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The REAL Reason Why Your Backlinks Don’t Work

The REAL Reason Why Your Backlinks Don’t Work

Has this ever happened to you?

You send some links to your money site and wait for the result.  One week goes by… nothing.  Two weeks… still flatline.   An entire month goes by and nothing has changed.

Or even worse: after you send the links, you see the rankings actually drop.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, you’re reading the right article.  I’m here to shed light on a commonly misinterpreted concept that can potentially help you understand why you’re not getting positive results from your backlinking efforts.

This article is not about buying and setting up the right PBNs.  I’m assuming that you’ve already doing that right and that you’re testing your PBNs before you’re adding them to your network.

This article is about revealing a blind spot on the topic of optimization.  I’ll be discussing various different scenarios, what the problem is in each, and how to deal with it.

Scenario 1 – Onsite Optimization Issue

Symptom – Flatline rankings after links are sent

I use this analogy quite frequently in my consulting sessions.  Winning in SEO is like winning a car race.  Your onsite SEO quality determines the quality of your car.  The backlinks are the gas you put in it.  If you build a shit car, its simply not going to go anywhere, no matter how much premium gas you put in.

For sites with low-quality or over-optimized onsite SEO, the impact you see from backlinks is going to minimal, if any.

This is a very typical result that you can expect after you send links to an over-optimized money site:

2 - overoptimized onpageHow to Fix it

Fixing onsite issues is easy.  Unlike offsite SEO, the rules of onsite optimization are straightforward.  You just need to know where to find the correct rules.

And it just so happens you can find them right here…

The great part about onsite optimization is that the effect shows quickly, typically in a few weeks or less.

I know it sounds like hocus pocus.  Why would onsite optimization prevent offsite efforts from taking effect?  Because Google says so.  I see it all the time…

3 - testimonial - Lashay

Scenario 2 –Anchor Text Optimization Issue

Symptom – Rankings drop after links are placed.

In this situation, the anchor text distribution for the page you’re trying to rank is over or under-optimized.  You’ve likely sent an anchor that pushes your anchor text distribution even further in the wrong direction.  So even though the link has sent more link juice, the page is less optimized.

4 - anchor text issueHow to fix it

You need to find your niche-specific target anchor text ratio.  This has nothing to do with using your intuition on what you think might look natural.

Whenever you perform a search, Google basically “shows you their hand” and reveals exactly what anchor text distribution they want to see for that search.  You’ll just want to take the average of the top-rankers in the niche and start working towards the same.

How to determine the niche-specific target anchor text distribution: click here

Just like with the other scenario, I see this one a lot too…

5 - testimonial rachel

Scenario 3 – The Random Documents Algorithm (You’re being punked)

Symptom – Rankings drop after links are placed

In 2014, big G released the Random Documents Algorithm as a way to figure out who is doing SERP manipulation.  Basically to figure out who you are.  Yes, YOU.

In simple terms, this is how the algorithm functions.  You do something that should cause an improvement in ranking.  Instead of giving you a positive change, you’re given a negative movement in the SERPs.  For the next 20 days, they’re monitoring to see if you do anything fishy to “recover”.  Namely, things that only SEOs would do, such as: change anchors, delete links, etc.  If you do get caught, this short term negative effect becomes more of a long term one.

How to fix it

Be patient and don’t do anything for 20 days.  If you suspect that some action you took caused your rankings to decrease, don’t make a decision for 20 days.  Set a calendar appointment and forget about it.

Keep doing everything as you usually do.  Maintain the same link velocity, continue to send social signals, etc.  Just don’t make any moves around that particular action that you think caused the drop.

If it truly was the Random Documents Algorithm, and you’ve been a good boy, you’ll see something like this:

6 - random documents


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.

90 thoughts on “The REAL Reason Why Your Backlinks Don’t Work”

    1. Yeah I saw those 20 days too a few months ago when I sent links. It happened on two sites coming from two different domains. Great stuff Matt. I still come back and read this once in a while

  1. Another great post Matt, keep it up. I like how you give practical tips that are backed by your own personal testing without all the fluff that others often fill their posts with.

  2. Considering how vast SEO field is and how many actually take action and becomes your direct competition. I think the odds are about the same than pissing into Sahara would make it a flourishing forest.

    So to Diggys partners, get real. 😉

  3. Don’t stop blogging, i really like your posts. They are small and so informative. You talking about your experience, not what you read somewhere 🙂 I’m subscribed from 6 months and hope you will continue blogging for us 🙂 BIG THANKS !

  4. Excellent as always. Honest, to the point, actionable, based on real experience and not hypey… everything you could ask for but rarely found. I certainly hope you don’t stop and have to imagine that the trust you build in those that read this comes back to you in not only “karma”, but actual business dollars as well. I know it did from me. Share that with your partners.

  5. Hey Matt, whilst I can understand their motivation, I believe the valuable information you share in such simple and concise language is of great value to people like myself. Don’t stop blogging.

  6. Hey Matt, very interesting post. I’ve just gone through the blog roll and I really think you provide some excellent nonBS stuff. One question on your on site guide on the URL over optimisation.
    Let’s say I’m trying to target “best cat shaver”. Would the following be OK:
    Or should I go further?
    And if I already have such pages set up, would you go ahead and change them?



    1. Hey Chris, that URL example is solid. About changing existing URLs, not necessary if you’re very careful about your anchor text from your links.

  7. Hey Matt, thanks for this post. Thank you especially for the link to the anchor text ratio post. Happy holidays to you and yours!

  8. I love to see the google dance. When I do something it actually seems like an immediate positive signal of my rankings slightly drop, because they always go back up beyond a previous high point. Keep up the good work. Love the blog.

    1. Hey Nemanja. Depends on what kind of links you need. I only use press releases (url anchors), citations (url or branded anchors), social profiles (url anchors) and PBNs (any) to link from, so that’s my selection set.

  9. As always, great post Matt! I agree with Anthony’s comment above. I love seeing the dance because you know G is about to do something, and if you’re patient, it’s usually a nice bump.

    I think your partners should shove it, and you should continue to blog. 🙂

  10. Hi,

    If you don’t use expired domains for your personal network that you sell links on, are they all auction domains or something else?

    For all the hassle of building and maintaining a PBN network I am considering shutting mine down and just buying links from you.


    1. I can’t get into the specifics of it, but my domains have never been down. They have a continuous “story” to them.

  11. Matt,
    thank you for the great guides you write. I wanted to try your suggestions, but it looks like there is no link to your onpage seo guide, just an image on the sidebar. Could you fix it?

    1. Hey Mark, is it possible that you have a blocker like Ghostery installed? Something that is interfering with the aweber form?

  12. Excellent article Matt. We might just do a “Blogs to watch in 2016” round up on ver on SimpleSites. This will surely be on the list. Keep up the great work! 🙂

  13. Matt hi, I never heard from any SEO guy how many links should I place into single PBN article ?
    I usually use 3 anchors from each PBN post, one anchor modification and second one as plain URL, third one is some authority website with DA>90.
    Sometimes I use only one outgoing link but I feel I am vasting link juice in such case from that particular PBN domain if I link out just once.
    What do u think Matt ?

    1. You can link out as many times as you want from an article. Each time you do it, you’ll be dividing up the link juice, like you said. As far as linking to the money site, 1-3 times is what I usually do. But I’ll definitely have single link articles as the majority. It’s more natural.

  14. Hey Matt, you mention “testing your PBNs” before adding them to your network. Do you mean testing for juice flow before linking to a money site? I’ve never really heard of this concept so maybe it could make for another value-bomb for your blog.

    Thanks as always,

      1. Maybe to pry a little deeper, but IS that what you meant by testing your PBNs? (The link juice flow, or something else?)

  15. Well I am using Yoast and have the kw in the title tag, meta kw , meta desc and url. Would you call that over optimization?

    1. Depends if you’re repeating individual words in your Title and URL. Check out my onsite SEO guide in the sidebar. I cover this in detail.

  16. Hi Matt, great post. I’ve a high quality 2500-word article, that contains one of the target keywords 29 times and another 40 times. In your onpage guide you mention that numbers like that would be too much, but for a 500-word article. So are the numbers above too much for that length (2500)?

    1. Depends if you’re talking about the keyword phrases or the individual words of your keywords. Let’s say that you’re trying to rank for “dog training for newbies”. If you have “dog training for newbies” in your article 40 times in a 2500 word article, this is pushing it. But “dog” 40 times is fine.

      1. Thanks Matt. It’s a one-word term I’m targeting and it was even worse than that, between image filenames, titles and alt tags, it was more like 65!
        I’ve gotten it down to a sane level now. New page was re-crawled almost instantly, three days ago. How long before I find out whether this works? Couple of weeks?

  17. Hey Matt,

    About the The Random Documents Algorithm, is it really set on 20 days or is this just an estimate?

    Kind regards,

    1. That’s the longest amount of time that you’ll be on this probationary period where they’re watching for “SEO moves”.

        1. Definitely not. An “SEO move” would be anything that only an SEO would do. Plenty of legit businesses and website owners setup WMT.

  18. Hi Matt,
    The symptom of Random Documents Algorithm is drop-rise-drop-rise, like dancing, compare to the sympton of Anchor Text Optimization Issue which is drop then keep a lower flatline ranking, right?

    1. Random Documents is: Drop and if you do something suspicious you stay dropped. If you don’t then you’ll rise again.

      1. Thanks Matt. So, if the ranking still stay dropped after I placed a link 20 days, than I can make a conclusion that it’s Random Documents, and cancel the bad link, right?

        I mean, it’ll be safe to remove the link of suspect Random Documents after a observation of 20 days, right?

  19. Hey Matt,
    I think one of my keywords has gotten unter the Random Documents Algorithm.Is it safe to point PBN links to other keywords on the same money site, within those 20 days?


      1. Hi Matt,
        I checked GWMT and saw that some non related sites point to my money anchor. I am confusesd whether its these sites or the random document algorithm that cause the drop in my ranking. Is there a wayto find out which factor it was, or do I simply have to wait another days before I can continue to work on the anchor?


        1. Unless you have some very isolated data (e.g.: where the only links for a few weeks were these random sites), you’re not going to be able to isolate the problem.

  20. Hi Matt, this is one of the very few SEO blogs that I think I learnt a lot. Thank you!
    One question.

    In your opinion, how much do you think nofollow links will help? For example, effectiveness for dofollow 95% and nofollow 5%. I asked this because I’m wondering how much will it help to get links(nofollow) from super authority sites like Wikipedia, press releases etc.

    1. Nofollow links help for making things look natural, can provide authority and trust depending on the source, and they also supply an anchor text for diversity. What they lack is juice.

  21. This article has been incredibly helpful. As a bit of a newbie, I’m inclined to panic quickly. This has taught me a lot. I will be so much more patient now that I know this exists.

  22. Hi, I guess I got Random Documents Algorithm too. When I put a link to the site, the keyword jump from page 3 to page 1 after a few days. After that, ranking decreased to page 9. I just buy some social share from PBNbutler. After 30 days ( not 20 days ), ranking jump back to page 3 now.
    My question: What happen if I put some links again to rank my main kw ? How can I rank my main kw from now ?

  23. Hi Matt. i stacked with this random algorithm.
    I put backlink with my keyword to my site(main page) then i see drop, after a week i put another link to my main page with another anchor (kw rich btoo) and drop down even lower. My rankings are dropped more than 30 days now.
    What should i do? Just wait or is it good to put backlink with domain name (or brandname) to this page to help recover my rankings? Or this domainname backlink will drop my rankings lower instead of bump?
    It seems that every time i put kw rich anchor to my page i stacked with this random algorithm, but when i put brandname anchors my rankings don’t drop, but the problem is that brandname links don’t work so well for gain rankings.

  24. Thank you for the article.
    Correctly I realized that during this period (20 days), it makes no sense to link to this page (anchor).
    That is, if you put links in the period (20 days), these links as a result will not give growth in the future? Or after 20 days, they all the same will give additional growth? I want to understand whether during this period I have to support the anchor mass or I will just spend good references and I will not get a result.

    1. The point is that during these 20 days, if you do something suspicous you’ll get dinged for it.

  25. Hey Matt,

    love your blog, awesome information here!

    I heard about this Random Documents Algorithm in this article for the first time. Again, great information. Yeah, I am a bit shocked about that. And now am not sure what to do.

    What happened?

    1. I pointed the first PBN link to a website I bought and the ranking for the moneykey jumped from #29 to #19 within 1 week.

    2. I changed the home page completely. I rewrote the article and made it way better (my main language is German and the article was German). From 1200 words, it now has 3500 words.

    3. After that I asked google for a reindexation of the new home page. Shortly after that, the home page dropped to #25 and stood there for 3-4 days.

    4. I went to the PBN and changed the anchor text. And I just checked it, it is already indexed :/

    5. Now today the site sits on #29 again, where everything started.

    6. I see traffic dropped today for the whole website.

    So I guess I am in this Random Documents Algorithm long term filter now. Do you know how long this long term filter takes if you did these mistakes in the 20 day period?

    Thanks a lot for taking you time to read.

    1. Not sure if this is random documents, but more likely you messed up something with your onsite update. Maybe changed the topic too much or too high of keyword density. I’d look there.

  26. Aravinth R Enrirque

    Great article. Thanks for the time to create for us.
    If I change anything during on G update period. Is ranking drop from SERP?

    And then, Ahrefs said On page optimization nothing affected on SERP position.
    So, what is the real truth? Please let me know.

    1. The nuances of this very old patent aren’t clear, but the most common interpretation is that you’ll stay with the negative result for longer.

      And then, Ahrefs said On page optimization nothing affected on SERP position.

      I’ve never relied on tools to tell me how to do SEO.

  27. Awesome post. Thanks for sharing these insights and quick fixes.

    It’s the small things like this that people often miss. Top notch, Matt.

  28. Hi Matt,

    Never knew about that Anchor Text optimization thing. Also that document update is a good information. Once i have face the same issue with one of my website and i keep waiting for a month after my ranking was drop and it start increasing itself 🙂

    Thanks Matt for sharing 🙂

  29. Matt – I am very pleased to see these reasons. I’ve been doing SEO for a decade at agencies and for myself and you have really nailed down these abstract ideas I have and talk to clients about to a science. You are going above and beyond to master your craft. Much respect.

  30. Hi Matt,
    Its a nice article about Random Documents Algorithm, its only unclear part of “Do not do anything for 20 days”, Does it mean do not do anything for links that already placed or do not build new links as well ?
    Because if i will stop building links for 20 days it will be even more suspicious to me because you building 1-2 links every day and then bum and 0 links for 20 days ?

    I really appreciate your feedback on this one

  31. Mate I first came across this a while ago. I thought it was nonsense. I thought you need juice not silly onpage. Then I actually tested and implemented this stuff and lowe and behold improvements showed up.

    Ranked a site to page one with just on page recently in an easy niche.

    I wonder why haha

    Thanks man!


  32. “For sites with low-quality or over-optimized onsite SEO, the impact you see from backlinks is going to minimal, if any.”

    I follow your on-page guidelines and have good results from that. Thank you

  33. I think the same happens for me too, I have a website that I am trying to rank for last one years, But nothing changed in one year. I am trying to create backlinks continuously with higher authority websites, but nothing changed.

    Btw, Is having a (-) within your domain can cause this issue, I have this (-) in my domain.

  34. Thanks Matt for explanation,
    I read all the article. We have a similar problem. After we started building high quality web 2.0 content first 2 days our ranking start to go up but after that sudenly got a sharp drop. We believe that we triggered google transition algorithm and he hit us to see if we will revert the pages.

    What do you think, should we continue to building web 2.0’s (1 article daily on behance and and 1 on medium daily) or should we stop?

    1. It’s hard to say based on what info you have provided. There could be a number of other causes as to why you have seen a ranking drop.

      I’d check GSC first to see if there are any manual penalties, then do all the things. Check your technical SEO, check onpage seo, and do a backlink audit.

      Regarding your link building efforts, I’d focus on quality content on your money site not web 2.0s, and trickle out guest post links until you start to see some traction.

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