Our Content Explorer tool discovers 1.8 million new pages every 24 hours while being very picky about the pages that qualify for inclusion. The “main” Ahrefs web crawler crawls more than double that number of pages every minute!
But how much of this content gets organic traffic from Google?
In 2017, we kind of answered this question by studying around two million random newly-published pages. We found that only 5.7% of them ranked in Google’s top 10 search results for at least one search query within a year of being published.
In other words, a whopping 94.3% of pages out of roughly two million pages didn’t get even a single visitor from Google.
But two million pages is a rather insignificant sample size when you consider the depth and breadth of the entire web. So we decided to conduct another study.
We took the entire database from our Content Explorer tool (over one billion pages) and studied how many pages get traffic from organic search and why.
How many web pages get organic search traffic?
90.63% of all pages in our index get zero traffic from Google, and 5.29% of them get ten visits per month or less.
Before we move on to discussing why the vast majority of pages never get any search traffic from Google (and how to avoid being one of them), it’s important to address two main discrepancies with the studied data:
- A billion pages may seem like a huge number, but it’s not the most accurate representation of the entire web. Content Explorer only indexes pages that meet our criteria for inclusion, which ensures that we only add “good” ones (while the internet is bloated with utterly “bad” pages). Even compared to the size of Site Explorer’s index—297 billion pages—our sample size for this study is quite small and somewhat biased towards the “quality side of the web.”
- Our search traffic numbers are estimates. We estimate search traffic based on our database of ~494 million keywords in Site Explorer. And even though it’s arguably the largest database of its kind, it clearly doesn’t represent all possible search queries that people put into Google (where billions of searches happen every day). So there’s an excellent chance that a lot of pages are getting search traffic from some super long-tail search queries that are not popular enough to make it into our database.
That said, these two “inaccuracies” don’t change much in the grand scheme of things—the vast majority of published pages never rank in Google and never get any search traffic. That’s why so many businesses are desperate to improve their SEO.
But why is this, and how can you be a part of the minority that gets organic search traffic from Google?
Well, there are hundreds of SEO issues that may prevent your pages from ranking well in Google. But if we focus on the most common scenarios only, there’s only four of them.
Reason 1: The page doesn’t have any backlinks
I hate to rehearse the same mantra found in almost every other SEO article, but there’s really no way around it:
Backlinks do help you rank higher in Google!
And they are one of Google’s “top 3 ranking factors.”
So why don’t we slice our studied pages by the number of unique websites (referring domains) that are linking to each page?
It looks like 66.31% of pages don’t have even a single backlink, and 26.29% have links from three websites or less.
Did you notice the trend already?
Most pages get no search traffic, and most pages have no backlinks.
But are these the same pages?
Let’s look at the trend between these pages monthly organic search traffic and their backlinks from unique websites (referring domains):
The correlation is clear: the more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it gets from Google.
We see a similar correlation between referring domains and keyword rankings:
Now, it’s important to note that correlation does not imply causation and that none of these graphs provide direct evidence that backlinks help you rank in Google. However, most SEO professionals will tell you that it’s almost impossible to rank on the first page without backlinks—an observation that aligns with the data above.
So if you want to rank in Google and get search traffic, you’ll need to build high-quality backlinks to your page. If you’re unsure how to do that, start with these articles on our blog:
But, here’s a question: is it possible to get organic traffic without links?
Let’s look at the data:
Just over four million pages get some organic search traffic while having no backlinks. That might sound like a lot, but it’s roughly 5% of our sample, meaning that only one in every ~20 pages without backlinks has traffic…
… and the majority of these get 300 organic visits or less each month.
But what happens if we exclude pages on websites with high Domain Ratings?
In short, the numbers become even more pessimistic. Just over 1.4 million pages get organic traffic, which is less than 4% of our sample. And only around 320,000 get more than 300 monthly organic visits, which is around 0.1% of our sample.
This suggests that pages without backlinks on high-authority sites are slightly more likely to get organic traffic than those on low authority sites.
This is probably because they use internal links to pass PageRank to new pages.
Here are two more reasons why this might be the case:
- They block our crawler. Most shady SEOs block SEO tools like Ahrefs from seeing their backlinks. This is usually to stop competitors from seeing (and possibly reporting) their PBNs.
- They target low competition topics. Queries with low search volumes tend to be uncompetitive, so it takes fewer backlinks to rank.
If the possibility of getting search traffic without the need to build backlinks excites you, I suggest learning more about the concept of Keyword Difficulty and how to find keywords/topics with decent search traffic potential and low competition.
And if you want to see the pages that get traffic despite having no backlinks—perhaps for inspiration—go to Content Explorer, run an empty search, then filter for pages with traffic and no backlinks:
Here’s just one example of a page without backlinks that consistently gets thousands of monthly organic visits:
Reason 2: The topic of the page has no long-term traffic potential
Some pages have tons of backlinks, but they still get zero traffic from Google.
How do I know? I filtered for all pages in the Content Explorer database that get no traffic from organic search and divided them into four buckets based on the number of linking domains to each page.
As you can see, almost 70k pages have backlinks from over 200 referring domains, yet don’t get any search traffic whatsoever.
By reviewing these (and many other) pages manually, I noticed two general trends that explain why such pages get no traffic despite having so many backlinks:
- They went overboard with “shady link building” and got penalized by Google;
- They aren’t targeting a topic that people are searching for in Google.
I don’t want to expand on point one, since I’m hoping readers of the Ahrefs Blog are not practicing “shady link building” and, therefore, will never experience this issue.
As for #2, well, this one is pretty self-explanatory really:
If nobody is searching for whatever you talk about on your page, you won’t get any search traffic.
Take a look at the metrics for one of our blog posts, for example:
337 backlinks from 132 websites—yet no organic traffic.
This happens because the page is about organic traffic research, which virtually nobody is searching for:
You see this a lot with news articles. They easily obtain a lot of links from around the web, yet rarely get any long-term traffic from Google.
This is because people can’t search for things they’re unaware of, and most people don’t care about things that happened long ago and thus never search for them.
You may have noticed that some news articles get a lot of organic search traffic in the short-term by ranking in the “Top stories” block for relevant, high-volume search queries.
Here’s an article from The Guardian ranking in the “Top stories” block for “Donald Trump”:
Ahrefs picked this up almost immediately:
Because “Donald Trump” gets 5.6M searches per month, this page received a lot of traffic from the “Top stories” block.
However, if you check the traffic now, I’ll bet that traffic has already dropped.
So one of the quickest and most effective SEO wins ever is this:
- Find the pages on your website with the most referring domains;
- Do keyword research to see if you can re-optimize them for relevant topics with decent search traffic potential.
I have to give credit to Bryan Harris for sharing this “quick SEO win” during an interview for our “Blogging for business” course:
He suggested using the “Best by links” report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to find the pages on your site with the most links, then analyze their search traffic. By doing this, you can find pages with tons of links but very little organic search traffic.
Here’s one that pops up for us:
It’s a guide to SERP features, and it has backlinks from 67 websites but no organic traffic.
We could fix this by re-optimizing the page for a keyword with more traffic potential like SERP.
Given that a similar guide with backlinks from just 26 websites gets an estimated 3,400 monthly organic visits, we should be able to increase our traffic quite easily.
Just remember that it doesn’t make sense to do this with all low traffic pages with backlinks. The purpose of some pages isn’t to rank, so choose your battles wisely.
Reason 3. The page doesn’t match search intent
Google aims to return the most relevant results for a query.
That’s why the top organic results for best yoga mat are blog posts with recommendations, not product pages.
Basically, Google knows that searchers are in research mode, not buying mode.
It’s also why this page selling yoga mats doesn’t show up, despite it having backlinks from over seven times more websites than the pages that rank in the top 10:
Luckily, the page ranks for thousands of other more relevant keywords and gets tens of thousands of monthly organic visits. So it’s not such a big deal that it doesn’t rank for best yoga mat.
However, if you have pages with lots of backlinks but no organic traffic—and they already target a keyword with traffic potential—another quick SEO win is to re-optimize them for search intent.
We did this in 2018 with our free backlink checker.
It was originally nothing but a boring landing page explaining the benefits of our product and offering a 7-day trial:
After analyzing search intent, we soon realized the issue:
People weren’t looking for a landing page, but rather a free tool they could use right away.
So, in September 2018, we created a free tool and published it under the same URL. Rankings went through the roof, and so did organic traffic.
Reason 4. The page isn’t indexed
Google can’t rank pages that aren’t indexed.
If you suspect this might be why your page gets no organic traffic, search Google for
site:[url]. You should see at least one result; otherwise, it’s not indexed.
There are a few reasons why this can happen, but the most common is a rogue noindex meta tag. This is a small piece of code that tells search engines not to index a URL.
Rogue canonicals, redirects, and robots.txt blocks can also prevent indexing.
To see pages excluded due to these issues (and others), check the Excluded tab in the Coverage report in Google Search Console.
Google also doesn’t usually index broken pages—even if they have backlinks.
Believe it or not, these are surprisingly common.
For example, if we check the Best by Links report in Ahrefs Site Explorer for a popular content marketing blog and filter for broken pages, we see tons of examples.
One page has backlinks from 131 websites, but it’s no longer live or indexed:
Judging by the URL, the page used to answer the question, what is content marketing?—a keyword with a monthly search volume of 5,900 in the US.
Luckily, a different page on the site already ranks for this keyword. So, in this case, it’s not a huge loss.
However, at the very least, it would make sense to redirect the dead page with backlinks to a working page on the same topic. This may help them get more organic traffic from long-tail keywords.
90.63% of pages get no organic traffic.
Keep your pages in the other 9.36% by building backlinks, choosing topics with organic traffic potential, matching search intent, and making sure they’re indexed.
Ping on me on Twitter if you have any questions. 🙂