Yep, it’s a controversial subject among SEOs.

But, you probably already know this: I recommend link building.

The very word “link building” has a bad reputation. Why? Because, in the past, it was improperly executed by overeager marketers.

Today, some people try to sugar coat it or call it something like “reputation building.”

I call it like it is. It’s link building. And, there’s nothing wrong with building links in the right way!

Obviously, I’m 100% against spammy, black-hat link building, a la 2011.

So, when it comes to solid, reputable, ethical, high-quality earning, great links to your awesome content, I’m a fan!

My philosophy in business and marketing is to choose long term gains over short term wins. Too often, the short term wins end up costing you in the long term.

And, that’s the tricky thing about link building. It can take a while! It’s a long-term play.

These are important questions. Why? Because link building is still at the heart of SEO.

And, if we’re left with more questions than answers surrounding the topic of link building, then we’ll probably waste time and money somewhere.

I wanted to tackle this question head-on. After years of link building, I decided it was worth it to spend the time and resources to answer the question:  How long do you have to do link building before you get to the top of the SERPs?

Learn exact strategy I used to ranked number one for online marketing and grow my traffic to 195,013 visitors a month.

The Answer:  It Depends

That’s a frustrating answer, I know. I tell you that, because I want to clear the air right at the outset of this article.

If you read the whole article (I recommend it!) you’re going to see a lot of numbers, a lot of data and a lot of analysis.

But, here’s the thing:  The real answer to how long does it take to rank on page 1depends on thousands of factors.

In other words, no matter how sophisticated our analysis, we can’t provide a one-size-fits-all answer to the question.

What’s more helpful than a simple answer, however, is a deeper understanding of how SEO works.

While I may not be able to tell you “You’ll rank in 87 days!,” I can give you some new insights on some of the unexpected ranking factors that you might have overlooked.

Plus, I can give you actionable data that will make your link building efforts more productive than ever before.

The broader question we need to answer is this:  How do links influence the ranking of new content?

Take a look at what we discovered. The results might surprise you.

The Data:  What We Analyzed and How We Did It

To give you the best data possible, we worked with three major data partners:

  • BuzzSumo.com – I use BuzzSumo to come up with article ideas and find influencers. For this study, BuzzSumo helped us source “fresh” content and determine publication dates.
  • SEMRush.com – We pulled data on hundreds of thousands of keywords for this study and other data-driven studies in the past.
  • Ahrefs.com – As you’ll see below, the metric domain rating is a huge component of this study. Ahrefs provided us with more than 150,000 lines of data that were critical to this study.

We first took 20,000 URLs from pages that were published during 2016. For each of those URLs, we looked at 12 separate data points within each month of the year.

Here are some of the important data points we analyzed for each URL:

  1. The date that the page got its first link.
  2. The domain rank of the page every month thereafter.
  3. The momentum of link growth based on Ahref’s measure of each incoming link’s domain authority. This was important to assess how much the total score of all the incoming links improved over a period of time.
  4. The date that the page got its first ranking for the keywords it ranks on now.
  5. The momentum of Google rank growth. In other words, how much does the page’s rank improve over time?  For example, it might first be seen at position #86; next month it moves to #22; in month 3 it hits the first page of Google at #7.

Here’s how the data from a single URL looks when tabulated:

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For every URL and every keyword, we performed a thorough analysis of each one of these factors.

In addition, we isolated key metrics from SEMRush’s organic data and measured these factors as well.

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Domain Rating, provided by Ahrefs, was super important for our study.

According to Ahrefs, domain rating “shows how strong the overall backlink profile of a given website is on a logarithmic scale from 1 to 100 (with latter being the strongest).”

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How do they come up with this rating?

If Domain A has at least one page with a dofollow link to a page on Domain B – we remember the fact that Domain B has a link from Domain A.

There’s a gem nestled inside DR that can give you some remarkable insight into link building. It’s this, as explained by Ahrefs:

Low-rated domain with small number of linked domains can influence your DR more than super-popular domain (which links to million domains).

This little nugget of information helps make link building simpler. You don’t need a link from the New York Times or Google.com to boost your rankings.

Instead, you can build a link from a niche website that links out to only a few other websites.

Doing so will increase your DR and presumably your Google rank, more than a link from a massively popular website.

Keep in mind, we needed to define whether or not a URL reaches the top 2 pages in Google. That measurement is not as simple as it might sound.

For example, what type of “momentum” or movement do we include in this assessment?

I’ll show you one example. We looked at many keywords, but here is the analysis of a single keyword (“red truck”) along with the features we analyzed.

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In order for a page with a ranking keyword to qualify, it had to hit the top two pages of the Google SERP. If it didn’t, we tossed it.

We calculated the percentage change in position each month. Then, we averaged these numbers out, according to the number of months that they changed.

Why? Because we wanted to see how fast the different URLs were able to rank. When we analyzed the aggregate, we would have a good picture of rank increase momentum.

The reality is, there are hundreds of variables that influence a page’s ranking factors. Some are link-specific, but hundreds of others are not.

Link signals, which was our measurement focus, coexist within a variety of other competing signals, especially when analyzing its movement to page 2 of Google.

Our goal was to normalize the data to limit the amount of noise.

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