Can you rank on Google without backlinks?

Can you rank on Google without backlinks? The answer is “YES”. But it comes with quite a few caveats. So today, we’re going to study some pages without backlinks that are getting a ton of search traffic and extract some actionable insights you can apply to your SEO. Stay tuned.

What’s up SEOs? There’s no denying that backlinks help you rank higher in Google. Google says it on its “How search works” page. Our research study confirms a clear positive correlation.

And if you ask any experienced SEO, they’ll agree.

But do you actually need them to get a meaningful amount of search traffic from queries that have some sort of commercial value?

Now, rather than continuing with my mysterious comments, we’re going to let the data do the talking. So, 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.

So, 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.

Can you rank on Google without backlinks

And 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’ll actually set the trends filter to show the past three years of data in the sparkline graphs, so we can get a better visualization of the pages’ traffic trends. Alright, so at this point, Content Explorer is saying there are around 243,000 live pages that get at least 1,000 monthly search visits with zero backlinks pointing at them.

There are way too many results here, so let’s group these into 3 tiers based on Domain Rating. And 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.

Can you rank on Google without backlinks

Now, the three tiers that I’ve set are DR 0 – 30, DR 31-60, and DR 61 plus.

Alright, so tier 1 is DR 0-30 websites, which we’ll classify as “low authority.” If you look at the results, you’ll notice that the majority of pages are not in English.

Given that the majority of websites have English content, this might seem odd. Now, the reason this happens is 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, meaningless competitors and an easier-ranking environment.

So takeaway #1 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, let’s set the language filter to English. Ok, so if you look at the majority of topics that are getting search traffic, there are four things you’ll notice. #1.

If you’re targeting a country with English as its official languages 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.

Examples:

For example, this page gets most of its traffic from Pakistan and India.

2. You’ll see a wide array of content that’s not safe for work.

3. A lot of these pages are ranking for topics that aren’t exactly legal. For example, this is supposed to be a paid game.

4. You’ll be hard-pressed to find pages with good commercial value. For example, this page is on a celebrity’s husband’s net worth, which probably won’t impact your bottom line.

But there are also some rare pages that may have commercial value depending on your business. For example, this page ranks for queries related to a legal topic. It gets over 2,300 monthly search visits and the website looks like it’s run by a law firm, which makes a lot of sense.

All-in-all, finding actionable insights from this tier will be slim pickings.

Now, keep in mind that I’m doing a search through our entire database. So even if you were to search for a broad keyword like “gardening,” you’d only see four results, one which might be worth pursuing.

So, let’s move on to mid-tier websites that have a DR value of 31 – 60. Now, 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, this page is ranking for the query “best Bluetooth headphones for under $50,” which has a Keyword Difficulty score of just 8. This page ranks for something in the higher education space which has a lot of commercial value.

This page is capitalizing on queries that are valuable to lawyers on the topic of divorce. And you’ll also find the occasional high-traffic opportunities like this one, which 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.

Capitalizing on long-tail queries:

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, location of the company, and perhaps the cTLD .co.uk. 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 the bank.

So, 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 were entering a competitive market will be easier.

Alright, let’s go through the last tier and those are sites with a Domain Rating of 61 or higher. And 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.

Can you rank on Google without backlinks

For example, this page ranks 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.

Bottom line, 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.

And 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?

Are you building links to go for the whole darn thing?

Let me know in the comments and if you enjoyed this article, make sure to like share and subscribe, and I highly recommend checking out our Articles to gain more Knowledge. Tons of step-by-step actionable Article there.

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