I built 40k backlinks to a new domain – Here’s what happened (Churn & Burn Case Study)

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Hey guys what’s up? I’m going to debunk a lot of SEO myths today. I think you’ll like this case study as the results are quite surprising.

Back in March I created a new website with exact match domain (EMD) just for the sake of trying to rank it with tons of backlinks. I built 40k backlinks and waited for 3 weeks and a half before it started to rank.

One of my most visited posts is a case study on how I ranked an article with just a few “quality” backlinks. In fact, I appreciate case studies more than anyone so make sure to contact me in case you have something to share.

Anyway, Google hasn’t changed a lot lately, but they released Panda 4 and Payday Loan 2.0 algorithm updates back in May, and with that, there have been a lot of myths about backlinks and EMDs not working anymore.

Many people simply follow what others say and assume everything is true. But with SEO, I like to run my own tests before making conclusions because I’ve seen there’s a big difference between the things Google wants, and the things that actually work.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like to write quality content and stay away from super black hat techniques, but I still want to know what really works and whatnot. So, aside from a few forums and a bunch of blogs where I read case studies, I don’t pay much attention to the SEO news unless there’s something really big or important coming up.

SEO myths debunked today

  • EMDs don’t work anymore, or they’re less effective nowadays
  • Spammy backlinks don’t work anymore
  • If you don’t keep your main anchor text below 10-205 you won’t rank anywhere
  • Churn and Burn doesn’t work anymore

OK. Let’s get started!

This experiment was done back in March 2014. I created a new domain and used GSA Search Engine Ranker to rank it. That specific domain doesn’t exist anymore and I’ll explain why, but I won’t reveal the keywords because it still has potential and I’ll probably rank it again in a few months.

Choosing a niche

The reason I choose this domain back in the day was because the competition was low-medium, as found on Market Samurai.

I choose 3 different keywords which were related but not really long-tail keywords, so there was volume and I could receive up to 500 visits per day if ranked on the top 3 spots for the 3 keywords chosen.

Here’s how the competition looked in Market Samurai:

Keyword 1: 9,900 Global searches per month

churn burn SEO backlink competition 1

Keyword 2: 14,800 Global searches per month

churn burn SEO backlink competition 3

Keyword 3: 8,100 Global searches per month

churn burn SEO backlink competition 2

If you do some simple math and check the SEOT (daily traffic when ranked no.1) with Market Samurai, you’ll see I should be able to get around 100-200 visits per day per keyword (500-600 total). And that’s without taking in count that the article will probably rank for some other long tails and more.

The competition wasn’t really that difficult. Everything was green or yellow except for 2 results that appeared in every search term, which are in fact, the results from the original brand. Interestingly enough, not even this brand is ranking on spot 1 (Wikipedia was the top spot) for its own keywords. Believe it or not, this is a super big brand and many of you have probably heard about it or even use it on a daily basis. They had a referral program that paid from $5 to $15 per each lead, so it was doing good at the moment. At this point, they’ve closed their affiliate system completely, so I wouldn’t care about this niche anymore unless you can monetize it with CPA offers or maybe Amazon.

Anyway, I wanted to test this as fast as possible so I created and EMD inside a free Wordpress account (exactmatchdomain.wordpress.com) and added a 400 words article with proper on-page SEO including:

  • 2 of the 3 keywords I wanted to rank in the URL (1 in the domain, and another in the page URL).
  • a 400 words article written by me. No spun or copied content
  • 2 images with proper alt tags related to the subject
  • 3 subheaders with the desired keywords
  • An outgoing link to an authority site (Wikipedia) to make it look natural and avoid penalties
  • No affiliate links or ads at the moment

You can replicate this again and again on a blogger account or even on your own hosted domains with a Wordpress.ORG installation. However, there’s a new Google sandbox that appears to scan your site for a few weeks after you create backlinks, so it might take a few more weeks to rank unless it’s an aged domain or a domain with backlinks and ranked articles already.

The reason this domain doesn’t exist anymore is that Wordpress deleted it from my account when they saw I was trying to pass my images as banners with affiliate links 🙂 So don’t do that.

Wordpress.COM is free but they show their own ads, so they don’t want you to add codes (e.g. Adsense) or use images as banners with affiliate links. They’re fine with contextual affiliate links on your article, so take advantage of that 🙂 or… you know… you can use Blogger (their statistics panel sucks) or your own domain on a hosted account.

Building backlinks

This part was really easy. I built around 40k backlinks in a period of 3-5 weeks with GSA SER.

I just fired it and created 3 different campaigns pointing to the same page but each one building links with the 3 anchor texts that I wanted to rank. I also added a few generic anchor texts like click here, read here and the URL of the domain to make it look natural.

Here’s how my GSA looked:

churn burn SEO backlink GSA

Every now and then I’d check the backlinks with Ahrefs to see the anchor texts and how many links were being indexed. Majestic SEO and Market Samurai also worked for this purpose, but Ahrefs tends to see more links and indexes them faster than Majestic SEO.

After 3 weeks each GSA campaign had built around 30k backlinks. I’m almost sure many of them weren’t verified and perhaps didn’t exist, but at least 10-20k were for real and ahrefs was crawling them. Here’s how it looked:

churn burn SEO backlink ahrefs

Not bad huh…

3 weeks and my URL rank was 81, while the domain rank was 50. At this point, Ahrefs had indexed 13,000 backlinks coming from 2,500 different domains. I still let the campaign run a week or so, so in the end, GSA built 40k backlinks.

Dancing with Google

After 3 weeks and a half, I noticed my page started to rank in the first top 100 results on Google. Of course, this equals to 0 traffic, but it was something interesting because I was watching the famous Google Dance in action. I started the campaigns on March 5th, and on March 29th one keyword appeared on page 7, then went to page 8, and the next day it disappeared. Another keyword went from 0 to appearing on page 3 and then disappeared as well the next day.

Check my rankings graph:

churn burn SEO backlink test

Now the cool thing is that after 4 days, both keywords started to rank again and went straight to page number 2, as you can see on April 2nd and April 3rd. From there, it was just a matter of time until I reached the first spots in a few days or weeks. I didn’t build any more backlinks with GSA for this site.

Ranking to the top

My rankings quickly improved over the following days. Sometimes a keyword would fall back to page 4-6 but then the next day it would come back again with a better rank. The third keyword also appeared on Google after the first 4 weeks, but I don’t have any screenshot.

2 weeks later (5 weeks after everything started) I was ranking on the first page of Google within the first 5 spots and receiving 100 visits per day 🙂 Here’s a screenshot from my Pro Rank Tracker account that validates my rankings and the search volume:

churn burn seo backlinks rank week 6

As you can see, the 3 keywords improved from a few days before, but they were not ranking in the first spots a month ago. It was great to see this.

I was checking my ahrefs profile every 3 days to see if anything was wrong, and I noticed I did something wrong with my generic anchor texts. I initially wanted to create generic anchor texts and keep them below 10% of my overall results, but because I created 3 campaigns at the same time, I was producing a lot more than that. In fact, my generic anchor texts were almost over 30%. But it didn’t affect my rankings anyway. Here’s how the Ahrefs anchor text cloud looked like:

churn burn SEO backlink anchor text

That first result is my URL anchor text, and then the second and third are links with the anchor texts of my desired ranked keywords. The third keyword didn’t receive more than 10% of the backlinks and the rest are just branding or generic backlinks (e.g. click here, visit this website, etc). But again, this never hurt my rankings.

1-2 weeks later (7 weeks total), my rankings were improving 🙂

churn burn SEO backlink WEEK 8

As you can see, I passed the original brand’s website and also passed Wikipedia to hit position number 1 for 2 keywords. The third keyword (14,800 searches per month) was a little bit more difficult and had been going back and forth between positions 2-5. But 1 week later it finally reached position number 2!

Because of this, there were days where I was receiving 100-150 visits (most of them from USA, UK, and Canada), and when the third keyword with the biggest volume danced to position 2-3 I could receive up to 300-500 visits in just 1 day.

I also discovered that my article started ranking for a lot of long-tail keywords, and it started receiving a few comments from real persons too.

I want to analyze a few things with you guys before the end of the article, so this is the last screenshot I took from Ahrefs with all my links indexed:

churn burn SEO backlink chart

I marked a few things with a red box so you can focus on the data. Here are my conclusions:

  • As you can see above, I was able to create 15,000 backlinks from 2,700 different domains with GSA in 3 weeks. Nowadays I can create a lot more 🙂
  • Even though I created almost 40,000 backlinks with GSA, Ahrefs only crawled 15,000. This is because a few backlinks will go down quickly or simply because I didn’t verify them with GSA. Nowadays I always reverify my backlinks to see how many I really create and stay live.
  • Majestic SEO crawled 10,000 backlinks or less, but after 3 months, they now see more than 30,000 backlinks
  • The number of backlinks crawled by GSA, Majestic SEO or Ahrefs aren’t the same numbers of backlinks Google really crawls. You could know how many Google crawls using Google Webmaster Tools, but I recommend to avoid this unless you want to get caught quickly.
  • I started my GSA campaigns around March 5th, but Ahrefs (which is the fastest service I’ve tested) started watching backlinks on March 12th.
  • A lot of my backlinks were do-follow, but I had a good percentage of no-follow backlinks too (11,500 vs. 3,900). This makes everything more natural
  • GSA was able to create at least 18 .gov and 436 .edu backlinks
  • Finally, I had no FB likes, tweets or shares and the article still ranked on the first spot for at least 2 months

How I lost this domain

I already mentioned it but here goes again. Wordpress.COM is a free service for users that don’t want to host their own blogs. The good thing is that you’re creating a blog under an existing and very well known domain (Wordpress), so you might see your websites rank faster.

The bad thing is that they don’t like ads and banners, so I lost my free blog 3 months later (2 months after it started ranking) because I was passing some images as banners with affiliate links to a CPA network to avoid using ad networks like Adsense they could detect instantly.

I lost it on May 30th, and here’s a screenshot that proves it:

churn burn SEO backlink rankings

But the really interesting fact is that you can see a dive in rankings for all the 3 keywords between May 17th and May 20th. Can you guess what happened there?

Yeah! Google released the panda 4.0 and payday loans 2.0 updates! I went from 300-500 visits per day to less than 100 visits per day, but as you can see, the site quickly recovered after 3 days and it got it’s rankings back to normal for 2 keywords (the ones with 8,000 and 9,000 searches per month), while the 3rd keyword (14,800 searches per month) was dancing in the second page but started climbing again.

I was almost sure the 3rd keyword would be able to recover after a few days (you can see the trend on the chart), but Wordpress was kind enough to delete my site before concluding my experiment 😉

Anyway, that’s it.

Of course, after this, I started creating a lot more sites and domains (self-hosted in different accounts) to do more tests and I’ll do a real-time test for you guys in August including self-hosted domains, exact match domains/not an exact match, and including different hosts… just to see what works and what doesn’t.

Your thoughts

Some people said the Churn & burn method was not working anymore. This is not true, and I’ve seen a lot of case studies made in June-July backing up my results. However, many people noticed there’s a timeframe between 4-8 weeks which wasn’t as big a few months ago before panda/payday loans update. This timeframe, called the Google Sandbox, appears to review and take more time to start ranking any website if it’s created on a brand new domain with no backlinks.

There are a few ways to skip this Sandbox:

  • Using aged domains
  • Using authority domains already ranking for other terms, although I wouldn’t recommend his unless you want to get hit by a penalty later
  • Using free hosting sites like Wordpress, Blogger or Hubpages

As always, I’d really appreciate it if you can share, tweet, or +1 this case study, and don’t forget to comment below with your questions or thoughts!

Would you like to see a real-time case study about this? Please let me know 🙂

Servando started Stream SEO in 2012. He is a full-time affiliate marketing expert and blogger. Servando has been able to generate more than 7 figures with various digital marketing strategies. Read more here.