables can significantly influence how a link portrays your internal pages’ relevance.
Delay. You should also be aware that building a link to your site won’t immediately boost its authority; Google needs time to crawl and evaluate those links, so it might be weeks or longer before you see the effects.
Other Variables to Consider
On top of the variability of “link power,” you’ll also need to consider these other variables:
On-site factors. Links are powerful, but they won’t be the only factor affecting your domain and page authority. On-site factors, including the structure of your website, the depth and quality of your content, and other page-level factors, will also affect how your campaign develops. This could significantly hasten or slow the process depending on how much time you spend on it.
Existing authority and positions. If you’re just starting an SEO campaign, you’ll probably be able to see quick results; your DA will be low, and just about any new inbound link will help you improve that position. If you’re already ranking highly, with a respectable DA, it’s going to take more links to move you further up the ladder; you’re up against much stiffer competition when you’re ranking on the first page of Google search results.
Additional links. When you build a link, you’ll be introducing a new population segment to your on-site content. That, in turn, can fuel the development of even more inbound links. A single reference point can lead to an explosion of new reference points, amplifying the power that a link can have under the right conditions.
Competition. You’ll also need to consider how much competition you’re facing, and the keywords you’re trying to target. If you’re going after a number one position for a high-traffic keyword, it could take hundreds or thousands of links to get you there, on top of perfect on-page optimization and other factors. On the other hand, a low-traffic long-tail keyword could be easy to snatch up.
Overall, it’s nearly impossible to calculate the “number” of links required to see results, because links aren’t the only variable in the ranking algorithm. Instead, your results are going to be dependent on the amount of effort you put in (including the quality, diversity, and targets of your links) and the amount of time you put in (allowing your authority to develop naturally).
The more time and effort you put in, the faster you’ll see results—but “fast” in the SEO world is often at least several weeks. Try not to focus too much on link quantity. Instead, focus on acquiring the best links you can for your domain, on a consistent basis. The results will manifest over time with continued effort.