How Many Backlinks Do You Need to Rank?

Just how many links does it take to rank…

It’s a common question. If we knew how many links we needed to get a site to rank it would make life so much easier!

We would just have a formula of how many links we need to rank a certain keyword for a certain page… So simple, right!?

This small experiment is really similar to the one that Jon Haver conducted at  Check out his post for more details. In summary, Jon tested the impact of a relevant post on a very strong domain of Page Authority (PA) 45.  Check out Jon’s service here and get a data driven report on how many links you need to rank.

The Experiment

In contrast to Jon’s experiment, I wanted to test the impact to the rankings by using a non relevant domain and a non relevant post. I am very active with communicating with email subscribers. So, a great guy has been emailing me and we have an ongoing dialogue about niche sites and private blog networks (PBNs).

We had a little debate about the if a non relevant domain would help the rankings of a niche site. I thought it would help pretty significantly.

He wasn’t so sure.

He had a post that was ranking about #23 for a specific keyword. I added one link from a PA 41 site.

UPDATE: The backlink was added on March 21/22. (Thanks to AlexG from twitter!)


As you can see there is certainly an improvement. The site moved from #23 to #17 to #14. (UPDATE: The site moved up to #12 on April 18th)

In fact, for a day or so the post that was linked to showed up at #11. Unfortunately, the report from Serpbook (affiliate link) is pulled at a certain time of day and that ranking of #11 is not shown here. I think those are pretty good results.

I think putting the link within a full post on the given topic would be even better. I was really interested in seeing how a completely non relevant backlink would help a site rank.

It’s interesting to see how the rankings moved over time as well. Maybe that is due to the context of the link…it’s hard to say. Now, I’m pretty sure with a few additional links that this page could easily crack the top 5. With 10 more links, I would be very surprised if the site didn’t hit #1.

Do you have experience in this kind of experiment? If so, please let me know in the comments below! 

Or if you have some questions about other experiments, I would love to hear about them. Thanks in advance.

The real conclusion is that PBNs are SUPER powerful. It’s true…just like everyone is telling you.

If you need recommendations, let me know. I can highly recommended certain services based on what you’re looking for.

39 comments… add one
  • Hieu Nguyen

    I totally agree with you. I have the same ranking improvement with non relevant PBN. Because niche relevant PBN costs much more money to build or build links, so I choose general PBNs. Who know when it will be not effective anymore, but now it’s very powerful!

    • Hey Hieu – Thanks for the comment.

      It’s pretty tough to find high authority domains that are relevant too. It’s good to just have the authority behind the links.

  • Winston

    Hey Doug,
    This is a bit out of topic, so hopefully you bear with me. I wanted to ask if you knew about getting penalties of -40 and -60. A couple of my sites suddenly got hit with them (one each). I think those are what hit them because that’s how they appeared. The rank moved exactly that much downwards.

    Granted I did make a few changes a couple of days ago, but they were very cosmetic in nature so I’m not sure. The thing is the 2 I did change were the ones hit.

    I was wondering if you had heard or seen anything of these penalties, and if there were link related (which one, anchor, bad links, etc) or content related, or anything else.


    • Hey Winston – Sorry! That’s a huge bummer.

      I don’t know of anything specifically for -40/-60 drops. It does seem very odd they would both drop.

      What exactly did you change on the sites?

      • Winston

        I just figured it out. I did lose a couple of strong links. It did take a bit of digging to figure it out, since I use free ahrefs and majesticseo. The penalty was the first thing that crossed my mind because that’s what’s always the scary one I guess.

  • Yeah, I was pretty floored by this too, Doug. It gets better though…the specific article is currently ranked at #10 (1st page!). Let’s see how far it goes up…

    BTW…you shared sometime here on NSP about getting Wikipedia links, remember? Well, I’m quite the action taker so I have 3 Wiki links pointing to this same site at the moment. Two are PR4 and the other PR6. They’re not crawled yet and thus not picked up by any backlink-checking service yet, but I bet those will surely help with trust- and citation flow in due time. Gosh, I just wish those were do-follow, eh? lol

    • I forgot to ask (since no one else have yet), getting high-metric expired domains, any resources or services you’d like to share/recommend? Apart from Jon’s that is, as I am about to order my first package from him, but I just thought it would be nice to check out other services too. I know about DomainJawa too…

    • Hey Ruan – It’s at #10 now. Wow!

      Yes, the Wikipedia tactic is very good. 🙂 That’s for email subscribers only…

      Fantastic about the other site linking to your site b/c of your wikipedia reference!

  • John

    hi Doug,
    thanks for the email, or newsletter.. I now have 4 expired domains, planning to buy another 1 domain so total of 5 expired domains this April, the highest i paid was $115 against a proxy bid, but for the 3 domains i only paid like $12+ ..
    only 1 domain is up for now with 1 post with no links yet.. that domain is not directly related to my niche site but i will order an article that will mention my niche keyword…

    1. For the 5 domains most of them are not directly related but have .org and .edu links pointing at them, so since im new to this pbn thing, i cant say anything yet, but with my experience regarding relevance using newly created blogs — relevance got my amazon niche site rank number 3 way back 2011. so i say relevance greater than authority just like Jon said.

    2. I have seen a lot of expired domains like church, news, photography that are now being used as pbn, and the niche site they link to are ranking high, so i say old domains with lots of clean backlinks though pass the juice..

    3. Irrelevant expired domains used right away as the domain for the niche site still ranks very well, in fact i saw 2 domain names with personal names on them… the domain name 1. is personal website of a woman, domain 2. is a personal website of a car racer’ son. Both are ranking top 3 in google..

    4. And im very interested in your experiment now…

    • Hey John, glad you’re enjoying the emails.

      Sounds like you’re building up a very nice stable of domains! Keep up the good work.

      • John

        Yup i am,
        i read Jon is offering 5 domain PBN but he is not hosting it on $1 hosting nor seo-hosting… how about your expired domains Doug, where you host it? now i have 1 in hostica, i learn about it from Alex becker.. but i may follow Jon on hosting to $3 to $5 hosts..

        • Hey John, I host some domains on $1 – $2 per month hosting services and some others on HostNine. I really recommend HostNine if you are going to have about 10 or more domains. It just makes it easier to set up domains on separate C Blocks. Get the reseller account if you find that the HostNine plans work for you.

          Here is my affiliate link if you want to check it out:

    • Sam Noor

      Hey John, how best can i check the backlinks to my site ?

      • Sam, you can check in MOZ’s Open Site Explorer,, and majestic site explorers. They will all have slightly different backlinks but should give you a good idea.

  • Good info that’s interesting the effect it had even if the link wasn’t niche relevant. That is some good movement through Google. I’m about to add some PBN links to my niched site, hopefully it will finally start ranking for keywords again.

    • Hey Nathan – Cool! Good luck. It’s been a few days now so has your site moved up in the rankings?

      • I’ve seen some movement. I only have on link from a PBN right now, and my few keywords that were on the 8th or 9th page have moved to the 5th, and 6th and a couple keywords that weren’t ranking showed up on the 7th page. So not bad, I have another link in the queue, and plan to add 1 or 2 a week for the next few weeks. Fingers crossed I’ll get on the 1st and 2nd in the next month or two, and start getting some traffic.

  • Curt

    Hey Doug, what did you use for anchor text? Exact, brand, URL…? Thanks, cool little experiment.

    • Hey Curt – Sorry it took a while to get back to you here. 🙂

      It was exact match anchor text for a fairly long keyword phrase. It was within a sentence that was out of place in the article…but the sentence itself was on the topic of the target site.

  • angeladav

    Rank Tracker which is part of the Powersuite tools now has a feature
    called ‘keyword difficulty’ which works out how difficult it is to crack
    a keyword given the links that the competition has (which may make it
    easier for people) –

    I found for example that a site was sitting at #1 with only 30 links – but they were from PR3 / 4 type sites – which I guess goes to show it’s quality rather than quantity – I’m currently in the process of trying do the same

  • I’d like to see a continuation of your experiment to see if a few additional links could really get it to the top 10. I’m wondering how severe the law of diminishing returns is and what rank you get topped out at.

  • Hey Doug,
    Thanks for sharing your backlinks experiment. Want to share my experience with “building” backlinks for one of my blogs. It is in a low to moderate competition niche, but all those sites that came on the first page of google were not dedicated to that particular subject. In other words they just had a post about it, but that’s all – sites with high authority. So I decided to build up a blog from scratch that is entirely dedicated on the niche – or micro niche blog that only contains content on pretty much few keywords. I rolled up my sleeves and did about 95 articles – some long enough (800-1000 words) others much shorter. As you can imagine I only focused on putting up some content. After 1 month and a half, for one of the keywords I’m on 7th position in google, and for another major keyword I’m on the 11th position in google – NO BACK LINKS building whatsoever.
    So in my view, if you have a dedicated blog on one niche, and do a good number of quality posts, you can certainly outrank even sites that have very high PR, thousands of backlinks, and thousands of articles – at least that’s my experience.

    Anyhow, thank you Doug for sharing this helpful info – keep my email in your newsletter loop, as I want to be updated of other helpful tips and tricks regarding SEO!


  • Hello Dough,

    Thanks for the great content, man. Many guys just send mails to their sub list but they never response them. But you are the best guy who always response me 🙂

  • hi, thanks for such a nice experiment, i would not mine to do this experiment. will come back if it will help me.

  • Raj

    Hi Doug, Shall I use Fiverr guest posts? Are you done any experiment?

  • Hi Doug,
    Do you have a post on your site that goes over how many PBN links to add over x amount of days? For example, best practice to add 1 PBN link to the page you’re promoting every 3-4 days or some other interval?

    • I do not have that data, Randy. Good question though…I think if you add a link once a week, that’s a good place to start. And I haven’t ever tried to see if there is a faster way, but I assume it won’t matter too much compared to several other factors. (Like the authority, anchor text, and so on…)

  • Raj

    Where I can buy Domains for pbn?

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