I’m surprised to see that there are still “SEO professionals” teaching others the publish and pray method – growing a blog by doing nothing but publishing content and ignoring link building altogether.
They couldn’t be more incorrect.
Let’s take a look at some of the data behind whether it’s actually possible to rank without links or not.
Can You Succeed In SEO Without Link Building?
First of all, if you’re not link building, are you even really an SEO? There are over 200 ranking factors and link building is still the #1 determining factor.
According to a study by SEMrush, the number of backlinks pointing to a domain has a direct relationship with its ranking. More unique backlinks mean higher rankings.
Google considers backlinks as votes of confidence from one website to another. If that vote comes from a popular and highly credible website, it’s even more valuable.
The stronger the backlink, the more impact it will have on your rankings.
If you have more of these votes (backlinks) than your competitors, you’ll outrank them for your target keywords.
It’s that simple.
If you do nothing else and ONLY focus on links, you have a better chance at building a high-traffic blog than if you were to do everything BUT link building.
How Backlinks Accelerate Your Blog’s Growth
Links move rankings, not just for an individual page but for all pages across your domain. You end up ranking for more long-tail keywords as a result of your domain authority increasing.
That means all content you create in the past, present, and future will have more legs.
One of the biggest advantages of building up a strong link profile is the power and speed with which you rank new articles.
Authority blogs with lots of strong backlinks (and as such, a high Domain Authority) can create new content and get indexed straight to the first page. It’s what makes blogging with SEO so profitable.
Not only that, but as your authority increases, you can start competing for more competitive keywords more easily.
This allows you to target bigger keywords with higher search volumes and really start growing your monthly traffic.
Most sites have the highest number of backlinks pointed toward their homepage. As a result, the homepage has the highest authority as well.
But they transfer that authority to the other pages of their site through internal linking.
Because of a comprehensive internal linking strategy, it doesn’t matter what pages get links. Their authority is naturally transferred to all the connected pages and the overall site gains authority from it.
Without links, you don’t get any of that. You’re stuck having to create massive amounts of content, and just hoping that Google ranks you for uncompetitive long-tail keywords.
You can still rank for very uncompetitive keywords
For keywords that have zero competition, it’s possible to rank on the first page of Google without any link building.
I’ve seen many people, who know nothing about SEO, celebrate when they search for their company name and their website comes up on the top of search results.
What else were you expecting mate?
No other company has that name so you’re the only one Google will show even if you have a basic website with little content and no backlinks at all.
But that’s about the only scenario where you can rank without backlinks (when there are no competitors)
Here’s a real-life example. Many years ago when I was a freelance SEO consultant, I got scammed by a client.
I was just starting out in the freelance world and had very little experience. Naturally, I took any client that I could find.
Unfortunately, one of those clients happened to be a scammer. I still don’t fully understand the situation and what his intentions were. Even after it happened to me, it just seemed too stupid to be real.
He was a young guy looking to build a tour bus business in my city. He wanted a website and monthly SEO work done, but wanted to work with me on the website first.
So we agreed on a price, something like $600 if I can remember, and this was to be paid after completion before we start any SEO work.
After everything was done, he paid me with a fake business cheque. When I went to the bank to cash it in, they said the business doesn’t exist.
When I gave them his phone number, he picked up and said they had the wrong number.
After that, he dodged any communication from me and disappeared.
Long story short, I quickly took down his site. I later learned that his name wasn’t even what he told me it was. I honestly don’t understand what he was trying to do there.
But shortly thereafter I put up a Blogspot blog, titled it as “XX scam” and wrote down in full detail what he did to me. Immediately it indexed in the top 3 of Google for his business name.
That was able to rank without any links because his company name was unique and had zero competition.
This was a long story just to prove a point, but yes it’s possible to rank for keywords with zero links if it has zero competition. Just don’t expect any actual traffic from it.
But a lot of people build successful, high-traffic blogs without link building…
Yes, Seth Godin doesn’t build links but his site still gets tons of traffic from search engines.
But Seth also doesn’t write more than a few dozen words per post.
Is that also something you’ll copy from him?
Seth and other celebrity bloggers like him have established brands that are treated differently by Google.
Google knows they are authorities in their niche with massive followings.
Yes, there are some blogs out there that have become successful without link building.
But let’s define link building: As an SEO, I’m actively out there building links to my blogs.
Some people just produce great content and overtime, attract links naturally.
What I, and other SEO’s do, is speed up the building of our link profile rather than just hoping that one day, a webmaster stumbles upon our article and links to it.
How do we do it?
By using the following strategies
- Creating link-worthy content on our sites
- Publishing guest posts on other authority sites in our niche
- Reaching out to other influencers and site owners and telling them about our content
- Finding broken link building opportunities
- Reaching out to the contributors of the top sites in our niche and offering them a fee to feature our link (yes, I do that when there’s a need)
- Answering HARO queries
Waiting for people to find your content and link to it themselves can work.
Yes, it can work, but it’s not something you have control over. You’re leaving it up to chance.
It’s kind of like opening a dental clinic on the 39th floor of a commercial complex, not telling anyone about it, and hoping that customers magically stumble upon it and walk in.
Sure, over a few years, some people might find out about it (if you have not gone bankrupt by then).
They might even tell their friends about it, and maybe it can grow into a successful business. But the process is 1000x slower than if you were to go out and actively promote it yourself.
Even a single link can make a difference
Link building is not just about ranking a single keyword. As I mentioned earlier, getting new strong links pointed at your site can increase the total number of keywords each article ranks for (ie. long-tail keywords).
One of the blogs I recently sold had very little link building done to it. It was in a very uncompetitive space.
It was a blog I built up, then didn’t touch for a few years. When I went back and built just 2 links to it, search traffic immediately increased by 46%.
DejanSEO recently had a similar finding. They ran an SEO experiment to test whether quality content alone can be enough to rank for low competition keywords.
They published 30 pieces of high quality content targeting uncompetitive keywords, and left it alone to see how it does.
Two years later, there had some interesting results.
When they didn’t build any links, they had no measurable search traffic.
Then they pointed a single PBN link to it. Search engine traffic increased slightly.
Then they received a natural link from a fairly weak website, and this single link was enough to make their search traffic not only spike, but continue to grow afterward.
If this isn’t evidence enough that links are essential to your rankings and search traffic, then I don’t know what is.
Frustrated with low traffic and rankings?
I get a ton of emails from people who are frustrated with low traffic. They’re producing great content and their on-page SEO is perfect, but they’re not seeing any traffic increases.
I always tell them the same thing: Build links.
Put a pause on content production and start focusing on building links.
Is it possible to rank in Google without backlinks?
Yes, but only for very uncompetitive keywords. To have a chance at ranking for anything with meaningful search volume, you need to build links.
Some people can ignore link building completely and, over time, naturally build up a strong link profile. But that’s not a replicable strategy; it’s a game of chance.
To be in full control of your traffic growth, you need to be actively building links.