I read about seo services and link building pretty much every day. When you're in the SEO space, you have to keep up with what's happening in the industry. I divide my reading into two major categories. There is the "what's new from industry leaders" stuff that I follow. These are search engine optimization greats talking about their latest conquests and experiments. Then there is the "how do I make this all work" camp. I call these the little guys. These are regular business owners or up-start web masters who are trying to carve out a little place on the Internet to do commerce and make money. They, naturally, are trying to learn about SEO and link building to further their cause.
What I find is interesting is that these two camps often intersect on major questions. And one of the biggest questions I see discussed in both places is How many links do I need?. Indeed, link building is a big topic. There are about a million link building vendors to select from if you go out to hire someone. But many people are fearful of jumping into this activity without a real feel for where they need to be. And this is smart. The link building vendors are all too eager to take your money. But some strategy and planning is always a better business decision than quick spending.
So the honest answer to the question How many links do I need? is:
Nobody really knows except Google.
That's somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but somewhat not. Let's back up a bit and bring in some context. Every single SEO guide I've ever read includes link building as a component of the strategy. Seriously, every single one. It's never the first thing on the list, as that would be spammy (is that really two m's?). But after all the basic on-site stuff (architecture, awesome content, solid design, keyword research, good intra-site linking, call-to-action, titles, keywords, descriptions, alts - you know the list) there is always this thing at the end: Link building. Why? Because we've all been trained that the Google algorithm for determining the best fit between an end-user search and which url in the Google database to display to the user on page 1 is heavily influenced by inbound links.
So as people study seo and learn this, it's natural to then ask how many links? "I get that I will need to have a link building campaign, but how many will I need?" Well this is where we start to get into the more complicated aspects of the Google algo. See, the equation is multidimensional, to say the least. Without getting into linear algebra, let's just say that there are many factors in the equation. Additionally, let's clearly state that each of the factors get's a weight. I don't proclaim to know what all these factors are or their weights, but it's clear to me that they are there. Some of the important weights for inbound links to your site are:
The relevance of the site linking to you.
The power of the site linking to you
Without understanding relevance and power, you really can't get to the heart of the question about how many inbound links you will need to rank. Relevance is a fairly straight forward concept. A site about dogs linking to a sit about cats is relatively relevant since they are both in the pet space. A site about SEO services linking to a site about cats is really not relevant at all. The subject matter, or theme, of the two sites needs to be compared to determine relevance. However, you should also check this. Just because a site is actually about something doesn't mean that Google necessarily has it categorized correctly. We've seen this in our client base with company names that are misleading. If that name is used in the URL, it can actually mislead Google. So to check this, see if the site you want the link from is actually ranked on that term.
Second, on the issue of power. This is also a tricky issue. Your best proxy here is probably Page Rank, albeit a blunt instrument. If you are in a hurry, it will give you the best single measure of authority. But it too is very misleading. So I don't recommend being in a hurry when it comes to link building and SEO. My recommendation here is also to use a site's particular rank on a specific term as the measure of power. Similar to the discussion of relevance. If a site is well-ranked on a target term, it likely has both authority and relevance to that term. Those are the links you want.
What a long-winded answer? Huh? Well, like I said - this is not simple. When it comes to figuring out how many links you need, you must consider relevance and power in your thought process. As you now understand, a handful of links with high power and relevance will be much more effective than many links with no power or relevance. Hear me correctly, every link counts! We've seen things fly with many, many low-power links. But how much each counts can be dramatically different based on relevance and power. As with all things in life, you are probably best served with a balanced approach. Seek those high-power, highly relevant links where ever you can. But also take any link you can get your hands on.