A common question I get is “how many backlinks do I need for my website to increase rank?” and frankly, there is no short and simple answer. I say “it depends” and that’s usually followed by many more questions about why I can’t put a number on it off the top of my head. Well, it’s because what I think is happening is that every genre of website gets classified into taxonomies by Google and then placed into statistical models to map how they measure up against each other. What taxonomy are we discussing? That’s the bit we have to figure out first. Google SERPs is a great source of evidence, but it often doesn’t reveal the actual picture, because it only reflects back on what you put into it – your search phrase. That doesn’t mean you have the same point of view as Google does though.
The first step to figuring out the answer to the “how many backlinks” questions involves looking at data. A lot of data. Mostly, I use Google Search Console and MOZ to generate what I need.
Here’s what I think about backlink profiles and how they might get considered by Google:
A ranking factor is applied if the website does not behave as the expected norm where all sites in total, or per genre are plotted against each other. The bell curve is a statistical model whereby the majority are usually grouped closely together (usually near the centre – but not always), while at extremities in range there are ‘outliers’. Much like naughty children, any site that does not behave like the average is called a ‘deviant’. Outliers and deviants typically raise flags and may get positive or negative attention depending on how far from the norm they lie – again, like children. The total volume under the line of the graph represents 100% of the sample, and at the extremities, rate of occurrence is more rare. In the model I would use, there’s no maximum on the x axis. For example, websites in the genre “plumbing services” would probably have fewer backlinks than websites in the genre “fashion news & events”, simply because of the nature of the topic. That means the ‘normal’ backlink profile for a site from each genre compared to each other would be very different. That likelihood places the peak of the curve at different places on the graph. For the plumber’s website – it would be closer to zero. But for the fashion news website, it would be somewhere out to the right of the graph, where x is much greater. So a fashion news website with only as many backlinks as the average plumber’s website might be affected differently by the algorithm than the plumber’s site is, simply because it lies below the norm for its genre. Each genre will have its own statistical model applied and assessed for deviation.
This all means that performing SEO on different genres requires slightly different performance variables to be satisfied, and those variables can only be calculated against the other websites that Google has classified into the same genre. How do you know what genre your website fits into? I hope you can figure that out yourself, but sometimes it’s possible to be classified differently to what you might hope or expect. Here’s a clue: Check your content keywords list in Google Search Console. If you can show the first 20 words to anyone and they understand the theme of the website very clearly from that, then you might have nailed it. But if the theme of the website seems a bit mixed or confused based on those first 20 words, then you might have missed getting into the right genre classification and your site may well be rendering for less-than-relevant search phrases in organic search.
By the way, by my reckoning, genre classification works on a statistical model called ‘Set Theory’ and is applied through semantics. Set Theory is popularly typified by two overlapping circles where common features are listed in the overlapping section. You may remember doing this at primary school….
Read more about statistical models I use to help me determine Google ranking factors. https://crankedseo.com/google-ranking-factors-intro/