In this case study I’m going to show you a very interesting situation where I actually ranked #1 in Google with one single link.
Please note that this is not an instructional article but rather a clean example of how important links still are for Google. This is a low volume keyword with no buying intent. I admit you’ll definitely need more content and link juice to rank for a highly competitive keyword. But it is still interesting and shows you the importance of links.
In order to better understand the whole situation, let me tell you the background shortly. This is an abandoned project, a website that I started back in early 2020. I’d realized there might be a severe financial recession after the 2020 lockdowns, so I started a website called Recession Tips to share information about past financial crises and tips on how to survive an economic recession.
I hired some copywriters, set up the website with a nice newspaper-like WordPress theme, published 6 articles and that was it. I left the whole project untouched. Never published all the articles I had payed for, never built any links. Actually I did not even bother to link to this site from my own websites. A big no-no otherwise, but very beneficial in this case. Continue reading to find out why.
Ranking #1 on Google
A couple of days ago I went ahead and checked the results of this site just out of curiosity, and boy was I shocked. There was one keyword, “panic of 1785” where I had been ranking literally #1 for months. My rankings actually dropped to #3 after the Dec 3 2020 algorithm update, but still a pretty impressive result for a website with only 6 articles and no links built to it.
Of course I wanted to find out why this happened, so I went ahead and checked the links section in Google Search Console. When you have an unexpected #1 ranking (or sometimes even just page 1 ranking) in Google, you can almost be sure that there are links behind the scene.
And there, in the Links section in Search Console was my second shock that day. In deed there was one link to my website, and what a surprise, it was linking to that very same article that ranked number one.
A “Clean” Environment
I could not emphasize enough that I had not built any links to this website. This one was an organic link which I somehow managed to get.
But the fact that this was the only website linking to my content made it possible to check the effect of links on rankings in a very “clean” environment.
Usually this is not what you do with a website; You try to build as much content and as many links as you can. And once you have enough content and links, they start to pick up more and more links from other websites. Thus it’s quite difficult to find a site with literally one single link to it.
My recession tips website is ranking quite well despite the low number of articles. But still none of the other pages reached similar results, most of them could only hit the end of page 1 or on page 2.
There is only one other group of keywords with good rankings, but with much simpler content. It is basically a counter showing how long ago the great depression was.
If you compare the rankings of the actual financial crises in this site, most of them fall somewhere between position 8 and 20, and the one with the link ranks 1-3.
Search engine rankings are the results of several interconnected factors. It is difficult if not impossible, in SEO to distinguish which exact setting, signal or change had what effect.
In this case, although there are still several factors, we have an almost lab-like scenario. A website with virtually no content, only one link, and that particular page that has the link ranking at the top of page one.
And even though this is only one example and not a thorough case study, I guess we can safely say that links still pay quite an important role in how Google is evaluating a website.
So even if it’s not that simple, pay attention to getting links. Do your homework in link building and make sure you’re publishing content that’s worth linking to.