If you use PBNs, I’m going to be talking about a technique that I highly recommend you start incorporating as soon as possible: PBN testing.

In my 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 text
  • 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 DR/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 URL with the following criteria.

  • It’s in your niche
  • It’s ranking on page 2-4
  • It has never had any target anchor sent to it

The reason we want a site with its keywords on page 2-4 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 or Ahrefs. These tools allow you to enter a website, and it will return all the keywords it is currently ranked for.  This process is also amazing for keyword research, I might add.

Example: howtogetridofwartshome.com

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 a target anchor sent.

If you send a new target 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, a 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 Iwriter.com 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 you can buy 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

Or… Just Buy your PBN Links from a Reputed Vendor

rank club logo

Testing PBNs isn’t exactly the best usage of your time.

Nor is setting up PBNs, designing them, putting them on unique IPs, removing footprints, worrying about outbound link patterns… the list goes on.

That said, all these precautions are absolutely necessary if you’re running PBNs these days.

To be dead honest, I gave up.  I simply buy my PBN links from the best: Rank Club.

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



Article by

Matt Diggity

Matt is the founder of Diggity Marketing, LeadSpring, The Search Initiative, The Affiliate Lab, and the Chiang Mai SEO Conference. He actually does SEO too.