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Link Building is Still a Numbers Game

The following is the guest post by Brandon Hopkins

When it comes to ranking being first is the only thing that matters. Last month I had a site that has been ranked #2 for it’s main keyword move up to #1, want to see what the traffic was like? Check out the screenshot below.

ranking stats

As you can see from the picture the site went from about 130 to 900 visitors in one day. Early the next morning, the site moved back to #2 and had 319 visitors. For this small niche, ranking #1 is about 7x better than #2! So if anyone ever tells you “The top 10 is good enough!” or “If you can get into the top 3, you’ll be OK“, those people have no real experience with being #1. So what makes the difference between a #1 and a #2 ranked site? Links, of course.

Here is another screenshot showing the increase in links paralleling an increase in rankings.

ranking comparison

As you can see, when I started working on this site around the beginning of February, the site was ranked in the top 10 and floated around for over a month. However, take a look at the total links, there was a continual and steady increase from about 150 total links to 1300 total links. Sure, you can go out and get some good directory links at Ezilon Web Directory and Best of the Web, but you need those and more!

Since I’ve stopped working on this site, the links will slowly decline a little as sites go offline or certain links get moderated. Overall, to keep a #1 ranking, you want to have links consistently going up.

Why Is Link Building Still a Numbers Game?

Let me tell you about my competitors. One is Amazon (160,000,000 incoming links, strong domain), one is a wikipedia entry, one is a 10 year old domain with 4.4 million incoming links (my domain is 3 years old), 4 of my competitors are the creators/manufacturers of the product I’m selling. I’m their affiliate, but I’m ahead of them!

So what makes the difference? Links to my target page. Here is the breakdown of the SERP’s and incoming links to the page.

  1. 1230 (manufacturer)
  2. 1120 (My site!)
  3. 114 (10 year old domain, 4.4 domain links)
  4. 64 (9 year old blog, 2 million domain links)
  5. 35 (manufacturer)
  6. 242 (manufacturer)
  7. 0 (
  8. 5 (blog, 751,000 domain links)
  9. 0 (

See a pattern? The number one site has the most links, crazy to think that Google is telling us that it’s all about page load time and relevancy isn’t it. Looking at those stats, what do you think impacts SERP’s the most?

Brandon Hopkins works with companies around the world to provide website design and IT consulting services. You can contact him at his Fresno web design company.

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  1. 74 Responses to “Link Building is Still a Numbers Game”

  2. Thanks for sharing the all of the data and details, Brandon.

    I agree with most of your post, but the only thing that I think is missing is the impact that anchor text has. In my experience, just a couple of exact-match anchor text links from relatively authoritative sites can vastly outweigh other factors including sheer number of links.

    This is one of the reasons why Google fights so hard to kill paid links; because they work. And the reason they work is because of the ability to target specific, exact-match anchor text.

    By Hugo from Zeta on Apr 27, 2010

  3. @Ann Thanks for your article
    @Hugo : I agree with the concept of “valuable” link concerning the exact-match anchor text

    By Blog SEO - Vince on Apr 27, 2010

  4. Thanks, this article does illustrate just how important link-building is, very interesting to see the google traffic increase from the #1 spot too!

    By Darryl @ NetHosted on Apr 27, 2010

  5. @Hugo – You’re right, anchor text from great domains makes a huge difference. Paid links are great, but you have to pay for them. I’d rather pay my linkbuilders! I can have someone working for a full day for the cost of a paid link.

    By Brandon Hopkins on Apr 27, 2010

  6. Thanks for the feedback, Brandon.

    A couple of quick thoughts:
    -I reference paid links only to emphasize the value of exact-match anchor text, but the reality is that organic link-building outreach can also result in exact-match anchor text, and that’s typically much more valuable in the long run (because it’s usually permanent and doesn’t cost money to maintain).

    -As for your final point, I would argue that it’s a function of what you pay your link builder(s) and what you pay for your paid link(s) ; )

    By Hugo from Zeta on Apr 27, 2010

  7. @Hugo – You’re 100% right about the cost of a link vs the cost of a link builder. I do both on occasion, but my link builders are priceless! You up for a guest post Hugo?

    By Brandon Hopkins on Apr 27, 2010

  8. Why of course! Email me at hugoguzman11 @ so that we can discuss topic, length, etc.

    Thanks for the offer!

    By Hugo from Zeta on Apr 27, 2010

  9. This was surprising. I was of the opinion that being number one would be ideal, but your research demonstrates a dramatic difference between number 1 and number 2. This, I did not expect.

    By Personal Injury Utah on Apr 27, 2010

  10. Pretty interesting Brandon, But obviously quality of links also important at same time otherwise there are several link scheme out there which can build 1000 links within minutes but they always help in getting banned.

    By Joe on Apr 27, 2010

  11. It is quite weird that the traffic raise only lasted for a day. Are you sure this was not a spike based on social media like stumbleupon ? It seems a lot like this could be the case.

    If the results are based on getting better google placement, they should be much more stable.

    By Spyros on Apr 28, 2010

  12. Wow! I had no idea that #1 could result in such an improvement over #2. That’s amazing.

    I’m on page 1 for my search term, but I’m at the bottom of the page rather than the top. Guess I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

    By Andrew on Apr 28, 2010

  13. Your article is very enlightening. I thought there are a lot of factors that could affect ranking number one in search engines. I guess it all boils down to link building then.

    By Andrew@BloggingGuide on Apr 28, 2010

  14. @Joe – 6 months ago I would have agreed that “quality over quantity” is the best way to go. Regarding getting banned. I dare you to show me a site you got banned that way :)

    @spyros – go back and re-read the part of the article that I talk about the increase in traffic. My site briefly went to #1, then moved back to #2. The income from #1 wasn’t what I was expecting so I moved on to another project (and the rankings and incoming links started to slip).

    @Andrew – For most niches I’m in, being on page 1 means nothing. Being #1 means everything.

    By Brandon Hopkins on Apr 28, 2010

  15. Link building definitely takes a huge part in marketing a business. However, it should be noted that it is not just about dropping links everywhere like a MAD man. It should be about dropping links without being spammy.

    By Social Media Optimization Company on Apr 30, 2010

  16. Love the data Brandon. And you know why :-) Obviously with what we do on a daily basis, we see this kind of correlation all the time. I think the latest stat I have seen indicates the #1 position gets 43% of the clicks.

    By Arnie | Vertical Measures on Apr 30, 2010

  17. @SMOC – whatever you say 😉

    @Arnie – It’s hard to get real data (that’s accurate) about search volume. Every company selling data has different numbers. We need Yahoo to accidentally release data again.

    By Brandon Hopkins on Apr 30, 2010

  18. Links from websites with exact or partial match keywords in the domain can be BIG. It’s a lot harder to do though.

    Buying links from strong directories never goes out of style.

    By Dee on Apr 30, 2010

  19. A great illustration of the differences in traffic between position one and two. You wonder if the spike up was from social media buzz or the number of links. Thanks for sharing the data and information!

    By Jim Jinright on Apr 30, 2010

  20. I’m late to this.. but great post.

    I have seen this first hand.. I rank in the top 3 for some big keywords and my search traffic is very small.

    From what I have learned, 1st gets like 70% of the traffic 2nd and 3rd pretty much share the rest.

    It is all about links coming in. page seo, page speed, keyword density all matter a small amount compared to being an authority site with huge amount of backlinks.

    By John Paul Aguiar on May 1, 2010

  21. CTR is the biggest factor in my book for Google ranking. Not page speed, not links, not pagerank, click through rate. This is further backed by the changes to Webmaster tools.

    –Web Your Name®

    By Web Your Name® on May 2, 2010

  22. I can confirm that moving between positions one, two and three can have a significant, measurable difference in traffic and sales.

    I work with an ecommerce merchant where the affect of movement between first and second are clearly visible in analytics.

    You can bet his emphasis is on maintaining those positions which is going to be a larger challenge than ever thanks to Google favoring brands, local search results appearing above listings, images, and live search displaying an ever-changing number of Social Networking entries above the original results.

    By Gail from GrowMap on May 6, 2010

  23. Hi Buddy!!!

    Really this is game i accept but how can we remove from this person’s gambling business activities when we got relief from theirs..??? is their any new revolution for online marketing other than google….??? meet again.

    By PHP Development India on May 7, 2010

  24. Yep, links are the currency of the internet. Who ever has the most wins.

    By Zack on May 12, 2010

  25. Link building Play one of the Important role in Internet marketing business Thanks to You for sharing with us the Benefits of Link building.

    By Jack on May 13, 2010

  26. What a great data. It really show how much matter to be number one. I would say it is still better to be as top as someone can get but ultimately number one is the goal.

    By Mike on May 13, 2010

  27. This is known that cash can make people independent. But what to do if one does not have money? The one way is to get the loan and secured loan.

    By McleodColette19 on May 14, 2010

  28. Good Stats.. To be on Page 1 needs lot of efforts and to top the list some advice from SEO experts like Ann Smarty

    By Swamykant on May 18, 2010

  29. Interesting on a couple of accounts. First, the notion of quantity over quality, which just goes against conventional wisdom of link building for traffic. You can spend a great deal of time trying to get authoritative sites linking to your content, which may be better spent working on volume. Second, it reinforces the importance of being #1 for your keyword. I would suggest one exception to this point, and that is if you are #2 or #3, you need to emphasize the time spend writing your page description and title, in order to make the site more compelling on the SERP’s (of course, while still maintaining your SEO goals). This can modestly improve traffic while still fighting for the #1 position.

    By Chris on May 20, 2010

  30. Hey Chris, that can be especially effective if the #1 spot has a poor call to action in the title.

    By Brandon Hopkins on May 20, 2010

  31. Very true Brandon. It makes me wonder about doing an article about SEO and focus. Sometime, I honestly believe we throw the ‘baby out with the bath water’. Spending so much time optimizing, and forgetting that our pages need to strike a balance between a call to action (or content integrity) and SEO principles. There are many #1 sites which are week on both the title and description, yet they hesitate to change those factors because it could cost them in ranking. In the end, this may be their achilles heel… just a thought..

    By Chris on May 20, 2010

  32. As I greatly believe in the concept of valuable link, It’s still a reality that numbers counts a lot in link building. It’s certain that a page get rank mainly because of the digits that stimulates the growth of its worth.

    By Justin33 on May 30, 2010

  33. Speaking about links, do you have a preferred backlink checker that you use? I used to use’s but they got rid of it…

    Web Your Name®

    By Web Your Name® on May 31, 2010

  34. try using traffic travis .. this software checks backlinks.

    By seo on Jun 2, 2010

  35. very interesting article, can anyone recommend a good free tool for accurately displaying incoming links for any domain, opensite explorer and alexa for soe reason are not accurate. I’m also having problems getting accureate rank reports the firefox pagerank plugin. any suggestions greatly received.


    By SEO on Jun 3, 2010

  36. couldn’t agree with you more, it is about number of links but to be precise, number of quality links

    By Online Marketing Blog on Jun 3, 2010

  37. I know about it because I am doing link building for my sites, well this article is very informative and the reports are also very helpful for me.

    By Steve Parker on Jun 16, 2010

  38. Only theme based and quality links from content pages related to your web site and PR does not matter in these links, yes they are having good part in rankings

    By Phil on Jun 21, 2010

  39. Brandon, yeah right. Look at the analytics to see where this boost in traffic was really coming from.

    I just went from the number 9th spot to the number 1 spot for my core search term and I only saw a boost in about 15 more visitors. That blows and the term has an “Exact” search of 9,990 visitors per month.

    By Eric on Jun 23, 2010

  40. Awesome advice, thank you! I’ll revise the article appropriately. Proof positive that you CAN learn something new everyday!

    By JOSEP_mafia on Jul 1, 2010

  41. I agree to the fact that link building gives impact to the ranking of keywords but the link from good websites are fruitful.

    By Search Engine Optimization Book on Jul 16, 2010

  42. Yeah. No big deal here. I have seen some shitty sites ranking higher for really competitive keywords only based on links. Those sites lacks focus…comes with stuffed keywords and still do well on SE’s. Thanks to Google for giving importance to links number


    By Sourav on Jul 31, 2010

  43. Thank you for sharing. Do you have an article (or suggestions) on how to begin building quality inbound links?

    By Bill on Aug 5, 2010

  44. Yes it’s true that getting higher rank on the Google is totally depending upon the no. of hits or no. of visits. Thanks for your blog.

    By data recovery on Aug 19, 2010

  45. Very informative post.

    I have started to really push link building and monitoring the results. I still think a link from a high quality site is better than purchasing links.

    By EssexSEO on Oct 12, 2010

  46. A website marketing technique that consists of creating inbound links to a website to increase web traffic and popularity.

    By Fortunearticles on Oct 19, 2010

  47. I gave up on preaching the top ten a long time ago. I now speak about the top three. But in niches as you have described here you had better be # 1. And after all is said in done links again play a huge role.

    By Urban on Oct 22, 2010

  48. Great information, thanks.

    Whilst I have never paid for any links for any of my clients, this sort of information coupled with the fact that it appears that Google does very little to penalise such tactics makes it very tempting. I won’t for now but…!

    By Paul on Oct 22, 2010

  49. Yes, it does seem to be a numbers game. The key is finding the best ways to spend time and money to get the greatest number of high quality lasting links. Article marketing has been the answer for me. The nice thing about article marketing is that the links seem to linger longer than say, blog comments.

    By Salt Lake City Car Accident Attorney on Nov 3, 2010

  50. Buy links, article marketing, spam blogs – and as someone else said, bad content, but lots of back links. How does one know the very best way to build a great site, get back links and rank #1. Every day it seems there is a new different strategy.

    By Paula Henry on Nov 21, 2010

  51. Good relevant content at scale attracts links. Becoming a part of the popular conversation helps with linking. You can also scale up your own site to build internal links.

    The more you invest in content that people would find valuable the more people will link to it. I would stay away from so called link networks, if you get caught it’s game over! :)

    By Dallas SEO on Nov 21, 2010

  52. Many people think that getting to page 1 is the cure all for their traffic needs. I got a site to position 6 for a one word search that Google reports over 600k a month for. The site got no more than 10 clicks a day.

    Hardly impressive for the cost of the campaign but still good results for only six months of work.

    By Terry Reeves on Dec 17, 2010

  53. Terry – It seems now you have to be in the top three to get the traffic. Niche’s and long tail seem to work best for organic searches.

    By Paula Henry on Dec 18, 2010

  54. I see this trend a ton in the niches I’m competing for and it just seems so black and white. I’m sure Google factors in other things, but by far the pattern I see is the number of backlinks.

    By Ryan @ Planting Dollars on Dec 30, 2010

  55. One of our competitor has back links from “” these type of ads a bulk not a one r two nearly 1k from those ads and getting positions as easily as possible Are they are quality links can anyone explain it
    how one can justify the above concept of link building quality r quantity

    By Radhika Chintala on Jan 3, 2011

  56. Great article Brandon. Have to say that is an amazing difference in traffic between #1 & #2. Hope you get back to the top spot!

    By Brad on Jan 15, 2011

  57. Good websites usually have good content (of some sort) that people *naturally* link to. And so it’s easy to see why google factors links so heavily.

    Essentially Google is mimicking ‘word of mouth’ off-line advertising/marketing.

    By Jason on Jan 31, 2011

  58. Link building is a numbers game but that is only part of the story I guess because I’ve seen sites with a couple of 100 backlinks outrank sites with 10.000’s of backlinks. Quality of backlinks, content and activity are also major factors. But nice to see those stats for pointing out the major difference in traffic you’ll get when ranking higher in the SE’s.

    By Charles on Mar 7, 2011

  59. True, Charles, although any number of quality links can be subtituted by masses of lower quality links. There are websites in extremely competitive fields completely relying on forum signature and profile spam, and shockingly 200-300k of these links seems to work pretty well.

    By Florian on Mar 11, 2011

  60. @Florian – you’re right, for now. In the near future I believe G will start heavily devaluing bulk links from the same types of sites (comments/forums/profiles/etc). We’ll see. I’ve started focusing on maintaining a Diverse Link Profile.

    By Brandon Hopkins on Mar 24, 2011

  61. The Farmer update certainly favors high quality content and high quality links. I think the future of link building will be quality verses quantity.

    More quality and relevant links is the key.

    By SEO Pro Worldwide on Mar 26, 2011

  62. Anyone who wants to succeed online with their site should strive hard and work really hard in order reach their goal. I know that it’s a continuous learning of the ins and outs of seo and you should be patient enough to actually compete with others.

    By dee oneal on Mar 28, 2011

  63. No doubt that links is what matters the most. But the perfect seo strategy also need some decent content to link to.

    By Markus Jalmerot on May 26, 2011

  64. Nice to see those stats for pointing out the major difference in traffic you’ll get when ranking higher in the SE’s. Good websites usually have good content. But it seems now that you have to be in the top three to get the traffic.

    By Boris on Jul 23, 2011

  65. Like many others I also believe that unique content is the key to get huge traffic and high page rank.Your article is very informative and useful.Great job man.Keep it on.Thanks.

    By Anderson on Aug 12, 2011

  66. After Google Panda update is this still valid now? Unique content is still the best.

    By Chandra on Aug 22, 2011

  67. Great post Brandon.

    I have had similar experiences with my keywords as well. Being #1 is where the traffic is. Even in big niches like mine, the difference of traffic crazy.

    I think I red somewhere that 1st position gets more than 40% or so of the traffic for the keyword.

    By Satrap on Sep 29, 2011

  68. Awesome advice, thank you! I’ll revise the article appropriately. Proof positive that you CAN learn something new everyday!

    By Robe on Feb 15, 2012

  69. I have around 100 links but the top of the keyword I want to be listed on has 10,000! it must have took them for ever to get that many so I really do wonder how people have managed, link farms maybe?

    By Gregg on Mar 27, 2012

  70. Link building really plays a key role in ranking your page through generating traffic. It is very easy to create backlinks and add visitors to your site. You can write articles, guest posts, comment and integrate social media to your blogs to increase visibility to your viewers. You have to optimize your site so that your viewers find it interesting.

    By FeliciaCorrine on Jun 27, 2012

  71. Things have certainly changed in the last couple of years. It used to be much easier to rank well. There are more factor being evaluated by Google now. Social signals matter more than ever. Quality link building has replaced massive link building for sure!

    By Gary Brock on Sep 5, 2012

  72. Yeap,I agree to the fact that link building gives impact to the ranking of keywords but the link from good websites are fruitful.

    By Taswir Haider on Feb 4, 2013

  73. Back links will be one of the main factors for ranking for a long time. The only difference between 2013 link building and the past is that in the past low quality links did not hut you as long as you has enough quality links your site would rank high. Now you have to be very careful about type of links you building, but it is still all about links.

    By Asher Elran on Oct 13, 2013

  74. As I greatly believe the construct of valuable link, it’s still a reality that numbers counts plenty in link building. It’s sure that a page gets rank mainly because of the digits that stimulates the expansion of its value.

    By Charlesmac Arthur on Oct 22, 2013

  75. Yep. I mean, assuming the links are of good quality and come from relevant sites, the more the merrier!

    By Shark Web Pte Ltd on Aug 13, 2015

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