If you’ve read our other SEO content and guides, this article title probably confuses you. If we preach backlinks as being the most important factor in determining Google rankings, how can you possibly rank without backlinks?
It is technically possible to rank well without any backlinks, as this article will explain in detail. Disclaimer, however: we do not recommend making this your regular process or expectation, as you will heavily limit yourself to outlier subject matter to achieve SEO success in this manner. We still consider backlinks the most important component of ranking well with Google, and they should always be pursued properly. For more information on the importance of backlinks, check out our White Hat SEO Guide.
Backlinks are the rule, but there are exceptions where you can succeed without them. However, these exceptions are really are just outliers that still adhere to backlinks being essential. But enough qualification, here are the three exceptions.
1) If you have no real competition, you can rank without backlinks.
Lack of competition makes backlinks less necessary, or in some cases, completely unnecessary. It is easy to stand out if you’re the only one around. However, these niches usually won’t be large or monetizable. Unless you’re on the cutting edge of a topic, you’re guaranteed to have competition, because… well, it is the internet.
However, it is possible for you to find a niche subject so specific and unusual that you have little or no competition, and are able to rank well without worrying about backlinks. If so, you’ve struck SEO gold, and you should definitely stake a claim. Ironically, being in this sort of “big fish in small pond” position also makes it very easy to acquire backlinks, since you easily establish yourself as an authoritative source on whatever niche subject matter you have laid claim to.
2) If the top ranking pages have zero backlinks, you too can rank without backlinks.
In these rare scenarios, you will have the ability to outrank your competition with better-focused and higher-quality content – the other most-important ranking factor besides backlinks themselves. Again, it is easy to stand out to Google when you set yourself apart from your competition with superior content, all else equal.
To seal the deal, just one or two high-quality links will go a very long way in these situations, further differentiating yourself as superior, boosting your SEO ranking with Google and ensuring total domination over your competition. Insert mad scientist laugh here.
3) If your website has a high domain rating (DR), an individual article can rank without backlinks.
The problem with this individual scenario is that to have a high DR, a strong overall backlink profile is required. You will still need to have backlinks pointing to your site somewhere. So yes, you can write an authoritative article without backlinks that will rank well, but to do so your website will have to already have an established backlink profile with other pages on the site that do have backlinks.
On top of the challenge of having a strong backlink profile alread in-place, you will likely need to lean on one or both of the first two scenarios to stand out even further. This scenario is a bit of a catch-22. However, it definitely has its merits, especially if you have a well-established suite of content that is well-linked to.
TL;DR: You Still Need Backlinks, Long-term
Despite these very specific opportunities, the vast majority of the articles you write will have enough competition to need backlinks, so develop your process to factor this in, rather than chasing outliers and hoping for fringe situations. We consider it not possible to consistently or sustainably rank well with Google without a strong backlink profile.