How Long Does Link Building Take to Influence Rankings?
For efficient search engine optimisation (SEO), any digital marketers will tell you about the importance of links and link building. With so much competition in the digital ecosystem, the importance of high-quality content to generate links is absolutely imperative if your business is going to survive online.
However, link building takes time. Unfortunately, you won’t become a Google ranking dynamo overnight after creating your backlinks. Whilst no is no exact answer to how long building links takes to influence your ranking, in this article, we will summarise and break down the different elements to at least provide a general idea.
What is link building?
When somebody talks about link building, they are referring to the process of another website containing a link back to their own. You may know these are hyperlinks and they are a way for users to navigate seamlessly between websites.
For ranking on Google and other search engines (we focus on Google due to the huge market share), quality links pointing to your page from other sites are a rating factor in algorithms. If a lot of websites are linking to you, the better the chance of featuring towards the top of Google.
To use an analogy, having a link on an external site is a bit like a government official being given a vote of confident. It is an endorsement that other people like and support your content.
The importance of links
Generally, if all other things are equal, the quality and quantity of links is accepted as being the decisive factor in search engine rankings. Going into 2020, there are rumours that the weighting has been slightly reduced in favour of social media shares and likes, given the gravitas those channels have in modern world.
The Google ranking algorithm
Google rank websites based on around 200 factors and links are a big part of that. A study by Ahrefs in 2020 showed that 91% of websites get NO traffic organically from Google, mostly because they don’t have any backlinks. In simple terms, nobody will ever find these sites. In that study, it was found the 55% of websites do in fact have zero backlinks directing users to them.
This creates a huge opportunity for link builders to quickly outrank their competitors. Ahrefs studied 920 million webpages and found that as traffic increased, so did the number of domains referring to them. The correlation here was quality content. Websites with the best content i.e. told customers everything they needed, got spotted by others in the industry who then rewarded them with a link.
How long does it take for my links to influence rankings?
As we said at the outset of this article, it is almost impossible to put a timeframe on how long link building with take to influence your ranking. We know that links are a big part of the Google search algorithm but there are 200 other factors that also play a part. These include attributes such as mobile responsiveness, site content quality, domain level factors, brand signals and other special rules.
In a test by Moz they found that it takes an average of 10 weeks to see just one ranking jump. This makes it very difficult for SEO professionals to prove that their link building campaigns are working and creating a return on investment. The focus needs to be on long-term gains rather than just the short-term improvements.
The Moz case study picked out 76 links pointing to pages which were all similar to each other in content and that content hadn’t been changed for 6 months. This ruled out other ranking influences. The graph of the time it took to see ranking improvements is below.
They did find that if your ranking is particularly low, it is a lot quicker to make progress through link building. This most likely relates to our earlier point where a lot of sites have zero to very few backlinks allowing businesses to quickly outrank the competition as the start of campaigns in some industries.
Link building needs to be planned
Whilst it takes 5 to 10 weeks for your link building to influence rankings, it is important to remember that there can be weeks or months of creating a strategy before that point.
For example, if you don’t have the resource available in-house, you may need to start by finding an agency or consultancy. That process alone can take months to get the right person or third-party company on board. Similarly, you need to research the best sites to target for link building, develop a strategy and then incrementally execute all of that. Overall it could take anything up to a year to formulate.
Link building must be an ongoing tactical process to keep your ranking ticking along nicely.
What happens in the 5 to 10 weeks and beyond?
The 5 to 10-week period for link building to influence rankings isn’t any sort of elaborate queuing system put in place by Google. From the time you execute links to a ranking jump, there are typically three phases.
Google will pick up the website and the link to include it within its directory. If you type the URL of a page into Google and it shows in the results, you know that it has been indexed. A new link is usually indexed within just a few days.
This is where those sites that sit towards the bottom of rankings take a significant leap in the space of 8 to 9 weeks after implementing their link building campaign. If you start seeing movement in the right direction, it’s a good sign that the link building has worked.
In the Ahrefs report we referred to earlier, the average page filling a top 10 ranking spot is between two and three years old. Although you will see an initial jump when ranking low, to break into the top 10 is challenging and needs continuous work.
Much of the phasing depends on your industry and the size of the competition. If you have a niche, the chances of getting to the top faster are increased. However, if you want to compete with Amazon, there’s probably a fair battle ahead!
Is there any way to speed up the influence of link building?
Although there is still no guarantee as to the exact time it takes to witness a ranking jump, there are several methods that have potential to speed it up.
Domain Authority is a ranking metric that predicts how competitive a site is with a score between 1 and 100 (100 being the best). Links from sites with a high domain authority can help improve the ranking of sites faster than those with a low score.
As part of your link building strategy, aim to get links from other sites that also have lots of links and therefore a strong domain authority score. Domain authority is dynamic and something you should monitor as new sites enter the ecosystem within your overall strategy.
There are tools available to check your domain authority which you can find by visiting here.
For faster and long-term success, you need to find legitimate backlinks. In marketing terms, we would split these into follow and nofollow links.
Follow links are the ones that count and push valuable ranking points to your website. A Nofollow link is one which does not count towards your ranking. This includes channels like social media, forums and blogs that are all open to the public. That doesn’t mean those channels aren’t useful as the chances are, if the content on them is good quality, they will lead to a follow link.
Putting it into context, if Facebook or YouTube links legitimately improved your ranking, there is a big risk of fake profiles spamming the internet purely for ranking purposes.
If you want faster results, focus on follow links first. Nofollow links will be covered off as part of social campaigns.
A citation is a mention of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) on any website. The mention will pass into the search algorithm to influence your ranking. When starting your link building strategy, it is a useful exercise to get as many citations live as you can.
A citation can either be structured (Yelp, Yellow Pages) or unstructured (within a website or blog). Business listing sites are heavily crawled and indexed by Google. Google My Business and local searches have become key to success with an exponential growth in mobile users.
Getting a lot of backlinks quickly will accelerate the time it takes to you rank well. Digital Marketing expert Neil Patel explains will to create links even when nobody knows your name in his blog. To be highly efficient, he recommends 5 to 10 inbound links to your homepage within the first month, building up to more in time. If you just spam everywhere with links, it could be negatively viewed as spam.
It is difficult to give an accurate time as to how long it takes link building campaigns to influence your search ranking. However, in this article, we have spoken about how you can plan a great strategy that will make your efforts as productive as possible. As well as that, you need to monitor results with tools such as Monitor Backlinks to check whether your backlinks are being indexed. Keeping track of and auditing links is almost as important as building them.
Ultimately, content is king and always has been. If you create quality information for your customers and industry, others will support you. Success won’t happen overnight but do not get disheartened.
The internet and digital ecosystem are continually changing as we go into the 2020s. With new technology like artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and use of mobile, the way Google develops its algorithm will without a doubt change too. Staying on top of link building and SEO is key to the success of digital marketing.