One of the questions most business owners and digital marketers ask is – is it possible to grow a website without backlinks?
So much has been said about the importance of backlinks in growing website traffic. But considering the difficulty that sometimes comes with backlink building, you most likely want to know if you can bypass it.
Some Undisputed Backlinks Facts
Before answering the question, first, let’s examine some known SEO facts with regards to backlinks.
Leadgenera highlighted the following as some undisputed backlinks facts
- Backlink is important, but content should be the number 1 priority
- Poor backlinks are now devalued, not penalized
- The number of backlinks is NOT a ranking factor
- Backlinks CAN HELP to improve your website traffic
The fourth point states that “Backlinks CAN HELP”. In other words, you can still get your desired result without necessarily involving backlinks.
How an Average Person Uses the Search Engine
This process should be familiar to you:
- You need or want information about something so you turned to Google and search.
- Google comes up with search results as expected based on trustworthiness (backlinks), user experience and relevance.
- You scrolled up and down and eventually clicked on the first result because you consider the title the most relevant plus you believe it must be the best to be on the number one spot.
- The site opened and you are met with an eyesore as it is incomprehensible so you rush out almost immediately.
- You go back to Google search result page and the next result that appeals to you is the one on the fourth spot and you clicked it.
- You spend quality time on this page before eventually clicking a product you like to buy which takes you to Amazon.
- Google then ends your session on the site and analyzes it. The data is compared to any other result you clicked.
- In the analysis, Google would discover that the first result either did not satisfy your search intent or frustrated you since you left too early.
- The result of this is that Google rewards result number 4 and penalizes result number one each time something like this happens.
User Experience Over Backlinks
As seen from the example above, user experience plays an important role in growing website traffic.
For the result on the number one spot, different SEO factors may have helped it attain the number one spot, but the poor user experience is bound to cause its downfall.
For the result in number 4, different SEO factors could also have played a role in pushing it to that position. However, what is keeping it there and pushing it forward to a higher position is its great user experience.
So, how do you know if your website has a good user experience?
SEO Metrics for Assessing User Experience
Here are three important metrics you can use to check user experience on your site:
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
Time on site
This metric tells Google the level of user engagement on your site and how helpful your site or your content is to visitors.
According to Semrush study, the average time on site is about 4 or 5 minutes. However, most pages that make it to the first page on Google get an average of 10 to 25 minutes.
So, your goal should be to get an average of 10 minutes time on-site to boost your ranking and increase website traffic.
Say a visitor checks out your site through Google and spends some quality time on that particular page. And then, the visitor leaves your site afterwards.
Say that happens to most of your site visitors. What it tells Google is that – while that particular page may be relevant to the audience, your entire website is not. And that’s clearly not good for user experience.
How many times have you opened a blog post through Google and you found yourself opening new links from the same post in new tabs? Now, that’s a website with high page/session and such site is headed for the top.
The secret to this is simple – internal links. Watch out for more on this shortly.
It’s safe to say bounce rate is like the opposite of page/session.
When a visitor enters your site and doesn’t check out other pages, that’s a bounce.
And except you run affiliate marketing business where people should normally go to other sites from yours, you want to keep your bounce rate low.
For a regular business that’s non-affiliate marketing, the lower the bounce rate, the better your ranking.
However, for affiliate marketing websites, the higher the bounce rates, the better the ranking.
The three metrics above can significantly help boost your website ranking on the search engine.
So, back to this question – is it possible to grow a website without backlinks? The answer is yes. Yes, you can grow your website traffic with focus on providing amazing user experience…alone.
This does not make generating traffic easier. Instead, it makes you the sole determinant of how much traffic you get. Hence, the focus is on onsite SEO.
How to Grow Website Traffic with Onsite SEO only
Below are some onsite SEO strategies you can employ to give your users the best user experience and as a result, drive relevant traffic to your site
1. Audit and fix on-site SEO
This is where you start. A number of tools can come in handy for this. Popular among such tools is Screaming Frog.
Here are the details you should pay attention to as you audit
- Page titles
Do they have keywords? Will they interest your audience?
- Page URLs
Again, do they include keywords?
- Meta descriptions
Are they compelling enough to pull people to your website?
Do they include keywords?
- Image Alt tags
Do they include keywords?
- Heading tags
Do your contents have H1 and H2 tags?
Do they include keywords?
Did they effectively break contents into bite-size chunks?
You should do this for every important page on your website.
2. Know your Crown Jewel Search terms
Identify about 3 to 6 keywords that get a lot of search traffic and your brand can rank for. These keywords will be your brand’s primary search terms (crown jewel).
3. Build Anchor pages for your crown jewel
An anchor page is that page created to rank on the number one spot on Google for specific keyword or term.
To do this, go to Google and look at the results in the top 5 results for your crown jewel. Then go on to create a page that provides more helpful and valuable content than all of those pages.
If you are really serious about getting the number one spot, then make sure your content is better than the top 5 contents combined. Now, that’s how to get Google’s attention.
For emphasis, ensure your anchor page is the most informative page on the internet as far as that crown jewel is concerned.
4. Create Topic Clusters around your crown jewel
A topic simply a variety of topics around one central, specific topic.
Below is an example of topic clusters around the search term “backlink building”
This example is gotten from a tool that can really help you with creating topic clusters – Answerthepublic. It’s a great tool to kickstart ideas for topic clusters.
However, you’re going to need other tools like Google suggest to build a comprehensive list of long-tail topics.
5. Build a Publishing Calendar
Now that you have your anchor page created for your crown jewel and your topic clusters are ready, it’s time to build a calendar on how those topics will be published.
Publishing once a week is good, but not the best. While your traffic can grow when you publish once a week, it tends to be slow.
So, it’s recommended to publish at least two times in a week. That leaves you with 8 to 10 articles per month.
Create a plan for your writing, editing and publishing, and make sure you stick to the plan.
You have an anchor page that occupies the driving seat of your entire SEO strategy. Hence, make sure your contents are on topics associated with the main keyword (crown jewel) in your anchor page.
You need Google to get the signals of the context and pages of your website and hyperlink is your best bet at achieving that.
So, interlink your posts together so visitors can navigate from one page to another since the topics are related.
Also, don’t forget what we said about page/session and its effect on ranking. Now, this is your opportunity to amass high page/sessions and reduce bounce rate.
7. Be Consistent
It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another thing to stick to it. And the latter is as important as the former.
After creating your calendar, make up your mind and strive towards working with it for at least 52 weeks.
Of course, growth will be initially slow and almost non-existent.
Bringing us to one important thing you need to know. Have you heard of Google Sandbox?
Google sandbox is believed to be a filter that prevents new websites from showing in Google’s top results.
While Google has not officially confirmed the existence of sandbox, practical experience of most webmasters shows that there is indeed some Google algorithm that prevents new websites from ranking high until after a period of time.
The best way to describe this is to see it as a “probation period”. No matter what you do and all the work you put in, your website still won’t get the ranking it deserves until the “probation period” is over.
So, do you give up? Of course not!
Stay consistent and prove to Google that you mean business.
While no one knows categorically how long this “probation period” lasts, the common belief among some SEO experts is that there is a “13-month rule”.
You see why you need to stay highly consistent for the first one year, irrespective of the results you are getting.
There is no denying that backlinks will help speed things up and even get you ranking for tough keywords.
However, what’s even more important is focusing on creating amazing content that satisfies your target audience’s needs snd generally giving them the best user experience they can get.
So rather than spend time actively looking for backlinks, focus that time and energy on creating great contents and on your onsite SEO. Then give it time, since websites naturally acquire backlinks with age. Backlinks will eventually come – organically.