There is a lot of confusion in the SEO world when it comes to backlinks, a lot of people know how powerful backlinks can be but they are getting increasingly irrelevant. A couple of years ago it was simply impossible to rank without building backlinks, and the search results were filled with spam and one-page affiliate websites. Basically, a couple of years ago you could rank almost anything with the right kind of backlinks.
Yes, you can rank a website without backlinks, but the keywords have to be low competition, and the articles high quality with a minimum of 1500 words. Backlinks do help, but they are not necessary, even Google is giving less and less importance to backlinks with each update, and it is only a matter of time until they are no longer relevant.
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Back in the days, the quality of the article on a blog didn’t really matter, and you would often see posts ranked number one with spinned and with scraped content. Spinned content is basically an article made by a specialized software “article spinner” that changes the words, for example, it changes house to home and so on. Scraped content is content that was scraped by tools and they simply copy the content from other sites.
Google was not loving these tactics, as it wasn’t giving any valuable information to the visitors, so a couple of years ago google implemented another ranking factor like the user engagement, or time on page. This way google knew if the article which was ranking was valuable or not if the article was low quality but it had a lot of backlinks it would usually rank, today however if the user engagement is not good then you will lose your rankings extremely fast.
Don’t get me wrong, backlinks are still one of the most powerful ranking factors, and you can still get away with a lot if you know what you are doing. If you are a new blogger, then my personal recommendation is to stick to writing high-quality content rather than focusing on backlinks, and if you don’t know what kind of blog you should start then check out my recent article What kind of blog should I start? ( Top 6 Options ).
Why is everybody saying that you need backlinks to rank?
No matter where you go, social media, or forums you will constantly hear that the magic bullet for ranking are backlinks. This is especially true if you follow some SEO gurus, but there is a catch, most of them sell some kind of service, usually related to backlinks. SEO is big money, and a lot of people have become rich by selling crappy links. This is especially true for marketplaces, where a lot of beginners go and think that they found the solution to their ranking problems.
Selling SEO services or backlinks are an extremely good business, you don’t need to offer any guarantee for rankings, and the return of investment is massive. No matter where you go you will never find a service that actually guarantees rankings, although some of them give you the illusion that for 5$ you will rank the first page. If you have ever bought backlinks from a platform like Fiverr than you have most likely noticed that the seller upon delivery will tell you to wait around 3 months to see the results, and these results rarely come.
What is Google’s goal?
Google’s goal is to give the most relevant information to the user, and as fast as possible. If you have a lot of backlinks but poor quality content than you will most likely be penalized or de-ranked for this. There is a limit to what you can achieve with backlinks, although it is possible to rank crappy content with backlinks if you know what you are doing. The problem is if you are focusing on backlinks to much than you are not aligned with Google’s goal, and why fight it just give what Google wants, which is high quality and relevant content.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of the average user who visit your site, and ask yourself what are they actually looking for and how you can actually deliver on it. Google is becoming increasingly smarter especially with rank brain and their AI’s which determine how your blog ranks, but they still rely on manual reviews as they know that the backlinking tactic has been gamed so hard that it is extremely hard to differentiate one site from another if you only look at their backlinking profile.
How Google ranks blogs without any backlinks?
If you have set up a brand new site and added 30-50 articles than you are most likely thinking about buying backlinks or PBN‘s, bad idea in my opinion. Websites with backlinks tend to rank faster than websites without backlinks but blogs with backlinks tend to be extremely volatile and you will never know if the next Google update will hit you or not. In highly competitive niches you will have an extremely hard time ranking without backlinks, although if you target low competition keywords you will still rank without any backlinks.
Time on page
The first metric that Google uses when deciding to rank your blog without any backlinks is the time-on-page. This is not the same as sessions, the time on page is simply how long the user stays on the page. The longer the user stays on the page the better it is, and in order to increase the time on page of your visitors, you have to write engaging content and long-form content of around 2000 words.
A lot of people tend to focus a lot on lowering their bounce rate, the truth is that this is irrelevant. Most of my websites that are ranking without any backlinks tend to have a bounce rate of around 85%, and this is normal. As long as you don’t have a time on page of less than 5 seconds and a bounce rate of 99% you should be fine, so don’t worry about it.
Relevancy is one of the most important ranking factors, no matter if you have backlinks or not. If you have a niche website then all your content has to be relevant to the niche, so if you have a blog about pets then you probably shouldn’t add articles which are about home improvement or other irrelevant topics. This is why I do not recommend general blogs, which do not actually target a specific niche, it is extremely hard to be relevant on all topics which a general blog targets.
Click through rate
Once your blog is on the first page of Google then Google will start testing the CTR. You can easily outrank a website even without any backlinks if you have a higher CTR than the first ranking website. The title of your posts is probably one of the most important from the entire article, based on the title alone google already knows what your article is about and if it is relevant to the niche or not.
This is probably one of the most useless metrics which confuses a lot of people. Although this is still considered very useful in terms of rankings. Session duration is not the same as the time on page, and it is calculated completely differently. A session is only valid if the user clicks to another link of your website, so if a user comes to your website and clicks on one of your articles than this is considered a session.
The problem is that most uses on your website will not click to take a look at another article, so this is considered 0 sessions. Basically, sessions are only calculated if the uses click through another page or post of your website and as most users won’t do that then your session duration will be extremely low. Just don’t worry about it, although make sure that you have some links in your articles pointing to other articles.
For the longest time, Google was claiming that SSL certificates were not a ranking factor, although recently they have acknowledged that SSL certificates are indeed a ranking factor. If you are using google chrome and you visit a website without SSL certification then you have probably noticed the “Not Secure” part right next to the URL.
The length of an article is extremely important, back in the day you could rank a 300-word article by blasting it with backlinks. Today however in most cases Google will not even index these articles as they are considered thin content. There is no magic number of how long an article should be but generally speaking, articles below 1000 words tend to do extremely bad when it comes to ranking.
As you can see there are a lot of factors which determine rankings, backlinks are just a small part of it. You can definitely rank without backlinks, especially if you target low competition keywords and once you are ranked on the first page you will start noticing that you will get backlinks organically.