New Backlinks Do Top-ranking Pages Get Over Time

Do top-ranking pages get new links at a faster pace than lower-ranking pages? 

Almost any seasoned SEO will almost probably respond “yes” to your question. But up until today, no one has been able to back up this assertion.

Try this in case you have no idea what I’m referring to:

Enter the URL of the top-ranking page for a trending keyword in your niche into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. Look at the report on referring domains. What you’ll see will resemble this:

growth in total referring domains for the keyword research manual’s current top ranking.

That is the rate at which new links are added over time to the page with the highest rating for the term “keyword research.”

Let’s now look at the page that is now ranked in position 8 for the same keyword. Does it acquire new backlinks at the same rate?

rise in total referring domains for the #8 spot now held by the keyword research manual.

That’s not even close to the same link acquisition speed, am I right?

Therefore, the question is: Do top-ranking pages receive a lot of links because they rank highly or do they rank highly because they receive a lot of links?

In both, you’re right.

What is the ‘vicious circle of SEO’?

The idea is that individuals are most inclined to connect to pages with high search engine rankings. These pages consequently receive links more quickly than all other pages on a particular topic. They are therefore very difficult to defeat in the SERPs.

SEO’s “vicious circle”

Is there any basis for this hypothesis? Read on for the study’s findings.

But first, let me give you two theoretical justifications for why it makes sense.

1. Top-ranking pages get more exposure

Numerous users are exposed to pages that rank highly on Google. The majority of people usually pick one of the first few search results, thus the explanation.

As a result, when someone later wants to cite a source on a particular subject, they will link to the page they just finished reading—i.e., the page with the highest ranking. They didn’t read this in the first place, thus they can’t possible link to a page that ranks worse.

I regularly practice this, so I am aware that it is true. For instance, I discuss how Google doesn’t like PBNs in my white-hat SEO guide. To support my claim, I also include a link to a source on

excerpt taken from our white-hat SEO handbook.

Why did I decide to link to that particular manual?

because when looking for a resource on the subject, it was the first page I found.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t motivated to learn more, though. Just because this was the first website I clicked and it had what I was looking for. I didn’t need to read or examine any further results, so that was a relief.

2. Top-ranking pages have more credibility

Searchers tend to give a lot of credence to the majority of top-ranking pages simply because of their position in the rankings. Consider this: When a page gets ranked first, Google is effectively informing you that it is the best page in the world for your topic.

The fact that individuals are so eager to cite these pages when they require a reliable resource to link to is therefore not surprising.

Why does this matter?

Because of the ‘vicious loop of SEO,’ pages that rank at the top receive more backlinks than usual. Furthermore, backlinks are among the most important Google ranking variables, as is well known.

The relationship between organic search traffic and referring domains, as shown by an analysis of 920 million web pages.

As a result, a page often ranks higher in the search results the more backlinks it has.

This makes it INCREDIBLY tough to outrank the top-ranking pages.

Does the ‘vicious circle of SEO’ hold true at scale? [study]

All of the foregoing is merely a theory. Based on a small number of carefully chosen keywords, it continually draws new backlinks because the top-ranking material is of the highest quality.

But is the “vicious circle of SEO” still valid at a larger scale?

There is:

If you’ve never seen a box plot before, here’s how you should read it:

In other words, half of all calculated values lie between the bar’s left and right boundaries. The median value is shown by the line inside it.


We used 10,000 non-branded keywords with monthly search levels between 2 and 5K to construct this graph. Then, for each of them, we grabbed the top 20 ranking pages (in the US).

The number of followed referring domains for each of the resulting 200,000 pages was then examined. This allowed us to calculate how many of them were bought in the last three months.

Please take note that we omitted the top 10–20 spots from the graph because there were hardly any discernible changes between these pages.

The top three search results typically create more newly followed referring domains than the other pages in the SERP, as shown by the graph.

Additionally, we investigated the relationship between a page’s SERP position and the amount of recently acquired following referring domains over the previous three months. The correlations that resulted from doing this for each of the 10,000 SERPs were graphed.

As you can see, there is typically a correlation between the quantity of fresh backlinks and the page’s ranking on Google.


Playing the correlation vs causation card never hurts.

Our experiment’s findings cannot verify or disprove the hypothesis that pages get backlinks as a natural effect of ranking well for popular queries, despite the fact that we strongly believe so. We would need to conduct a different kind of experiment in order to investigate the cause and effect.

How fast do top-ranking pages get new backlinks?

We must determine the percentage by which the backlink profiles of the top-ranking pages grew over the previous three months in order to gain a greater understanding of the rate of link acquisition for those pages.

Consider two pages with radically different link profiles as an illustration:

500 referring domains on page A

100 referring domains on page B.

The growth rates of those pages would be as follows if each received 50 new backlinks during a three-month period:

550 referring domains (+10% growth) on page A

150 referring domains (+50% growth) on page B

This is what we did for all of the pages with the highest rankings that we looked at. These are the outcomes:

The majority of the top-ranking pages actually acquire followed backlinks (from new referring domains) at a rate of between +5% and +14.5% every month, according to the research.

If a client asks, “How many backlinks do we need to build to outrank the #1 ranking page?

For instance, you might believe that in order to compete with the current top-ranking page, which has links from exactly that many RDs, you need links from at least 55 referring domains if you’re trying to rank for “cute kittens.”

The page with the most backlinks for the term “cute cats”

Let’s assume, though, that it takes you three months to create that many links.

The present top-ranking page’s backlink profile will have increased by between +17% and +50% by then, meaning that it will now have links from between 64 and 83 referring domains.

So, just to keep up, you’ll need to create 83 backlinks in 3 months.


Do you want to know how quickly the website with the highest rating for your desired term is gaining links?

Check Ahrefs’ Site Explorer’s Referring domains graph.

The #1 ranking result for “learn SEO” has the following backlink profile growth rate:

This is a little under par. However, if you want to compete, you still have to establish a lot of links in a short amount of time.

NOTE. The cumulative view of all link kinds is displayed in this graph. Nofollow links are not excluded. Because of this, we advise using this graph merely to gain a general idea of the link growth rate.

We observed a more evenly distributed performance between +0% and +14.5% every month for the remaining top-ranking pages. However, if you look at the median values, you can clearly notice a trend: the median link growth rate decreases as the ranking position increases.

One more thing…

We have discovered that a page’s rank in the Google search results clearly correlates with the rate of link acquisition.

Does that imply that acquiring new following links more quickly will improve your ranking? And if you don’t keep up with the others’ pace, will you be removed from the top 10 search results?

We looked into if link acquisition rate and SERP movement were related.

For all of the keywords in our sample, we grabbed the most recent three months of SERPs. The pages that were in the top 3 both back then and now were then cross-referenced.

What we have is this:

Because we were unable to identify any observable correlation between the rate of backlink acquisition for top-ranked pages and their individual ranking positions, this graph may appear a little frightening and difficult to understand.

In contrast to bars on the right, we anticipated that bars on the left would have a tendency to move above zero on the y-axis. If it had occurred, it would be evidence that link acquisition speed and rankings are related.

We might not have witnessed something happening for the reason that “not all links are created equal.” Every SEO is aware that if the links are of poor quality, the sheer number of links won’t matter much.

Furthermore, there are other “ranking factors” besides backlinks. When ranking pages, Google considers a variety of other factors, including the quality of the content and behavioral elements (such as dwell time).

This is likely the reason why occasionally pages with links from more referring domains (RDs) rank lower than pages with links from fewer RDs, like in the following example:

The SERP for “make money online” reveals that the page at position #1 has fewer RD links than the page at position #3.

Give a read if you want to know Who Links to Your Website.

Final Thoughts

Our study demonstrates that pages that rank higher do typically gain more backlinks (and do so more quickly) than ones that rank lower. We cannot, however, state with certainty why this is.

It can be a fully natural side effect of being first for a well-known search term, or it might be because the site owners are intentionally constructing links to these pages. In practice, it probably combines elements of each of these.

The assumption that obtaining connections more quickly than your rivals is a powerful ranking component that significantly affects ranks is one item, nonetheless, for which we were unable to find any data support.

So, ultimately, we arrived at our starting point. Building high-quality links and developing user-friendly, helpful websites has always been our recommendation.

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