Can you be successful with SEO without building backlinks?
The short answer is YES; you can do SEO without any help from backlinks and get great results.
Backlinks are just one of the 200+ metrics that determine your rank in the search engines, but many people see that as the one all – be all method to getting good SEO rankings.
While they do help, they are not a MUST, especially if you are trying to rank for low-competitive keywords – which is what you should be doing.
In this guide, I will show you:
- how you can start doing SEO without backlinks,
- why you need and when (and my reasons to why not), and
- how to get started getting backlinks if you see decide you do need backlinks to rank your website.
But first, let’s first start with the basics.
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks are links found on other websites outside of your own that link to your website or your post from their own content.
For example, this is a backlink to another website that talks about how to do SEO without backlinks.
To them, they just received a new “backlink.”
These links are given out (at least how I do it) when I want to illustrate further a point that requires a full post to explain, and I just can’t fit it into my content.
Another example would be telling you how to get backlinks from Wikipedia, so I link to another article which saves me from writing another in-depth guide about that specific topic.
With that said, they are also seen as a “vote of confidence” for websites out there, which makes them important for SEOs out there.
Are Backlinks Important For SEO?
Yes, they are, but not to the same extent as most think they do.
If I have a guide that is showing you how to create backlinks, and 1000 people (websites) link to that article, it shows Google that my guide on the topic is:
- Liked by other authoritative sites.
- Enjoyed by most readers and (most often than not).
- Doing a great job explaining the topic.
Now, this does not mean that because I have 100 backlinks and you have 83 that I am going to rank higher than you.
That is not how it works, but that is the consensus amongst the beginner SEOs who claim that backlinks are the most significant and most important metric.
They are not.
Hence why I do believe it’s more than possible to get good SEO rankings without having a single backlink pointing to your site.
There are over 200 metrics at play here and more that we do not know about since Google has never fully officially released – or confirmed – the hidden metrics.
Now, when I say “backlinks are not important,” I do not mean that they are useless; quite the contrary, they are extremely useful when you want to rank for a highly competitive keyword phrase.
Let’s look at the keyword “affiliate marketing” for example.
You already know that this keyword has an insane amount of competition. Going through all the top 10 results, we can all agree that all ten results make a damn excellent job explaining what affiliate marketing is and all you need to know about it.
However, if you look at the top 3 results, you will see that they vary a lot with how many backlinks they have:
As you can see, if backlink quantity really is the ultimate metric, then this would not have happened.
Now yes, if I wanted to have a fighting chance at ranking for the keyword “affiliate marketing,” I would need to make a solid effort and get some backlinks from high-quality places that will help me (not guarantee) that I get a foot in the door of the first page.
Again, I refer you to the list of 200+ metrics above that would have an impact on my attempt at ranking for the keyword.
Good luck at trying to figure out which one is the most important.
How Many Backlinks Do You Need?
This is another question many have tried answering, and although Ahrefs does a pretty damn good job at answering it, it’s not easy to say.
Yes, there really aren’t many questions you can get a concrete (confirmed) answer to with SEO.
If you want to know how many backlinks you need to rank for something, go onto Ahrefs (a paid SEO tool with a free 7-day trial), and you will get an estimation.
Now what that doesn’t take into factor is the quality of your backlinks.
Yes, there are good and bad backlinks, and they do have a HUGE impact on your site (good or bad).
Good vs. Bad Backlinks (Spot The Difference)
Not all backlinks are created equally.
You have the good ones and the bad ones.
Allow me to explain:
What’s a Good Backlink?
A good backlink is a contextual backlink from a blog or website related to your topic (or have an unquestioned authority).
For example, if I have a site about dog collars, and I am trying to rank for the keyword “dog collars,” one of the best backlinks I would get is from a website that talks about pets with the contextual text somewhere along the lines of:
“Buy dog collars here” or better yet simply “dog collars.”
This means that another “authority” site that talks about pets has given me their vote of confidence showing that I am a good source to link to with regards to the topic “dog collars.”
If I got that same link from a website that talks about “fish aquariums,” it would still be valuable but, not as much as the previous example.
Likewise, if I get that link from a site that talks about “how to lose weight” (completely unrelated), it’s damn near next to useless (although some would still argue it holds value, not so sure about that).
I also mentioned the “unquestionable” authority sites, and these are sites such as newspaper websites, universities, or government websites (colossal authority in Google).
“Any” link domain that’s .gov or .edu hold significant power in the eyes of Google as they are seen as a trusted source of information. Likewise, a backlink from Wikipedia would also be extremely valuable – if they were “a do-follow”.
Do-follow vs. no-follow links.
This is a bit technical, but if you are looking at learning more about backlinks, you need to know this as you will certainly come across these terms.
A “no-follow” link means that the webmaster who created the link has asked Google NOT to flow domain authority to the linked website.
Likewise, a “do-follow” link, which all backlinks are by default, encourages search engines to pass on authority to the linked domains.
You can see how to create a no-follow link here, but I should add that collectively, even no-follow links carry some SEO power.
For example, having 100 no-follows links will collectively help you more than having 0 do-follow links.
What’s A Bad Backlink?
A bad backlink is just spammy backlinks artificially created to trick Google into thinking your site is popular.
A quick browse on Fiverr would turn up many freelancers offering to give you backlinks — some even going up to 10,000 backlinks for just a few $$:
These backlinks never work, and once you are caught using such services, it won’t be long until Google deciphers the internal links you created and takes swift action on your ass.
The estimated time it takes Google to find out about bad backlinks, and black-hat techniques is about two weeks.
This is also another reason why Google devalued the backlink metric as a ranking signal because too many people were tricky the system by beefing up their backlinks artificially.
Now there was a major upset in the SEO world a few years ago when the idea was that backlinks no longer work at all.
This is false, they do work, yes, but Google is now smart enough to understand what good and bad links look like.
If you ask anyone that has ever done any SEO link building in the past, you’d soon know that getting “good links” is not easy at all.
Unless you have some elaborate, high-tech (and safe) system of producing these links, you can only get around ~10 new good backlinks a month.
Now when a black-hat SEO tries to buy backlinks (say from Fiverr), Google will soon realize that you went from 0 backlinks to 10,000 in a span of a few days (even hours sometimes).
This is immediately flagged, and yes, your site now has to suffer the consequences of a ban.
You can get out of a Google penalty, but it’s a long, tedious process that takes months and would likely cause you a lot of lost business.
Do not try this at home.
Can Backlinks Hurt Your Website?
Yes, they can.
As much as they can help your website, they can also destroy it even, yes, that bad.
If done wrong, severe consequences could literally wipe away all the efforts and give your domain a massive disadvantage of ever ranking.
If you’re looking to hire an SEO agency for your website or business, always ask about backlinks and what they do to get it.
I have seen way too many SEO agencies promising results quickly and that is always a huge red flag for me.
Hopefully, this guide will save some of you the heavy, expensive burden of having to “clean up a domain” because some wannabe SEO experts ruined your chances.
How To Build Backlinks?
Ok, I will not go into too much depth about building backlinks because I do not focus on building backlinks for my websites, but other people do – with excellent results – that you can learn from.
One notable mention is the Backlinko.com blog, one of my favorite SEO websites and a huge influence in the way I like to do SEO.
Here’s Brian Dean, founder and owner of Backlinko.com, showing you how to build backlinks for your website.
Another great resource to learn SEO from and also teach you about backlinks is Neil Patel.
He’s undoubtedly one of the most proficient and influential SEO and digital marketing titans in the entire industry:
What To Focus On (Instead of Backlinks)
So I just told you that I do not focus on building backlinks for my website.
That’s a bit of a lie, as I did build a few (5) for my drop shipping store (You can see how to do SEO for e-commerce here).
What I do to make sure I have SEO growth month-on-month (even without doing and link building) is:
I write informative, unique, and original content.
While I can not confirm any of the other 200 metrics of SEO and how they work, I can tell you that content is where it all begins and what matters the most.
You can have 100 high-quality backlinks, but if you have no content, you will not rank for anything (obviously).
Learn how to create content that search engines WANT to rank.
If you learn how to do that, believe me when I say that you do not need to ever worry about any backlinks, spam links, no/do follow, and all this other crap we just talked about.
This video from the boys at IncomeSchool does a better job of explaining my reasoning behind this.
How To Build Successful (Affiliate) Websites Without Backlinks
If you want to build a monetized website but do not want to be bothered about backlinks, know this is possible.
I have a great (free) guide explaining how I build my affiliate websites (and I don’t do much backlinks work). You’d do well in checking it out before you go.