I’m back with a doozy of a critique of another claim that a small number of ‘high-authority’ links moves mountains.

We see so MANY posts about ‘high authority’ link-building having an out-sized impact, with outlandish claims and no data to back them up, so we’ve decided to call ’em when we see ’em.

PLEASE NOTE: I don’t mean ill will toward authors and posts I challenge, we all have the right to make money to support our lives and families, full stop. And I’m not going to link to the post, it was on LinkedIn and you may even have seen it yourself, it had a decent amount of engagement and was from about a month ago.

But this is meant as less of a challenge to the purported campaign or how it was allegedly run, and more of a “buyer beware” for the rest of us: please look critically at any link-building claim that promises massive results from little effort.

ESPECIALLY when the claim involves only a small number of high-authority links.

We have seen zero evidence that high-authority backlinks out-perform low-authority backlinks. Over, well, a LOT of links built.

So please be skeptical of these claims.

Here’s my quick ‘gut-check’ of the most recent claim we’ve stumbled across.

‘We helped our client get a 33% increase in traffic that was

driven by building only 16 high-authority backlinks’

(authority was defined by the author as DR40+ and 3K+ organic traffic)


Ok, that would be a solid gain in traffic (unless the starting traffic was very low), especially from only 16 backlinks.

Let’s assume the author was referring to a 33% rise in organic traffic, and see where this is leading.

Next claim:

‘Backlinks drove an increase in rank for the pages,

including improving these KWs to #1:
– intimacy coach
– techniques in psychology


Great! I’m sure other KWs saw a lift, but these two are a start.

Not exactly massive monthly search volume though:
– intimacy coach: 880/month
– techniques in psychology: 10/month

I’m going to call this red flag #1: 🚩

Next claim:

‘The problem: their organic traffic was

very low – and they wanted to increase it.’

This chart was included:


It’s tricky to quantify ‘very low’ traffic when the axis is omitted.

And whatever the scale, the screengrab shows traffic increasing fro the most part…?

For me this is red flag #2: 🚩🚩


The author walks us through the flow of the engagement. From their post:

Task #1: increase organic traffic in 2 months

Task #2: make the site’s pages rank for top-performing keywords

Tactic: ‘building high-authority backlinks’


  • pull Ahrefs data,
  • analyze competitors,
  • build a list of potential publishers (500 of which met the criteria of DR40+, 3K traffic, niche-relevant and no spam),
  • find contact info and launch outreach,
  • use anchors and URLs targeting a mix of how-to, branded and competitive KWs.


The above process/flow seems, a little ambiguous. No red flags, but since the author is clearly a link builder, some of the above seems bupkis. My hunch is they just added links from their PBN of artificially inflated authority sites or bought them directly from other lists, which are also likely PBNs. Just a hunch.

Next claim:


‘In just two months, we delivered amazing results:

1. Increased rank to 1st for top-performing KWs
2.Increased traffic by 33% in 3 months’


At this point I need to do a little math, because from what I’ve read so far, I’m not sure I would call the results “amazing”.

The calculation is pretty straightforward since we have KW search volume from before: 890 searches/month. Now I can make some assumptions and gross down the numbers for an approximation of the starting point and what a 33% increase would mean in terms of traffic.

Let’s assume a 30% CTR for position #1 = 267 clicks.

For 267 to be a 33% increase, the starting traffic would be 178 clicks/month.

Not exactly an amount of traffic I’d think would be worthy of a LinkedIn post. But even still, maybe the claim about 33% traffic increase wasn’t that hard to obtain.

And then came this:


‘Look at this traffic increase – beautiful, isn’t it?’

And this graphic was provided.

Woah. That would definitely be an impressive traffic increase, especially over just 2-3 months. Except 5 months of data is shown.

The timelines sort of line up — the previous ‘very low’ traffic graph kind of ended around July with a bit of a dip, and we can see the new graph somewhat starts with a July dip and continues.

But if it isn’t painfully obvious yet, the % change represented in this new chart isn’t a 33% improvement. It’s more like about 280%(ish).

Which begs the question: why would an SEO tout the impact of a link-building campaign, but then grossly understate said impact?

They wouldn’t. And ultimately, none of this adds up.

Red flag #3: 🚩🚩🚩

DO we get it? Authority does Equal impact.

Enough tearing apart that post, it only serves to illustrate the long-running misinformation (or at best, lack of clarity) about authority-related metrics. While authority providers have attempted to ‘lean in’ to their own metrics and offer than as an indication of the value of backlinks, Google is clearly using link graphs differently.

Wait – does that mean Digital PR is bogus too?

My answer for that is: IT DEPENDS. Not in its actual, original form.

Authority for link building in my mind really started with Digital PR, which came from pivots in the PR community to stop losing their budgets to link-builders who promised non-brand visibility. Press releases went online, started including links, and the market shifted to include links as a primary deliverable.

Authority continues to be one of the elements they use to measure their work, but here’s the thing: IT’S NOT THE ONLY VALUE. There’s also the brand visibility that comes from a Digital PR campaign, and the short-term referral traffic as well.

Of course, those other elements are not that useful for non-brand organic visibility, so if your only goal is to improve non-brand organic rankings, you’re probably not hiring a Digital PR firm. Not a good one at least, I’d wager.

And now the link-building community has latched on to ‘authority’, and many link-building agencies or services (or fly-by-night operations that have sprung up and are spamming the you-know-what out of our inboxes), now the market has learned that a big push of spammy links can DRAMATICALLY increase authority scores and all together omits the clear indication that EASY doesn’t WORK.

But we see it, every time we try to measure the impact of a link, and confirm time and again that authority is not a driver of out-sized impact. In short, assuming the site is relevant, the link itself is well-placed and adds value, and a few other things like it’s a secure site and it’s not spammy, etc., a link is a link, is a link.

And the authority score, generally speaking, is not going to make a link more than a link.

How Do You REALLY get this kind of momentum?

If you REALLY want to see the kind of momentum often claimed, the trick is to size up your competition, it’s actually pretty straightforward:
1. Find out how many new referring domains you need to build based on your competition for a particular keyword;
2. Build that many links.

It might even only take 17 links!

And if you’re not sure where to start with 1 or 2, we’re here to help.

Buyer beware folks. Please be skeptical about crazy claims.

Thanks for reading!

1 thought on “3 🚩🚩🚩s When Naively Following Authority Links”

  1. I didn’t see the original post but it’s interesting that the big 33% increase claim doesn’t match the chart! Does make you wonder if the chart’s even related or just a handy “pointing up is good” screengrab that was to hand.

    General note, I think these types of posts are important for SEOs to read as well as clients, so we sense-check our own claims before we start shouting about successes. Cheers!


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