Everyday it seems, people are asking me about the optimum number of inbound links they need to acquire for their website in order to rank well in Google.
My answer is going to seem a little flip, but it is the honest, best answer.
Answer: You need more inbound links – of equal or higher quality – than what your competitors have.
Albert Einstein argued that any mathematical formula that required pages of calculations did not contain within it “the mind of God“.
So when Albert Einstein developed E=mc2, then Einstein had fulfilled the promise of a simple formula that could encompass the brilliance of God.
When people wonder how many inbound links they need to acquire to rank in the Top 4 of Google’s search results or even the Top 10 of Google’s SERPs, they are generally hoping that someone will be able to give them a numeric answer, so that they know whether they can afford to undertake the process or not.
I understand the WHY of the question, but there is no canned answer that will work for everyone. Remember, your competitor may be asking the same question and undertaking the same processes as you are, trying to accomplish the same goal.
You can’t truly begin to understand the answer to this question, until you have taken the time to do an Inbound Link Comparison Analysis of all of your competitors in the Top 10 spots of Google’s SERPs.
• You need to look at the Top 10 listings in Google for a particular keyword.
• You need to do backlink checks for all ten URLs in Google’s search listings, and you need to check those numbers across a variety of sources, including Google, Yahoo and any other tool you can find to do a check. (Google and Yahoo both tend to understate the actual link counts. While Yahoo will show you more than what Google does, they also show a number of “no consequence” links in their results.)
• You need to look at the quality of a few of the pages that provide links to the URLs in the search results.
This is not an easy process to undertake. I have done it before, but the best you can hope for is a “snapshot” of what is out there, and therefore, what you need to accomplish.
Note: If Wikipedia turns up in your search query, few people with small budgets will ever be able to dislodge Wikipedia in the search results. What they make up for in a small number of inbound links, they more than make up for with links from dozens or hundreds of PR4, PR5 and PR6 pages. Wikipedia is the king of Internal Linking, and they use that to a great degree to rank extraordinarily high in Google’s search listings.
Your analysis should seek to uncover how many links a page has to it.
As a general rule of thumb, Google will show you less than 1% of the existing number of links for a web page. Yahoo will sometimes show closer to 5% of the existing number of links for a web page, but they will not show you the highest quality of those links.
So, as you strive to gain a “snapshot” picture of the playing field, you want to take Google’s Inbound Links number and multiply that by at least 100. Then you want to take Yahoo’s Inbound Links number and multiply that by at least 20, then cut the number in half to acknowledge the number of worthless crap links they have in their database. Once you have achieved these two numbers, then I tend to call the truth “somewhere in the middle”.
With your “somewhere in the middle” number in hand, you then need to look at the quality of links to a few of those search listings, to get an idea of whether those links exist on higher quality pages or simply junk pages.
If those links are on junk pages, then the goal could be achieved by just working the numbers. But if there are a lot of high PageRank pages in the mix, then whatever number is in your hand, should be multiplied, perhaps 100-fold, to overcome the quality of pages that link to your competitors.
If you get the idea that my simple formula leads to a complicated answer, then you are right.
All of the numbers that I have included in my sample formula are based on rough speculation, as the “snapshot” offers you your best hope of understanding the challenge in front of you.
While the number of inbound links may be relatively easy to determine, the link quality is a factor that is really hard to pin down.
• If you determine that you only need 300 inbound links to rank with the big boys, you may be right.
• Your 300 inbound links number should also be quantified against the number of links that Google will count worthy, so you may need 1200 links to get 300 links that Google will deem worthy. This calculation depends more on the “quality of your content”, rather than the “quantity of your content”.
• When all is said and done and your 300 Google-worthy links have not yet put you on page one, then you know that the quality of the links pointing at your competitors is greater than the quality of the links pointing to you.
If you were hoping for an easy answer, I am sorry that I could not help you with that.
But with this explanation of the challenge, you may be better prepared to answer the big question, the question that is really on your mind:
Are my hopes of achieving good rankings in Google within my reach?
I tend to throw “worry” to the wind and just start working. I don’t worry if I can afford to do it or not. I simply start doing, and I know that in one month, one year or five, I will have built enough value in my website that my competitors are going to be the ones who are trying to figure out if they can unseat me!