As you may know by now, we are huge fans of creating content that will help bring in organic traffic to all of our sites.
One of the most frequent questions we get from new content creators is, will my posts rank without backlinks or how many links do I need before my content will rank?
While the answer to this question is somewhat complex and can be nuanced, generally speaking, your content will rank without the need for you to gather backlinks either to the page where the content is posted or toward your site as a whole.
For each search result, it's important to keep in mind that Google is ranking web pages (the individual post you're trying to rank) and not sites as a whole.
While having links built to your specific blog posts or your site as a whole CAN help you rank (and certainly help your content rank a little bit faster), it's not the main focus of what Google uses to rank search results.
There are currently over 200 individual factors that Google calculates every time somebody hits the search button to find a Google result.
All of these factors are individual signs to Google (or other search engines) of the quality of the content on your page and how well the search engine is doing its job of presenting the searcher with the correct answer to their search.
Because of this, we suggest investing as much time and effort as possible in creating the best quality resource and therefore giving yourself the best chance to rank (more on this below).
That being said, there are a few situations where having some backlinks may help, which we will cover below.
- When Backlinks Might Help
- What Makes a Post Rank?
- That’s a Wrap
When Backlinks Might Help
As mentioned above, good quality backlinks will never hurt your chances of ranking in the top results, but if you're struggling with getting a specific piece of content to rank there's a quick process that you can go through to determine if you have good quality backlinks may help that content rank.
Quick Competitive Analysis
If you've been struggling to get a specific piece of content to rank in the top Google search results and you think the reason may be that your competitors have more backlinks, you can run a quick competitive analysis.
This process, which should be done before you create the content, starts with understanding search intent.
Search intent is a simple way of saying “is Google returning results that correctly and directly answer the question the searcher is asking.”
If all of the results are directly related to the search intent, you may need a few additional links to rank.
If however the results are not all directly related to the search query, chances are your content may not be up to snuff.
So how do we know the difference?
We start by running the exact Google search we are trying to rank for.
If we use the example of “can dogs have blue eyes?”, it should be simple to understand
Understanding The Search Intent:
Let's start by running a search for “can dogs have blue eyes”.
Now, let's take just a second to think about what we would expect to see if we were to have this question.
While your answer may vary slightly from mine, I'm willing to bet you would expect to see answers to this question.
Something like a blog post, Youtube video, or magazine article that has the title “can dogs have blue eyes?”.
If we don't see many direct answers to this question on the first page, chances are that if we created a direct response to this question, we would not need additional links to rank for that.
Keep in mind, Google is always trying to put the results in front of the searcher that has the highest likelihood of answering the question.
While they may backfill some of the search results with articles like “10 dogs that have blue eyes”, Google isn’t sure that that article will correctly answer your question and as a result will favor content that does.
After running the search, we can see Google doesn't seem to have a good and direct answer to this question and is populating these search results with web pages that would be more appropriate for a search like “dogs with blue eyes” or “what breed of dogs have blue eyes”.
In this case, if we wrote a blog post that directly answered this question, we would have a good chance to rank on the first page without much or any need for backlinks.
If however, we run the search for “dog breeds with blue eyes “, it's logical to assume that the searcher would want to see a list of breeds that could have blue eyes.
As expected, that's exactly what we see when we arrive on this search results page.
It's important to keep in mind that even if all of the existing results correctly matched the searcher's intent, we still need to take a few more steps to understand if that specific piece of content may need links to rank.
How Strong Are The Ranking Competitors
If you've completed the search intent analysis step and believe that your post may need a few links to rank, the next step is to take a look at your favorite SEO tool to help you analyze the search results.
I like to use UberSuggest for this personally.
After running our search for dog breeds with blue eyes through the UberSuggest tool, we’re able to take a look at how strong the ranking competitors are for the specific search.
What we’re looking for here are two different things.
The very first thing them going to do is take a look at the search results to see if there are any articles that don't directly address the search intent if there are any forum posts or any links to a social media page (like Pinterest) that would not be an ideal experience for somebody searching for this keyword.
If I find any of these three things in the search results, chances are that I would not necessarily need any additional links to rank a post for that keyword.
On the other hand, if all of the existing results are strong, I need to take a look at two different columns inside of the UberSuggest results.
The first column going to take a look at the inside of UberSuggest is the domain authority column.
This column gives us an estimate on a scale of 0 to 100 as to how much trust Google places in the website that's ranking as a whole.
While I mentioned above that Google ranks individual web pages and websites, if everything else is equal you will generally see higher domain authority websites ranking higher in Google search results.
If I see all websites that have a much higher domain authority than my own, chances are I will need some links to this individual page to rank.
On the other hand, if my domain authority is higher than some of the existing search results, I have a good chance to rank without needing to gain any additional links.
# of Links
After I look at the domain authority column, I will often take a look at the number of links, to understand the overall number of links I may need to make that specific piece of content, if I need it all.
Ideally, we will be able to find a few different search results that have few if any links driving to that specific piece of content.
If not, we will have an idea of how many links that specific piece of content may need to have a chance to rank.
One important note is that we should never be pursuing a volume of links, quality is always favored over quantity when it comes to backlinks.
Chances are even if most of our competitors have 10, 20, or more links pointing to them, if we can secure a handful of high-quality links, that we will be able to overcome this small hurdle.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how to know IF your content may need a few links to rank, it’s time to talk about where you should be focusing your time and effort when it relates to creating posts that have the best chance to rank.
What Makes a Post Rank?
As we talked about above, Google and other search engines use over 200 different factors to understand which posts have a second rank for each service that's run on their platforms.
Now that you know, you most likely won't need links for your company rank, you may be wondering what makes a post rank for each search.
As we discussed briefly above, the number one thing you should be focusing on when you're creating content is understanding the search intent of keywords you are trying to rank for.
Essentially, if you can create a piece of content that most directly answers the question being asked by the searcher, you have a great chance to rank.
This is one of the reasons we often suggest that people use the Question/Answer post format when they start creating content because it forces them to create content that directly answers searchers’ intent.
If you'd like to learn more about that format, you can check out a full post on that here.
Once you’ve made sure your content is truly in line with what people would expect to see for the specific keyword, it’s important to take a look at the content quality.
Once you are positive that your content meets the search intent requirement, it's time to take a look at a few different factors related to content quality.
Depth of Content:
Contrary to popular opinion writing a longer article does not necessarily mean that you have a better chance to rank.
This is due to the confusion of two different terms, depth and length.
The length would relate to the overall number of words a post has whereas depth will refer to how well the topic is addressed.
You can write the world's longest blog post on any given topic, but if you only ever give surface-level information, chances are you will not rank for that piece of content.
This is another reason that we love using the answer post format that we linked to above because it forces you to dive deep into an individual topic.
Even if you don't want to use that specific format (or doesn't apply to your specific post), one easy trick to make sure you're covering the topic in-depth is to use the conversation method.
The Conversation Method:
The way the conversation method works is to pretend you are in the conversation with the person writing the post.
Generally speaking, conversations don't end after answering a single question.
Returning to the example above, if we were to ask a veterinarian “can dogs have blue eyes” and they simply responded “sometimes”, we would likely have some follow-up questions.
Wondering things like:
- When Will They?
- Do They Go Away?
- Is It Ok For Their Health?
Would all potentially be things that you would bring up after the initial question is answered.
The goal of creating a piece of content should be to answer as many of these logical follow-up questions as possible to complete the conversation.
Chances are if you're struggling with writing content that ranks, that you're answering the initial question the searcher has but none of the other things they may be wondering about the same topic.
Giving our site visitors only a surface-level understanding of the full answer to their question results in them pressing the back button to search for further information.
This is seen as a negative sign by Google and will often result in our content ranking lower than it otherwise could.
Ease Of Understanding
Another important factor to understand is how easy your content is to read or consume.
Even when covering complex or technical topics (a bit like this post) it's important to understand that your content should be readable and understandable by everyone.
Trying to use your vocabulary just because you can, is generally not a great strategy when working on content.
Rather than trying to please our high school English teachers by writing with a large vocabulary and big paragraph structure, focus on using smaller words and shorter sentences to make your point.
Tools like Yoast or RankMath can help you get an understanding of how easy your content is to read or understand through a variety of different scores that they give to your content.
You can also use something as simple as an online ease of reading tool and simply copy and paste content in to see how easy it is to read.
Ideally, you should be shooting for something that a sixth or seventh grader could easily read and understand.
While this is not always possible, especially with more technical content, it's a good rule of thumb.
Another important factor to consider when you're creating content is the overall user experience.
Google takes a look at a variety of different factors when they are considering user experience, but there are two obvious and controllable things that you should take a look at if you're struggling to rank your content.
Page Load Time
While there is no specific answer on exactly how fast your page should load, if your content is taking longer than about two or three seconds to load, chances are you may have a site speed problem.
As we talked about several times throughout this article, the job of Google is to deliver the best results possible.
Long waits to be able to read or see your content can result in people bouncing back to the Google search results, to find something that will load faster.
Google takes this as a sign that your content didn't correctly answer the result and may adjust your ranking accordingly.
If you’re not sure what your speed is like, try running a page speed test using google’s tool here.
Ads and Other Intrusions
Another important thing to consider is things that may intrude or interrupt the user experience.
Pop-ups or intrusive advertisements that aren't able to be closed result in a negative user experience, in much the same way a slow loading page does and can result in your content being ranked lower than it should be based on its quality.
While this does not mean you can't use pop-ups or run ads on your site, it's important to make sure that they are non-intrusive or can be closed very easily by the user.
At the end of the day, we want people to be able to SEE our content….that’s why we’re trying to rank in the first place!
That’s a Wrap
When it comes down to it, links are only one of many factors that play a role in how well or if your content might rank.
While it was an important foundation for how Google got its start and one of the reasons why their search results were so much better than most of their competitors, Google has moved beyond the link.
That's not to say that links will never play a role in how or if your content will rank, rather that you should focus your time and effort on creating the best quality content possible for each term you want to rank for.
Google has repeatedly said that its goal is to deliver the best results for each search, and the vast majority of its effort has been focused on finding the best content.
Rather than spending tons of time thinking about ways to get links, if we took even a small portion of that time and use it to create better quality content, we would rank much better and much more consistently.