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.
Is is possible to 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. 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.
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 in which you rank new articles. Authority blogs with lots of strong backlinks 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.
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.
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, 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.
Yes, it can work, but it’s not something you have control over. You’re leaving it up to chance.
It’s kind of link 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. 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. Like 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 afterwards.
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. And if you’re not having much success with link building, proactively produce content that’s linkable.
If you can do that, your existing content AND the content you publish in the future will return much better results for you.
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.