How To Rank Without Backlinks [With Examples]

“Do I really need to build links to rank? It’s so difficult!”

We hear ya. Link building is no easy feat. 

Luckily, there are other things you can do to get your content in front of people’s eyeballs. This guide will show you how to rank without backlinks – using examples from our own website.

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Is It Possible To Rank Without Backlinks?

Yes, it is possible to rank without backlinks – under several conditions. 

While you may get lucky and rank for certain keywords without a good SEO strategy, the chances of that happening are low. Usually, in order to rank without backlinks you need to: 

  • Choose long-tail and less competitive keywords.
  • Create valuable, original, and optimized content.
  • Cleverly build internal and external links.
  • Provide a good page experience for users.
  • Preferably, have an older domain with high authority. 

Truth be told, there’s not much you can do about that last point. You can’t magically make your domain older than it is, nor can you increase your site’s authority without backlinks – at least not a whole lot. 

However, there is something you can do about the previous points. We’ll show you what below. 

How To Rank Without Backlinks In 6 Steps

Roll up your sleeves – it’s time to explore the strategies that will help you rank with zero backlinks.

1. Find The Right Keywords

In order to rank in search engines without backlinks, you’ll need to do smart keyword research

As mentioned, your target keyword should meet two criteria. It needs to:

  • Be long-tail. 
  • Have low difficulty, i.e., be less competitive. 

Let’s explain what that means in more depth.

a) Low-Difficulty Keywords 

Keyword difficulty (KD) describes how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword, especially in correlation to backlinks:

  • Keywords with high difficulty typically require more backlinks. For example, top-ranking pages for keywords with KD of 90+ usually have thousands of backlinks. To compete with them, you’ll have to build just as many. 
  • Keywords with low difficulty typically require fewer backlinks. These are the keywords you want to target when trying to avoid link building.

Of course, things aren’t so black and white. 

KD doesn’t just correlate to the number of backlinks, but also their quality and other factors – like content quality or site authority. Still, it’s the best metric for assessing if your content can rank with zero backlinks. 

You can use Ahrefs’ Keyword Generator to check the difficulty of any keyword. Just enter the keyword you want to check and refer to the KD column: 

Different keywords with the keyword difficulty column highlighted

The scores are also highlighted with different colors:

  • The color green indicates a lower-difficulty keyword.
  • Yellow indicates a semi-difficult keyword.
  • Red indicates a higher-difficulty keyword. 

The drawback of low-difficulty keywords is that they attract less search engine traffic, as they typically don’t get as many monthly searches (hence, they’re less competitive)

However, organic search traffic may be something you’ll need to compromise when trying to rank without backlinks. It comes down to which you prefer: more organic traffic or avoiding link building.

b) Long-Tail Keywords

We can consider any keyword that contains 3 or more words to be long-tail. Such keywords usually have lower difficulty scores — and low-difficulty keywords are usually long-tail.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For example, consider the KD scores for two very similar keywords below: 

The different keyword difficulty scores for two long-tail keywords, “how to rank higher on google” and “how to rank on google”

Both keywords are long-tail and tackle similar topics, but one is significantly harder to rank for. 

What’s more, targeting either without backlinks wouldn’t be fruitful – they have too high difficulty scores.

With that in mind, you should never decide to target a keyword just because it’s long-tail. 

A long-tail keyword can still be competitive, so make sure you always check its KD score before deciding to target it.

2. Write Good Content

Good content is optimized for your keyword, matches the search intent, answers the users’ questions, and delivers value.

Let’s see how you can write it step by step.

a) Match The Search Intent

Your web pages aren’t likely to rank if they don’t match the search intent. 

Search intent is the why behind every keyword. It tells us why users are entering a particular keyword into search engines and what they expect to find. 

We can differentiate between four types of search intent:

  • Informative – The user wants to learn more information about a topic. Ex: By searching for “how to rank without backlinks,” the user expects to find a blog post giving actionable advice on this topic.
  • Commercial investigation – The user wants to investigate a product or service he intends to buy. Ex: By searching for “best link building services,” the user expects to find pages comparing different services.
  • Transactional – The user wants to make a purchase. Ex: By searching for a specific product, the user expects to find a product page where he can place his order.
  • Navigational – The user wants to be navigated to a specific web location. Ex: By searching for “youtube,” the user expects to be navigated to the YouTube website.
Search results for the keyword “prestigelinks” include our website
For example, by entering the name of our website, the user expects to find it among search results.

The easiest way to discover the search intent behind a keyword is to analyze the current search results. 

What’s ranking on the search engine results pages? This should give you insight into what type of content you need to create. 

Sometimes, however, the SERPs for one keyword may display results for various intents. Consider the example below:

The search results for “link building” include both an informative blog post and a promotional page
The results for some keywords, like “link building,” can include both blog posts and promotional pages.

In this case, it’s up to you to conclude which content type best suits your audience’s intent.

b) Keyword Optimization

On-page SEO is the one thing you need to nail when trying to rank without backlinks. And that starts with optimizing your content for a particular keyword. 

Here are a few guidelines that will help you do so: 

  • Add your exact keyword in the title. 
  • Add your keyword to several headings on every page.
  • Try to mention your keyword in the first 100 words of your page.
  • Analyze how your competitors optimized their content for your target keyword. 
  • Answer frequently asked questions related to your keyword. You can find them in the People Also Ask section on Google or via specialized tools.
The People also ask section on Google for the keyword “link building.”
The People also ask section on Google for the keyword “link building.”

c) Relevance + Originality

The time users spend on your site impacts your keyword rankings. If you get them to stick around, search engines will take that as a sign that your website is at an appropriate position or needs to be pushed higher in the search results. 

But how can you ensure that the users stay on your site? 

The first step is to make your content relevant. Discuss the topics your users expect or need and give them the value they came for. 

To ensure you do so, you can analyze the top search results for your keyword and see which topics your competitors discuss on their sites:

Headings from our blog post on outsourcing link building
Some headings from our blog post.

Such an overview will give you a good grasp of which topics you should tackle in your content. 

However, don’t just blindly copy what everyone else is doing. Originality is just as important for your rankings. 

If you offer your readers something they can’t get elsewhere – be it information, entertainment, or just a personal touch – they’re bound to keep returning or spend more time on your site.

So, always ensure you’re both relevant and original to get to the top of the SERPs.

3. Build Internal Links

Internal links are links pointing from one page to another page on your website. That’s why they’re internal.

They’re an important part of search engine optimization because they help search engines discover, understand, and properly rank your content.

For example, here’s an internal link pointing from our blog post on using ChatGPT for link building to another page on our website:

An excerpt from a blog post with the anchor text of an internal link highlighted

As seen above, internal links tell the search engines what both the source and the target pages are about. In our case: 

  • The source page shows, among other things, how to use ChatGPT for scholarship link building. 
  • The target page gives a more general overview of scholarship link building. 

We hit two targets with one shot – we gave both the source and the target page better chances of ranking for their respective keywords. You can do the same by including internal links on your website. 

For the best results, make sure that the target page is relevant to the source page, and vice versa. 

Irrelevant internal links will have the opposite effect. They may actually confuse the search engines, cause them to misinterpret your content, and inappropriately rank it. So, ensure to only build ones that are truly relevant.

4. Add External Links

External links are just as important as internal links. 

They point from your website to pages hosted on other websites. Here’s an example of an external link in one of our blog posts:

The anchor of an external link used in a blog post highlighted

This external link meets two important requirements:

  • It’s relevant. The source page discusses how to get featured in Harvard Magazine, so a link to the magazine’s website is highly relevant. 
  • It points to a high-authority site. Links to authoritative websites positively impact your SEO, as they show that you get your information from trusted sources.

But how do we know that Harvard Magazine is a high-authority website? 

Well, the name implies it – but we can also use tools like Ahrefs’ Website Authority Checker to confirm this:

The domain rating score (78) and the number of backlinks (283K) of the Harvard Magazine website

The above screenshot shows that Harvard Magazine has a high domain rating score of 78 and as many as 283K backlinks. This tells us that search engines are likely to trust it and view it as credible, so that’s why we linked to it.

Use these same tactics to boost your on-page SEO.

5. Boost Your CTR 

In the context of organic traffic, the click-through rate (CTR) is the number of clicks your page receives divided by the number of times it is shown on the search engine results pages:

clicks ÷ impressions = CTR

For example, if you had 10 clicks and 1000 impressions, then your CTR is 1%.

You probably know that a high CTR is crucial for your digital marketing efforts. But most people forget it impacts their rankings, too. 

Just think about it:

If your page gets ranked at the top of Google’s search results, but no one clicks on it, what does that tell the search engine? 

Probably that your site isn’t a good fit, and that another web page should replace it. That’s when your search engine rankings take a plunge. 

To avoid this, ensure that the users want to click on your result by optimizing the content that shows up in the SERPs. 

What exactly gets displayed in the SERPs will very much depend on your position. 

For example, if you manage to acquire the crown jewel of the search results – the featured snippet position – the search engines are likely to show your headline and a snippet of your content:

A featured snippet of our blog post shows that search engines display a snippet from the content and the headline of the result for that position

If, however, your page gets placed somewhere lower in the SERPs, the search engines are likely to display your meta description and perhaps some visual media from your result:

A search result for our blog post showing that the search engine displays our meta description and an image from the post

Unfortunately, you can’t know which position you’ll take in advance – so you need to optimize your web pages for all scenarios. 

This means you should:

  • Write an enticing headline. 
  • Write a descriptive, curiosity-building meta description. 
  • Add bullet point or numbered lists to your content. 
  • Add relevant visual media.

You should also ensure you have a logical site structure, as the search results may also show how your page is organized within your website.

For example, our search result clearly shows that the content is marked as a post, rather than, say, a solutions page. This already tells the reader what to expect and may help convince them to click:

A Google search result with our site structure highlighted

💡 Keep in mind that search engines can change your headlines and meta descriptions. However, this usually happens when the original versions don’t attract clicks. By changing them, search engines are actually helping you get more search traffic.

6. Enhance UX

User experience (UX) is a key part of on-page SEO, affecting user engagement, bounce rates, and conversions. All these metrics further influence your search engine rankings: 

  • High user engagement, low bounce rates, and high conversions positively impact your rankings.
  • Low user engagement, high bounce rates, and low conversions negatively impact your rankings.

But let’s backtrack a bit. What is user experience, exactly? 

UX refers to the overall experience that a user has while interacting with your website. It encompasses all aspects of the user’s interaction, including usability, accessibility, functionality, design, and overall satisfaction. 

A good UX is one in which the user can easily accomplish their goals, find what they are looking for, and enjoy the process of using your website. 

Providing good UX, however, is a huge undertaking that entails many aspects. Here are just some you should consider:

  • Navigation
  • Multimedia
  • Readability
  • Page speed
  • Mobile optimization

We’ve discussed other crucial factors – like creating valuable content or building relevant links – before. Let’s now delve into these other aspects of UX in more depth.

a) Improve Page Speed 

How many times have you exited a page because it took forever to load? 

You don’t want your audience to do the same – because their exiting your page increases your bounce rates and lowers engagement and conversions. In fact, website conversion rates drop by an average of 2.11% with each additional second of load time. 

Users don’t like waiting, so don’t force them to. Here are quick ways to improve your page speed:

  • Optimize your images. Compressed images load faster without sacrificing image quality. Compress them using tools like TinyPNG.
  • Reduce server response time. Choose a reliable hosting provider with a good track record of uptime and fast server speeds. You can also reduce the number of HTTP requests by minimizing the use of external scripts and optimizing your code.
  • Test your page speed. You can’t know how long it takes for your page to load unless you test it. Use tools like PageSpeed Insights to do so.
Results of a page speed diagnosis
Also, check how your page performs on both mobile and desktop.
  • Leverage caching plugins. A caching plugin will store frequently accessed resources, such as HTML pages, images, and scripts, on the user's browser or device. By caching these resources, the plugin reduces the amount of time needed to load a page, since the browser doesn’t need to download them again. 
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN). CDN will serve your website's content from a server closest to the user, reducing the time it takes to load.
  • Reduce the number of plugins and scripts you use, as they can slow down your website.

b) Optimize For Mobile

Most users access websites via mobile devices, so it’s crucial you make your website mobile-friendly.

These tips that will help you do so:

  • Choose a mobile-responsive design or template for your website.
  • Test your website's mobile-friendliness using tools like Google's Mobile-Friendly Test.
The results of a mobile-friendly test for PrestigeLinks shows that the home page is usable on mobile
  • Use larger font sizes, shorter paragraphs, and clear headings to make your content easy to read.
  • Use mobile-friendly navigation, such as hamburger menus, to make it easier for mobile users to navigate your website.
  • Add mobile-specific features, like click-to-call buttons or geolocation, to provide a more personalized experience for mobile users.
  • Optimize images and videos by using the appropriate file sizes and formats.

c) Ensure Easy Navigation

Users should be able to easily navigate your website and quickly find the information they’re looking for.

To ensure that, follow these guidelines:

  • Use a clear and concise menu structure, preferably at the top of the page.
  • Use descriptive labels for your menu items. Avoid industry jargon or “overly-creative” terms that confuse users. For example, label your contact page as “Contact” instead of “Ask us anything.”
The main menu of the PrestigeLinks website
Example of how we labeled our menu items.
  • Use internal links to help users find related content on your website.
  • Include breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs show users a trail of links that help them understand the structure of your content and where they are on your website. They typically appear underneath the header and show the user's current page and parent pages. This helps readers understand the context of the content they’re viewing, as well as move between pages more easily.
An example of breadcrumbs taken from a Hubspot Academy page.
An example of breadcrumbs taken from a Hubspot Academy page.

d) Use multimedia

Multimedia elements like images, videos, and infographics can also enhance UX. They help readers better understand the content they’re reading and may increase their engagement. 

To appropriately add multimedia elements to your website, follow these guides:

  • Use high-quality multimedia that’s relevant to your content.
  • Compress the images and use the appropriate format.
  • Don’t overdo it, as too many multimedia elements can decrease your page speed.

e) Improve readability

Readability is crucial for UX because it affects users’ ability to understand and engage with your content. 

Poorly written or poorly formatted content will make it difficult for your users to understand it, leading to frustration, disengagement, and potentially high bounce rates.

Apply these tips to avoid that scenario:

  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. 
  • Use headings and subheadings to break up your content and make it easier to scan.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists to make your content more digestible.
  • Avoid jargon or complex language. Don’t confuse your users – use simple and concise language instead.

Ranking Without Backlinks Is No Easy Feat – And Isn't Always Worth It

So, yes: your SEO strategy really needs to be top-notch when you’re trying to rank without backlinks. It may also require you to sacrifice you some other things, like search traffic, as you’ll be forced to choose keywords with lower search volumes. 

There’s no way of going around it: link building is still the most effective way to get your content to rank, especially for keywords with higher search volumes. 

Besides, it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can work with companies like ours that build your backlinks for you – or you don’t pay us. 

Need Help Building High-Quality Links?

Let our expert link builders help you build backlinks on any site you want. Schedule a free consultation to browse through our list of partner sites, or order your backlinks now

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