More is more when it comes to backlinks, right?

Digital marketers scoop these puppies up like wild Pokémon lurking in the tall grass.

But taking every easy backlink opportunity in sight can leave you stuck with a bunch of Pidgeys (a pretty weak Pokémon, for those who aren't in the know).

A bag stuffed with a bunch of ineffective fighters.

There has to be a balance—both for link builders and Pokémon masters.

Let's step away from the cartoon monsters and fully focus our attention on backlinks now. We know that backlinks play a vital role in the fight for SEO, but how many backlinks do you need to achieve greatness?

The answer, unfortunately, is not so cut and dry.

And, it can be tough for marketers to settle on a definitive backlinks goal. 200 backlinks? 2000? More?

Let's dive in. We'll help you get a sense of how to best capture that ever-moving backlinks target.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Many Backlinks You Need

1. How much does the quantity of backlinks matter?

So, first things first—and pardon me if this is SEO 101.

Quantity over quality when it comes to anything SEO is, to put it gently, a terrible idea.

The priority is quality.

This is the overarching theme that connects all effective content marketing strategies.

Google knows how to sniff out the junk compared to the good stuff, and from there, it sorts accordingly. So, just like keyword stuffing and using cheap content mills instead of real, professional writers, it's safe to say that bad links are bad news.

It's better to have 10 amazing, relevant links from reputable websites than 100 from spam sites.

2. Can you buy more backlinks?

When people are thinking about how many backlinks they need, they often feel compelled to increase their number of backlinks rapidly. One sure way to get backlinks is to pay people.

Buying backlinks may sound a little passé, but believe me, it's still a thing.

That said, you’re not going to find many marketers willing to discuss their dirty little secret. Link purchasing is a hushed affair—something plenty of people do, but will deny wholeheartedly.

Google defines a paid link as one obtained in exchange for goods and services, such as a paid review or a sponsored guest post. Pretty benign for the most part, but Google might dock you a bit if, say, the bulk of your posts are clearly paid for.

In reality, most paid links you need to worry about are paid links that come from link farms.

So, the answer is yes, you can pay for backlinks. And not all of these paid backlinks will hurt your SEO. You just want to limit yourself to a certain reasonable number of paid backlinks.

If you pay a link farm to generate 1,000 paid backlinks overnight, that will hurt you.

If you pay a fantastic blogger to review your product or service (most likely generating one quality backlink), that will be fine.

3. Can you be penalized for having too many backlinks?

Google has a long list of link categories that violate their guidelines.

From shady reciprocal linking to spammy directories to writing content-thin, poor-quality guest posts, anything that makes you look less credible is evident to the algorithm.

We know it's tempting to buy backlinks. All that guest blogging and webmaster outreach eats up time in a big way.

But, if you haven't noticed, the omnipresent Google webmasters are onto you. They call this a "link scheme."

If there's a big influx of backlinks suddenly pointing at your site within a couple of days, chances are you'll be penalized.

Link building can be a slow process, and 2,000 new links purchased in bulk from other countries or shady sites read as a violation of guidelines.

If you're caught, you'll get a manual penalty. We'll spare you the gory details, but, this essentially means your organic traffic is toast. Buried deep in the endless line of Google's "Os," a comeback will be tough.

How Many Backlinks Do You Really Need? The Honest Answer

As marketers, we’re always trying to do everything all at once. But, the thing is, we also tend to get caught up chasing a lot of different goals. Some of us focus exclusively on blogging or social media, losing sight of the bigger picture.

Backlinks might have totally fallen by the wayside for you.

Others among us spend our time hunting down backlinks like there’s no tomorrow.

There's a huge spectrum of link-building approaches ranging from "who cares?" to "backlink master."

But no matter what you’re going for—improving your rank, gaining credibility, getting lurking customers to convert—you'll need backlinks to help you achieve this.

And no matter what your marketing goals are, you'll need to set up some backlinks benchmarks and, from there, put the right link-building approach into place.

First, how many backlinks do you already have?

The best way to lock down a specific number is to start with a backlink audit. You can't know how many backlinks you still need until you know how many backlinks you already have.

This means that you need to view your entire backlink profile.

When you're looking at these backlinks, ask yourself:

  • How many backlinks do you currently have?
  • How many quality backlinks do you have?
  • Are there any negative backlinks holding your SEO back?
  • How many quality backlinks do your competitors have?

Too few links mean you may fail to compete on the front page of Google, no matter how well your content reads. And just as a point of reference, if your competitor has 20 great backlinks feeding into a top post for one of your most important keywords and you have 10, well, you have too few and should consider building that number up.

Too many—there's really no such thing as too many backlinks, generally speaking. But you can certainly have too many backlinks of one type: Negative backlinks.

From this audit, you'll at least have a sense of what to do next. Sound great? Read this full backlink audit guide here!

And because much of the backlinking process happens behind the scenes, you'll want to conduct an audit regularly—every few months is recommended. Often you'll receive new backlinks (or lose backlinks) and not even realize it.

How many negative backlinks do you have?

These are the more negative backlinks that you can have too many of:

  • too many backlinks with the same optimized anchor text
  • too many spam backlinks
  • too many backlinks coming from one webpage
  • too many paid backlinks
  • too many backlinks that Google flags as harmful

How many quality backlinks do you have?

The conventional wisdom with backlinks is, you need to have quality content in order to get quality backlinks.

The New York Times or even the most popular blog in the hobbyist-mechanic space aren’t going to link to a blog that fails to optimize or one with misspellings and grammatical missteps.

The other part of the quality consideration is whether or not you hold up your end of the bargain.

Have you double, triple, quadruple, checked for errors? Are you linking to high-quality publications yourself?

Or are you blatantly stuffing awkward key phrases and missing the mark?

Simply put: Are you a useful resource within your niche? Or adding to the ever-growing noise?

How many relevant backlinks do you have?

The second part of evaluating your backlink situation is making sure that all links connected to your website actually have something to do with your business.

Doing a quick scan with a tool like SEOptimer allows you to scroll through the site and disavow those links that, say, come from the comments section of a blog or links coming from a website using suspiciously optimized anchor text.

That said, don't disavow too quickly. This process gives Google a lot of data about which links are good and which aren't...and, it's really subjective.

On a more tangible note, you could be penalized for using the disavow tool incorrectly. Not only is it more considerate to ask the webmaster to remove a link you'd rather not associate with, it can help you avoid penalties.

For more information on when to use the disavow tool and how to do so properly, we've got a whole blog post dedicated to the art of disavowing.

How many natural backlinks do you have?

While building a massive backlog of backlinks is the goal for many marketers, you’ll also need to ask yourself, do these links fit naturally?

If you’re operating a small graphic design business in California, it seems a little weird if you’re getting backlinks from Russia, China or South America. Most of your links should be U.S.-based and associated with the design business.

A few outliers are okay, of course—if you wrote an excellent article about how to put together an aesthetically pleasing website, it might well get some international shares.

If you have 100 backlinks from Russian-language websites and there doesn't seem to be any natural connection to their content (or at least, from what you can tell, without knowing Russian) you might want to reduce the number of these backlinks.

How many backlinks does the competition have?

The competition may be one of the most critical elements in helping you figure out exactly how many backlinks your website needs.

Assuming you know your business and the landscape it exists within, you know if you’re doing business in a crowded space or one with a bit more room. If it’s the former, you may need more backlinks to break through to the top of the Google heap.

It’s also a situation dictated by the other actors in the space. If you’ve got a competitor building 10 high-quality links per day, then you’ll want to have 15 or 20 to claim your space.

The Final Answer: How Many Backlinks Do You Need?

In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Backlinks are a vital component of any SEO strategy. But, the truth is, they aren’t the only way to get eyeballs on your website.

Without backlinks, it’s going to be hard to rank at all for any profitable keywords. This is especially true when completion starts to get stiff.

But, quality beats quantity any day of the week. Avoid buying links—instead, focus on creating high-quality content that establishes your company as the go-to place for your solution.

Gather more backlinks by guest posting, doing outreach and providing high-quality content. There’s also a long list of underused link-building techniques here you can look to for inspiration if you’re maxed out on guest posts.

Your “number” has more to do with the number of other websites jockeying for the same position with the same keywords.

To answer the question—it’s safe to say, there is no real answer. Conduct regular audits, ditch the junk links and push your content out into the world for all to see.