How Many Links Do I Need? How Many Keywords Can I Target?

I talk with a lot of clients about link building and I inevitably get the same questions again and again.

First, they want to know how many links they’ll need to get to page one (or the top of page one). And second, they want to know how many keywords they can get to page one with their links.

To answer these questions, I’ve come up with another one of my famous analogies.  I hope it makes sense to you.

Okay, let’s compare your SEO strategy to a formula one race. The goal of course is to win the race, or at least place. (This of course is the metaphor for ranking in position one on the SERP, or at least the first page.)  The keywords are your cars. Let’s say you have rankings that look like this:

Keyword                         Ranking
prom dresses                   #9
wedding dresses              #16
wedding dress                 #19
brides maid dresses         #41
formal gown                   #27
formal wear                    #87
tuxedo                             not in top 100

You probably have more than eight cars in the race, but let’s just look at these for now. Clearly, your onsite optimization and content has been more focused on prom dresses than on brides maid dresses and your tuxedo race car isn’t even in the same league as the other cars. Now that we have a baseline of where you’re ranking, we can start making some guestimates about your need for links.

Links are the fuel. Which car has the most fuel and which cars need a whole lot more? Sure, it would be easy to say that prom dresses must have the most links because it’s ranking the best. But there could be a whole lot more going on. How is your onsite SEO? What about the competition? Some keywords are more competitive than others. It’s possible that you’re not ranking well for brides maid dresses because you don’t have enough content on your site relevant to that topic OR your competitors have been aggressively optimizing for that keyword OR you don’t have enough links related to brides maid dresses. It could be a lot of things.

Because we can’t know all the reasons we rank where we do, we have to proceed with a willingness to experiment a little. If you have unlimited time or an unlimited budget (if you are outsourcing your link building), then you can go after all your keywords aggressively. But most businesses don’t have unlimited resources and will have to determine where to focus their efforts.

There are two important points to consider before moving forward with your link building strategy.

1)     Build links for keywords that have solid ONSITE SEO and some ranking. Let’s talk about tuxedo. It’s not even in the top 100. You’ve got to up your ONSITE SEO game before worrying about links. To use the race analogy – improve your car before worrying too much about the fuel. Write new content on your site relevant to tuxedos. Add tagged pictures of tuxedos. Create a whole page on your site with tuxedo-relevant content. Write a blog post about tuxedos. Get the car fixed up, tuned up and shined up before spending too much time on links. (*The exception to this is to do things simultaneously because we know links take time to have an impact. Building links WHILE also focusing on onsite SEO is never a bad idea.)

2)      Go after your most profitable keywords. Yes, we’d like all the keywords to rank, but you can’t get a million links in one day (or shouldn’t!), so start building for your best keywords first. As I write this post, it’s May. I would say that putting a lot of effort toward prom dresses might not make a lot of sense as prom season is pretty much done. Wedding dresses have some seasonality too, but you can pretty much sell wedding dresses year round. So build as many links as you can afford (time or money if outsourcing) toward two or three of your very best keywords first. When they get to page one, then go after another batch. There’s no point in building 100 links to 20 different keywords. All might improve in ranking, but none would win! Who cares if your keyword goes from position #41 to #31? No one goes to page three, right? I suggest you build 100 links to two keywords and see where that lands you.

To recap: There are no easy answers to the questions, “How many links do I need?” and “How many keywords can I target?” My best advice – go after keywords that are already ranking and need that extra push to get to page one. As for how many keywords to target – go after a couple, get them to page one, then go after a couple more and so on.  What’s the worst that could happen? You get too many links for your keyword and rocket it to position #1? That’s a problem a lot of folks would like to have!