It’s a common belief that backlinks (number of times your website gets linked to) are king of the SEO jungle. For example, if website A has 100 links pointing to it and website B has 50 links; website A would rank higher in search engines.

In this article, we are going to explain why that’s not always true and is flawed because it doesn’t tell the full story of backlink profiles. Before we do a deep dive, we need to explain some key terms and what they mean.

Key Terms

Backlink(s): A backlink(s) is when another website puts your URL on their website which will direct (link) their visitors to your website. A site can link as many time as it wants to your site and each one is recognized by search engines.

Referring Domains: A referring domain is the count of the actual domains (websites) that links to yours. Now each website is only counted once independent of the number of times it links to yours.

Ranking Factors Series: Part 3 Backlink Profile 1

Taking You To School

Let’s make this more understandable through comparison.

Google and other search engines are a lot like employers. Say one person refers you to a hiring company multiple times, that’s not nearly as effective as having multiple people refer you to a company.

Let’s say you’re hiring and you have two applicants. One applicant has one person who keeps referring and reminding you of candidate A.  

On the other hand, candidate B has 3 people who are referring and reminding you that they are looking for a job. Who are you more likely to hire? 

Search engines are similar in the sense that a website with a greater ratio of referrers domains to backlinks is considered more relevant. Hopefully, through our job search example, you can see how search engines don’t think much different from us.

To put this in perspective, Moz estimates that first-page results account for 71% of traffic and 67% in the top five rankings. According to Advanced Web Ranking, 27% of web traffic goes to rank one, and 2% goes to rank eight.

The Numbers

The numbers below were generated by SEMRush and we are interpreting the data for you. We are also using clothing sizes again to represent search volume (XL, L, M, S).

Ranking Factors Series: Part 3 Backlink Profile 2
The graph above is telling two stories, and both are very important. First, it shows just how competitive XL and L volume keywords can be and the amount of work required to start competing. The second story is there is a lot of potential upsides and a reasonable amount of competition in the M and S search volumes.

Let’s start by addressing the XL and L categories. These keywords are behemoths and make them nearly impossible to compete. For example, for the XL category, the median is 10,000 referring domains.

If your site were able to get four new referring domains a month, it would take 2,500 months or ~208 years to hit the median amount of referring domains assuming the median doesn’t grow during that time.

Enough of the bad news, let’s move to a brighter spot, the M and S competition level.

These words are more accessible to the common business. At a glance, you will notice that the M and S terms have a minor difference in referring domains when comparing positions 2 to 15 ranking positions.

Now compare that to the XL/L groups, and you will notice a substantial decline in referring domains for the same position range.

Using the same four new referring domains a month example from before, If the median of referring domains is 50, then it would take only a year to have as many referring domains.

How to use these numbers

Although the first part of the numbers section of this article can be discouraging, the second part of it should be very encouraging.

Search Engine Optimization results are in reach, and you can formulate a plan around it.

First, we should mention that SEO is a lot like weight lifting, you shouldn’t expect instant SEO results just like you wouldn’t expect to look like Arnold after lifting weights once.

SEO work is continuous and requires consistency to build your search engine muscle. If you’re ever approached by an “expert” who claims to be able to increase your rankings within days, be very cautious.

You do not want to end up like BMW and get penalized by Google with the potential of never being able to recover from it.

With that said, our suggestion would be to target search terms in the M & S category at the same time.

This way you will see a return on investment sooner than targeting M alone because of the low competition level in the S category.

While you see results from the S search terms, you will be building your authority in the M search terms which bring even more results.

This strategy works particularly well with local businesses because region specific terms tend to be less competitive depending on your city or neighborhood because they are long tailed (3-6 word search terms).

SEO work is continuous and requires consistency to build your search engine muscle.


Today’s topic was very dense and could use a recap.

The key takeaways from Part 3 is having a bunch of backlinks isn’t the only factor in SEO you should be concerned with and should make sure you have a variety of domains backlinking.

It’s also important to take away that M and S search terms are with in reach for local businesses.

Concerned about your backlink profile? Contact us now, and we will do a report for you free of charge that will include your backlink profile.