How many backlinks you need depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The more you want to achieve (in terms of keyword targets, rankings and visitor numbers), the more backlinks you’ll need. You can potentially rank your business’s website with literally just a few backlinks, but that would be for low competition keywords with low search volumes, meaning you would get few visitors to your site.
Any general number of backlinks given as a target could be argued against, as it will vary very much from business to business, however, a small business should be looking to get 50 quality backlinks to get their SEO campaign off to a good start. With 50 quality backlinks it would be reasonable to expect first page rankings for 5 or so keywords of average competitiveness.
Setting backlink targets isn’t wise though. The right approach is not to set targets but to steadily and naturally build links on a consistent basis. Link building should be an on-going process, without a target in mind or a deadline in place. Even when you reach the top of Google you shouldn’t stop building links. As soon as you stop you’re giving your competitors a better chance of overtaking you.
What makes the question difficult to give a more precise answer to is that there are variables to be considered when assessing how many backlinks you need.
The best indication of how many backlinks you’ll need to rank well for a keyword is how many backlinks each of your competitors for that keyword have. You should add up how many links point to each of the pages (the specific pages displayed in the search results and not the total number of links that those sites have) ranked in the top 10, ignore the numbers from the webpage with the most backlinks and the webpage with the least backlinks, and divide the total by 8. This is only a rough estimate, and doesn’t account for the quality of those backlinks, however, if you get as many backlinks, of equal quality, as the average number that the sites currently ranking well for that keyword have, then it’s reasonable to expect your site to rank well also.
Focusing on numbers of backlinks, rather than the quality of them, is a common mistake. You should be clear on the fact that backlinks aren’t all equal in value. 1 high quality backlink can be worth 100+ low quality backlinks. Therefore, it’s not simply a numbers game in which whoever has the most backlinks ranks highest. You need to get the balance right between the number of backlinks you have and the quality of the backlinks you have. You should aim for each backlink to meet at least half of these criteria:
- From a relevant source
- From a trusted source
- Sends traffic
- Exact/phrase/synonym match anchor link text used
- On a page with PageRank
- Next to backlinks to authority websites
- From a different source to your existing backlinks
- Not reciprocal
- Few other backlinks on the page
- Not easily acquired
- Not paid for
If you have a well optimised website, then you’ll need less backlinks than if you have a poorly optimised website. The reason is that a poorly optimised site will dilute and waste the relevance, authority and trust that backlinks give. To properly optimise your website, there are a wide range of steps that you need to take, but the ones that have the most direct effect on reducing the number of backlinks that you need are:
- Positioning important pages only 1 or 2 clicks away from the homepage
- Making sure no page is located more than 5 clicks away from the homepage
- Directing authority towards the pages that you want to rank well
- Checking for and fixing broken links
- Adding in-content links to important pages
- Removing unnecessary outbound links
- 301 redirecting non-existent urls that have backlinks pointing to them
- Removing or merging pages that have little useful content on them