In January 2020, I launched an online course on techniques to increase your website’s traffic through easy and cost-effective means. The course received an overwhelmingly positive response with more than 10,000 enrollments in just 2 months!
One of the techniques taught in the course was creating backlinks to enhance your authority in the eyes of Google bots. A common question I received from many of the students was if its possible to improve your search engine rankings without using backlinks. It seems like backlinks are seen as a tiresome act because, even though they are easy to set up in the way illustrated in my course, they take some time for the results to materialize.
So this piece is dedicated to answering that question. By the way, if you haven’t yet enrolled into my course, you can access it here on the link given below. It’s true value is $149.99, but with Udemy’s ongoing promotion, you can get it for as cheap as only $11.99 for the next 3 days.
Now the question is, can you rank on Google without backlinks? The answer is yes! But it comes with quite a few caveats.
To learn how the system works, we need to study some pages without backlinks that are getting a ton of search traffic, and extract some actionable insights that you can apply to your SEO.
There’s no denying that backlinks help you rank higher in Google. Google says it on their “How Search Works” page. My research study confirms a clear positive correlation. And if you ask any experienced SEO expert, they’ll agree too. But do you actually need them to get a meaningful amount of search traffic from queries that have some sort of commercial value?
Instead of continuing with my mysterious comments, we’re going to let the data do the talking. In order to source my data, I used Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, which is a searchable database of over a billion pages that are filterable by multiple SEO metrics. To start, I ran a blank search to filter through all pages in the Content Explorer database. Then I set a few filters. First, I set the maximum number of referring domains to 0. Referring domains are unique websites that link to the page. Next, I set a filter to only show live pages. Finally, I set a traffic filter to only show pages that get at least 1,000 monthly search visits, since I think most people will agree that it’s a decent amount for a single page. And I actually set the trends filter to show the past three years of data in the spark line graphs, so we can get a better visualization of the pages’ traffic trends.
Alright, so at this point, Content Explorer showed that there are around 243,000 live pages that get at least 1,000 monthly search visits with zero backlinks pointing at them. There were way too many results here, so I grouped these into 3 tiers based on Domain Rating. Domain Rating is an Ahrefs’ metric that represents the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile. The closer the number is to 100, the more so-called ‘authority’ the domain has. Now, the three tiers that I set were DR 0 – 30, DR 31-60, and DR 61 plus.
So tier 1 were DR 0-30 websites, which I classified as ‘low authority’. The majority of these pages were not in English. Given that the majority of websites have English content, this seemed a bit odd. But the reason this happened was that non-English queries are generally less competitive, so they’re easier to rank for without links. For example, Arabic only makes up around 0.8% of content on the Internet, meaning less competitors and an easier-ranking environment. Hence, our first takeaway is that in general, content in languages other than English are going to be easier to rank and get organic traffic, even if you don’t have any or many backlinks.
Now, since I’m not fluent in Arabic, I set the language filter to English for the rest of the tutorial. The results revealed the following four facts.
One: If you’re targeting a country with English as its official language like the US, Canada, UK, or Australia, you’ll find that a lot of pages in this tier are getting the majority of traffic from other countries.
Two: You’ll see a wide array of content that’s not safe for work.
Three: A lot of these pages are ranking for topics that aren’t exactly legal.
Four: You’ll be hard pressed to find pages with good commercial value. But there are also some rare pages that may have commercial value depending on your business. For example, a page I found ranked for queries related to a legal topic. It had over 2,300 monthly search visits and the website looked like it’s run by a law firm, which made a lot of sense.
Let’s move on to mid-tier websites that have a DR value of 31 – 60. Within this group of pages, you’ll see more or less the same downsides as the previous tier, but to a lesser extent. The main differentiating factor is that you’ll start seeing pages that are ranking for low-competition topics that have some commercial value. For example, I found some pages ranking for the query “best bluetooth headphones for under $50”, which has a Keyword Difficulty score of just 8. These pages ranked for something in the higher education space, which has a lot of commercial value. Another page was found capitalizing on queries that are valuable to lawyers on the topic of divorce. And I also found the occasional high-traffic opportunities like a page that gets over 12,000 monthly search visits with zero links.
So here are a few key takeaways for the DR 31-60 range. Pages with zero links on mid-DR sites seem to rank more easily for low-competition topics with commercial value. They’re also capitalizing on long-tail queries that have decently high search demand. And we went through the example of “best bluetooth headphones for under $50.” Now, the most interesting example to me is the page ranking for divorce-related queries. If you caught it, the majority of the traffic to that page comes from the UK. And it’s likely because of relevance and location of the company. It’s important to remember there are tons of other countries outside of the US where it’s easier to compete. So, while the traffic share might be lower in non-US countries, most topics will still have more than enough search demand and commercial value to bank.
In my opinion, if you don’t have the resources of Fortune 500’s or the expertise of top agencies, it might be worth researching other countries where entering a competitive market will be easier.
Now let’s go through the last tier, and those are sites with a Domain Rating of 61 or higher. The types of pages in this tier are pretty much the same as the DR 31 to 60 sites, but the higher DR sites are ranking for more competitive queries without links. For example, a page I found was ranking high for “cheap cigars,” which has a keyword difficulty score of 45. And then you’ll see sites like Credit Karma, ranking for even more competitive keywords related to credit card debt without a single backlink.
The bottom-line is, when you have a topically authoritative site, you have the potential to rank for some pretty competitive keywords even if you don’t have a ton of links. But even a super focused and authoritative site like Credit Karma is only ranking at the bottom of page 1 for their top query. If you look at the top 10 results for this keyword, all of the pages ranking higher are also authoritative, topically relevant, but the key difference here is that they all have links. So while targeting low-competition topics is a great way to start a site and gain traction, the reality is, you’ll run out of worthwhile topics to target fast. And if other sites start targeting those same topics, eventually, they won’t be so low-competition and you’ll need links to keep up.
Most importantly, if you want to build a sustainable and growing business, you’ll definitely want to go after more competitive topics because competition usually equates to commercial value. So what’s it going to be? Are you only going to go after low-competition topics to earn a tiny piece of the pie? Or are you building links to go for the whole darn thing?
If you are interested to gain long-term benefits for your website by establishing effective backlinks in an easy manner, don’t forget to check out my course on firing up your website’s traffic by clicking on the link below.
In this course, I will walk you through the process of creating backlinks by illustrating each step through screenshots and detailed voiceover explanations.