how to test your pbn

How to Test Your PBNs Before Adding Them to Your Network

First off… Happy New Year!  I’d like to kick things off this year with a technique that I highly recommend you start incorporating as soon as possible: PBN testing.

In my last article about debugging backlink results, I alluded to the fact that in order to successfully make sense of SERP movement, you’ll need be 100% sure that your PBNs are clean.

SEO is getting increasingly complicated.  Results depend on a large number of interconnected factors.  The only way to truly understand your results is to eliminate as many unknowns as possible.  And that starts with testing your PBNs.

By testing your PBNs you’ll find out if your costly PBN investment is actually getting you the return you expect.  At the same time, you’ll get the peace of mind knowing for sure that your PBNs produce positive results, enabling you to focus on the multitude of other ranking factors.

Why you should be testing ALL of your PBNs

Have you ever received a negative result after posting a PBN backlink?  Of course you have.  Typically, this can boil down to one of two reasons:

  • You chose the wrong anchor
  • Your PBN is poisonous

Now wouldn’t you like to narrow that down to a single reason?  Of course you would.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how much due diligence you do in your PBN purchasing audits, some rotten PBNs are going to slip through the cracks.  It’s inevitable.  Why?

As most of you already know, metrics are only a rough gauge of a PBNs quality.  Typically, people are looking for a minimum DA/PA/TF and a healthy CF-TF ratio.  But this is only the first step.  It all comes down to the actual links which are going to your PBNs.

We have tools like Majestic, Moz, and Ahrefs to help us dig into the backlink profiles, but we’re human, we make mistakes.  When sifting through hundreds of domains in a day, some having over 100 referring domains, it becomes very likely than an error can occur.

Steve harvey pbn

The backlink bots are also not perfect.  We care about what Google sees, not what these 3rd party crawlers see.  Google can crawl much deeper than the bots, finding links that we might not have access to.

Lastly, are you looking at the 2nd tiers?  Are you sure that you’re buying PBNs that aren’t artificially juiced up at tier 2 so they can be sold to you with higher metrics?

Ultimately, there’s many reasons why your manual audit might not catch a bad PBN.  A PBN that will actually hurt your rankings rather than help.

I’ve gotten pretty damn good at auditing domains over the many years I’ve been using PBNs, but still some terrible ones slip through the cracks.  The last line of defense is testing.  After all my PBNs are put through the screening process, roughly about 5-10% of them go in the trash can.

How to Test Your PBNs

Luckily, testing your PBNs is a very simple and quick process.  It doesn’t require you to risk hurting your money sites rankings, nor do you need to own a suite of testing sites.

You simply need to identify some third party sites that you can use as test subjects and send some links.  Here’s how it’s done…

Identify a Testcase

Find a 3rd party website with the following criteria.

  • It’s in your niche
  • It’s ranking on page 2
  • That keyword’s exact anchor has never been sent
  • All other related keywords are also on page 2.

The reason we want a site with its keywords on page 2 is two-fold.  You want a site that Google thinks is healthy, it just doesn’t have enough link juice to be on page 1.  Also, in the event that you might be sending a rotten PBN to a site, you don’t want it to affect anyone’s income stream.

To find a testcase, you’ll be using SEMRush. This tool allows you to enter in a website, and it will return all the keywords it is currently ranked for.  It’s an amazing tool for keyword research, I might add.


sem rush

Here we have a keyword “clove oil cvs” that is ranking on page 2. It’s important to verify that you have a keyword which has never had an anchor sent.  If you send a new anchor to a healthy site, there is a very high chance that it’s going to cause a ranking increase for that exact keyword.

Plugging this URL into Ahrefs, we see that this anchor has never been sent. This makes it extremely likely that sending an exact match anchor with “clove oil cvs” will increase rankings.  That is, if you have a proper PBN.


Finding these testcases is a great task for a VA.  In fact, my VA found the example above in about 10 minutes.  I suggest you have your VA go out and find a suite of 20 of these tester sites to use in your upcoming tests.

Create the Link

Now it’s time to create the link on your PBN.

  • Get a 300-word article created for $2.
  • Add some images to your post
  • Create an exact match anchor link with the keyword that you identified before. Send it to the exact URL that SEMRush says is ranking for that keyword.

Wait for the Result

Depending on where you’re getting your domains from and when you set them up, your time to result will vary.  I set a reminder to look at the results 7 days later.

Positive Result

If all turns out well, you’ll see a positive ranking increase on the keyword.

PBN positive

Go ahead and remove the link at this point.  Consider this PBN to be an official asset and add it to your network.

Negative Result

Unfortunately, not all expired domains are clean, despite how much we think we’ve audited them.

My suggestion in this case is to wait an additional week to make sure it wasn’t Google messing with you using their random documents algorithm (read more).

If your PBN truly is rotten, remove the link and the rankings to the target site will recover in a week or two.  In the below testcase, this PBN was so bad that there was an exaggerated rebound effect.

PBN negative

This technique can also be used for 301 Redirect Testing

Even trickier than judging a good PBN, is how to judge a good candidate for a 301 redirect.  With 301s, relevancy is significantly more important and consistency in a positive result is rare.

I actually was inspired to create this whole PBN testing technique based on Brian Tucker’s ( Surrogate SEO, 301 redirect testing setup.

Before 301’ing a candidate domain to your money site, first test it on a 3rd party site to make sure it will actually have the result you desire.
301 positive

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    • Btw I got few questions – if you see that domain is good, you simply remove test link and put link to your $$$ site? Simple as that?

      I’ve seen several posts stating that “boost” remains even after links are removed. What are your experience?

      Also for each test do you use a completely new site? Or target same site several times, each time with new and untouched kw?

      • Hi Niko, yes, its as simple as that. Simply remove the link to the test site, create a new article for your money site, then link it up.

        About boost remaining after links are removed… sure. Sometimes it takes as much as two months for a link removal to kick in. Anyone in local SEO who has had a client cancel with them can attest to this.

        Also for each test do you use a completely new site? Or target same site several times, each time with new and untouched kw?

        You can actually use the same sites and the same keywords over and over again. You just need to space out the tests a good couple of months to be 100% sure its a clean test.

  • Hi Matt,

    Thanks so much for this article.

    I built some PBNs and just not getting results but I didn’t know about this testing you have described so probably one of mine is bad.

    Seriously there is a lot of work in building and maintaining quality powerful PBNs – I think I will stop building and just buy Diggity links!


  • Another very nice article Matt, I do have a quick question though, looks like you’re using Google Analytics, so I guess we have to gauge the competitor’s backend analytics by what we see visibly if I’m not mistaken? Seeing as we won’t have insight to their analytics, unless of course you are using some other tool to see those charts for various websites in nearly real time.


  • What about competitor seeing my PBN backlink in his Ahrefs reports ? or eventually in his Google WMT Tools report of incoming links ? Not a good idea.

    • A) You can block your PBN from showing up from Ahrefs, etc.
      B) Don’t send it to a competitor. Send it to a webmd article, for example.

  • Hey Matt another golden nugget blog post. Couple of questions please:

    1. For the 301 redirect option you said “consistency in a positive result is rare” does that mean you find that getting a SERP changes from a 301 to stay is difficult compared to say a PBN link?

    2. I assume if a PBN domain provides a good PBN test link then it should also be good for using a 301 as long as it’s backlinks are relevant to the money sites niche?

    • 1) Absolutely. PBN success rate is like 95% after testing. 301’s are like 60%
      2) Not necessarily. 301s have more to do with relevance and the existing anchors already going to the money site. It’s more complicated.

  • Oh yeah, another hit post from one of my favorite bloggers M Diggity =)
    Few questions though:
    1) Following this method, when a PBN yields a negative result does this mean it’s penalized (toxic juice)?
    2) When setting up a PBN is there any benefit to “warming” it up by posting related articles before linking out from it?
    Thanks Matt.

    • There’s no limit, you just need to space out the tests long enough such that you don’t confuse the results. At least 2 months between tests.

      Also, make sure that your testcase is still a good testcase later on. If its recieved links on its own, then it might not meet your testing criteria anymore.

  • Hi, Matt. Great Post Again
    I have a question regarding 301s…
    I have a site which I registered in September last year…. and made a few links to it… but It wasn’t ranking anywhere so I left it & moved on…..
    Just a few days back, I saw that it has come up to page 7 & 8 for different KWs….

    So, I wanted to ask can I use this domain as a 301 on a New domain targeting the same KW??
    Does a 301 also passes domain age?
    BTW I want to 301 the old site because I want to move to a branded domain. The old domain is an PMD and I don’t like it.


    • Yes, you can definitely try using it on your new domain. It passes on domain age, so you’ll jump out of the sandbox.

      That said, when I do solid onsite SEO, I usually have brand new pages ranking at least page 4-5 right out the box. So I’m concerned that your 301 domain is as good as it might seem.

  • Fantastic suggestions Matt,

    Had a quick question for you. We don’t have a test site yet. Any suggestions on how to set it up from scratch? Any way in particular to get it going quickly and optimize it?

    Sounds like we’ll need multiple ones too.

    • Lets say a healthy site ranks on page 2 for “how to swim in a tuxedo”. Some how it ranks for this even though there’s never been an anchor sent with the words: how to, swim, or tuxedo. If you send “how to swim in a tuxedo” to it from a nice PBN, wouldn’t you say that theres a very likely chance that the rankings will increase?

    • Odds are unless they read their new incoming links in Webmasters over their morning coffee they’ll likely not even notice. Some webmasters are that anal, but since you’re sending a link at most you’re highly unlikely to shop up in “top linked content” or in “who links the most”.

      In summary, don’t worry about it. Besides unless you’re linking to nasty blackhat aff sites for your testing, most webmasters 1) don’t know how to sabotage your pbn or 2) they don’t care to even try.

      Chin up! Get to work and stop worrying.

  • Is this a good idea to do with high authority sites like webmd, though? Since sites like that have so much authority, won’t they get a ranking increase even from a poisonous link which would ruin the test.

    • In my experience, even authority sites don’t get a ranking increase from poisonous links either. In fact, they don’t get as much movement from good links too, compared to a normal site that isn’t ranking from pure authority.

      • Exactly, so wouldn’t you recommend to send test links to ‘average’ small business type sites? Or better yet, the way i’ve been doing it is to send pbn links to authority sites for really long tail keywords that nobody else is aiming for, and the authority site isn’t anywhere near for. Usually, if the PBN site is good, the test authority site will be ranking #1 for that long tail keyword.

  • Hey Matt, I have 2 PBN questions really need your help.
    1, Which kind of domains is your perfer:
    (1)expired domains which you can get them by scrape machine, n/a PR, high TF/CF.
    (2) Aged domains which you can buy them on auction market or godaddy closeout, valid PR, high TF/CF.

    2, When will you place links on PBN pages to MS after you built the PBN site? Immediately place the link or wait for some time?

  • Hi Matt, I am pretty new to the world of PBN’s and loved the ease of how you made this testing phase sound. I have a question about 301’s please.

    How many 301’s can we use to point to our money site?
    Do you also 301 a new PBN right away or do you place an article on the PBN, Wait for it to be indexed then 301 to $ site?

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Lloyd,

      1) I’d say 2 max. Any more and there’s an unnecessary amount of risk that you’re adding to your site with marginal benefit.
      2) 301’s and PBNs are different concepts. You either do one or the other.

    • It’s a real effect. If a client cancels with you for whatever reason and you delete their links, they’re still going to rank for a few months.

  • Hi Matt!
    Do you think any of the 3 following would be a better use of a 301?:
    1) 301 the domain to a Web2.0 and from that Web2.0 link to a money page with the proper anchor text
    2) 301 the domain to an inner page of the money site (which we don’t intent to rank for anything) and from there, link to a money page with the proper anchor text (i.e. Linking to the supporting pages in The Reverse Silo).
    3) 301 the domain to a random subdomain we created from our money site. Something like: “” so the overall power of the site increases.
    Or is it just a better ROI (money/time) to 301 it straight to the target page you’re trying to rank?

    • The best conservation of the link juice is the direct 301 to the money site. But a lot can go wrong, especially since the target site inherits all the anchor text from the 301’d site. Testing will give you a good answer.

  • Hey Matt – great read. Question for you if you get time. If I point a new domain name at my main site, and then point either pbn links or a 301 from a name with juice, will my main site get benefit since the buffer domain is new? Or will it take some time like it’s been sandboxed?



  • Hi Matt,
    Great article, I have just run 3 tests over the course of 10 days, some of the test sites dipped but have recovered with better rankings. Removing the links now and adding the sites to my PBN.
    Would it be safe to use the same articles from the test and simply change the outbound anchor text to my own money sites? Or Should I delete the entire post and start fresh?

    • It probably doesn’t matter much either way, but if you want to be 100% safe, remove the links from the original article, create new articles and new links.

  • Hi Matt, nice technique!
    I would like your opinion please, is it OK to register an expired domain with high metrics (TF, BLs, etc) but had Chinese content in the past (checked with wayback machine)? What about if it seems to be a clean content after you see the translation (no sex, drug, etc)? thanks!

    • It’s probably fine to use, but for peace of mind, personally I avoid Asian sites alltogether.

  • Hey Matt,

    I have been using this technique and have sort of hit a roadblock/confusion point, it worked great for first couple of sites.

    1. After I add the links the website just starts bouncing around sometimes even after 6 days?
    2. In one particular site I saw that the rankings fell but something didn’t feel right so I added another anchor text right next to it, opposite of the first anchor text for e.g women/men and linked to a different site. This new site just jumped in rankings. So I am confused whether its a good domain or not?


  • Hi Matt,

    What would you do if you see no impact at all on your test even after ~3 weeks? No increase and no decrease, just regular “mini” jumps each day.

    Maybe I should re-test it with another domain and anchor? Or it means that PBN is too weak to have an impact at all?

  • Thanks Matt. This article is both helpful and dangerous, though. Wouldn’t want to be the site competing against you. 😉

    Awesome blog and glad I discovered it. Keep up the good stuff! 🙂

  • Ive found that testing with 301s, a lot of the time there is no movement at all. Its really hard for me to tell from 301 alone if the domain is a winner and I should pursue building out a site. However if a link is toxic the effect will be devastating (many times the site falls off the serps completely). This is in the local niche, so the sites don’t exactly have a strong backlink profile to begin. If a PBN redirect has no apparent effect, is it worth it to build out the site and try it with an article the normal way?

    • 301’s and links have very different effects. The key differentiator is relevance. You can’t take the results from one test and apply them to another.

  • Hey Matt,

    I was wondering when you test your PBNs are they already fully built up?

    I mean do you add filler articles (filler posts, about us) make the widgets, and add the theme also?