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Referring Domains vs Backlinks: Part 3 of our SEMrush SEO Ranking Report Analysis


Welcome to Part 3 of our analysis of SEMrush’s SEO Ranking Report, focusing on Referring Domains.

In Part 1 we talked about SEMrush’s findings regarding the most influential SEO SERP ranking factors, and in Part 2 we talked about how your website’s security affects SEO.

Without further ado:

Many confuse referring domains with backlinks. While both are essential in link building, these two are not the same. Backlinks are links from other websites that point to your site, whereas referring domains are the domains where the backlinks are coming from.

For instance, if you have 10,000 backlinks from 200 sites, it means you have 200 referring domains.

Gathering backlinks was once the fastest way to improve a website’s page ranking. This was the case until Google used referring domains to determine backlink quality.

Of the top 100 SERP sites, the average has 10,000 unique referring domains.Click To Tweet

Before, sites could rank higher in search engine results page (SERP) with their massive number of backlinks. However, some webmasters saw this as an opportunity to manipulate SERP. Many engaged themselves in corrupt link building practices to outrank their competitors.

These malicious link building strategies compromised the quality of search results shown to online users.

In 2012, Google launched the Penguin Update to eliminate websites engaged in suspicious link building tactics. With this update in place, the quality of backlinks has become more significant than its quantity regarding SERP.

Importance of Referring Domains

Google is not fond of websites with an enormous number of backlinks but very few referring domains.

Google views these backlinks as shady and they are usually associated with paid private blog networks. It is always best to stay away from any paid linking scheme and keep your SEO strategies clean.

These days, backlinks should come from various referring domains that are trustworthy.

Now, back the SEMrush study.

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Research Method

To find the correlation between a website’s referring domains and page ranking, SEMrush conducted an in-depth study that yielded impressive results. SEMrush used 600,000 search queries to calculate the total number of referring domains for each of the top-100 websites.

The team divided the results into four volume groups to know if the figures for high-volume keywords are different from low-volume keywords:

  • Low volume (1-100)
  • Mid volume (101-1,000)
  • High volume (1,001-10,000)
  • Very high volume (10,001+)

Key Takeaways

Edgy Labs enumerates below the findings that SEMrush gathered from their research study.

  1. As shown on the graph, websites with high ranking positions have the most backlinks coming from unique domains.
  2. Websites that rank for popular keywords have the most backlinks coming from unique domains.
  3. Websites shown in SERP for high-volume keywords almost have 10 times more backlinks than sites shown for low-volume keywords.
  4. High-volume keywords show a stark difference in the number of referring domains, for instance, between the 2nd and 15th position.
  5. Domains like Wikipedia and Facebook had almost no effect on the final result of the study even if they were excluded.

Building a strong backlink profile is vital to any SEO strategy. This is strongly supported by the research study conducted by SEMrush. The results clearly show that websites with giant backlink profiles dominate highly competitive niches that target popular keywords.

If you look closely, the median value for this study is 10,000 unique referring domains.

This figure proves how savage the competition is and websites that boast these numbers are indomitable. However, strengthening your backlink profile would still give you an edge over your competitors if you are targeting low-volume keywords.

SEMrush understands how vital a backlink profile is. So, they developed some excellent tools that you might find useful in your SEO link building strategy.

If you want to build a competitive pool of referring domains, there is SEMrush Backlink Analytics. If you want to clean your backlink profile and remove or disavow toxic backlinks, you will find SEMrush Backlink Audit Tool really useful. Lastly, if you want to know where to obtain quality backlinks, you may use the suggestions coming from SEMrush SEO Ideas Tool.

On our next article, we will discuss if content length has any influence over a website’s page ranking. Stay tuned for more as Edgy Labs probes deeper into the SEMrush SEO research study.

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