Website Income

How to Quickly Analyze Backlinks before Buying a Website or Expired Domain

Whenever purchasing a website or an expired domain there are a lot of risks that need to be considered. One of the biggest is the exposure to a Google Penalty based on the sites backlink profile (penguin or manual un-natural link penalty).

In this article I will show you the 9 common kinds of backlink SPAM and how to quickly spot them.

For an even more in depth guide on performing due diligence before you purchase a website checkout

With both my expired domain finding service and my recent focus on purchasing a couple of websites I have been deep diving into analyzing backlinks.

What is the Risk?

Several months ago I purchased a website which I knew had paid for a few links. I believe as a result of those links the site went from making close to $1,000 in the first month I purchased it(after making monetization changes) down to $250/month due to a penalty!

I was aware of the links and believed I priced the risk fairly into the purchase ($4k to buy the site)…unfortunately for me the site got hit pretty quickly after purchasing.

Analyze Backlinks before Buying a Website

What Happened When I Purchased a Website With a Few BAD Backlinks

The 9 Types of Backlink Spam

I use MajesticSEO(not an affiliate link) to analyze backlinks because of the graphic representation of the link profile which makes it incredibly easy to quickly see the quality of the backlink profile.


Anchor Text manipulation is pretty easy to spot in Majestic SEO. Using the Anchor Text section there are 2 key things to look for..

  • First unnatural anchor text density
  • Secondly obvious SPAM in anchor text keywords (porn/poker/pharmaceutical or completely un-relevant keywords)
    • Unnatural Anchor Text Density
      • – Not as obvious an example but with the large number of links and only 3 different anchor texts this site shows clear signs of manipulation.Un-Natural Anchor Text Density
      • – This one is very obvious, 95% all with the same keyword – avoid!all with the same keyword
  • Obvious SPAM in Anchor Text
    • – This example is subtle! Often the spam is far more obvious with Porn/Pharmaceutical/Poker or other highly SPAMMED niches like PayDay loan anchor text. Whenever there are obvious signs of anchor text manipulation avoid it! In cases like the one below we need to ask ourselves if the anchor text could naturally occur in the way that it is being shown?Obvious SPAM in Anchor Text


  • Large difference Trust Flow to Citation Flow – Links build naturally should be balanced between citation flow and trust flow (or for MOZ PA/DA should not show a large (~3x or more) difference between them)
    • – Here there is an obvious mis-match with Trust Flow = 2 and Citation Flow = 15. Ideally we want that ratio to be close to 1:1 but anywhere up to 1:3 can naturally occur but be cautious whenever you get below 1:2 Trust:Citation.

mis-match with Trust Flow to citation Flow

  • Root to URL completely different – This one is often miss-understood. When there are good metrics for one domain and then none for another it often means that links were intentionally built to one URL and then none to another. This represents link manipulation!

Root to URL completely different

    • – Here the metrics on the Root Domain are ok but then the metrics at URL are non-existent!

metrics on the Root DomainVS…

metrics at URL

  • Concentration of Links on the TF vs CF Map – This is one of the reasons why Majestic is so great. A quick look at the TF vs CF graph can tell a lot about the backlink profile. The ideal graph is a series of domains spread along the line moving 1:1 from the origin. Two indications of a SPAMMY backlink profile is when there is an unreasonable concentration of links all in one location or when all the links are low trust. On the graph each dot represents a single link and the Trust and Citation score of that link.
    • – In this example shown below there are 2 concentration and another grouping along the bottom representing Trust Flow on each of those links of ZERO. Typically what occurs is when a link building service is purchased a lot of the links will come from similar sites with the same CF/TF which results in concentrations on the TF vs CF graph.Concentration of Links on the TF
    • – Here there is one single high density concentration of links, there is a chance with this link profile that it could occur naturally but this is a warning flag. Whenever there is a single concentration of links on the TF vs CF graph there is a reasonable expectation that the links are artificially created. Large consentration


  • Non-Relevant Link Pages/Directories/Blog Network Pages
    • (non-relevant links) – Non-relevant backlinks like the ones to this site provide no value.
    • (directory) – Here is an example of a site that only uses directory links. Relevant human-reviewed directories are good but having only non-relevant free  directories are bad!
    • (directory) – Here is another example of too many low value link/directory pages.
    • (PBN & Hacked Sites) – Sometimes most metrics can look good but when you visit the pages linking to it it becomes obvious the links are all blog network links or sites that have been hacked.
    • (SPAM sites) – When the sites linking to the URL are only SPAM sites then it is obvious the site provides no value and should be avoided.
    • (non-relevant directories) – Again relevant directories and link pages can be natural however, low value directories as shown by these links are bad.
    • (Blog Network) – There is the famous quote from Judge Potter Stewart stating in regards to Porn vs art “I know it when I see it” and this applies to most of us who look at websites and can quickly determine if the site is built only for links or not. When the majority of the links pointing to a domain was clearly built for the purposes of providing a link, like in this example, we should avoid it.
  • Blog Comment or Forum SPAM
    • (Forum) – Blog comments and forum SPAM are old low value black-hat tactics that still many domains have links from. In these cases it is important to look at the comment and forum post and just think if it is reasonable. Blog comments and forum links that are real are fine, blog comments and forum links that are only left for the purpose of the link are bad! Another fast way to tell is to see if there are A LOT of useless comments on the post…if that is the case then the site likely has auto-approve comments on and has been hammered by low-value black hat SEOs. 
  • Foreign Language Links
    • – Here is an example of english links on foreign language websites. This is almost always a sign of link manipulation and if spotted should be avoided.


Most of the instructions above are pretty obvious. The intent of this post with the videos was to hopefully show a nice effective way to quickly determine the quality of the backlinks pointing to a site. Using MajesticSEO daily is a huge time saver for me and I wanted to share some of the tricks I have learned analyzing thousands of domains and dozens of sites over the last few months.

What other tools do you use to analyze a sites backlink quality? Ahrefs? OpenSiteExplorer? other?

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

Curt says January 20, 2014

Another helpful, quality post, thanks Jon.

I use Majestic, but if I find a good domain I will occasionally double check it out on Ahrefs and/or open site explorer.

Another secondary or confirmation thing I do is plug the domain into and see if it was ever used as part of a PBN or redirected.

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    Thanks Curt, I think Ahrefs has some pretty good ability to quickly show the quality of a domain. I find OpenSiteExplorer to show the metrics easily and for quality sites what metrics are “off” on it but I don’t find it very effective at quickly telling me if a site has spam links to it.

    The check is a must for me as well!

    Thanks for sharing!

Philip says January 20, 2014

Hey Jon,
Thanks for another useful tutorial. For me another sign of link manipulation are 301 redirects. What do you say, do 301’s still work?

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    301’s are tricky…they show up as 302s in If the redirect is to a common landing page because the website was dead and it was the hosting companies common landing page then I don’t rule out the site.

    If the redirect was to a similar and quality site I make a judgement call.

    If the redirect was to a completely unrelated SPAM site then I definitely rule it out right away. I just try and think what would be as natural as possible.

    301’s are risky but do still work

John Shea says January 20, 2014

Great post Jon, I know I’ve comes across some duds in the past when looking at the results on Majestic.

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    It can be heartbreaking! You think you found an awesome domain, great metrics PA,DA,CF,TF and then you look at the backlinks and oh-crap the site is garbage.

    We have all been there and I can sympathize!

Andrew says January 20, 2014

Hey Jon. Great article and a nice use of video and text to get the information across. I’ll be digging more into this in the coming months, as I know a number of my sites need to have their links tidied up. Cheers, Andrew.

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    Glad it was helpful, I will try and make more videos for future posts!

Pedro Guerra says January 20, 2014

Great Post Jon!! Excellent tutorial

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    Thanks Pedro

Stephen Veit says January 20, 2014

I like the level of detail you provided here. Thanks!

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    I find the detailed posts more fun to do.

Winston says January 20, 2014

Another great informative post Jon!

I was wondering when looking at a sites backlinks via these services can you tell which of the sites deliver the most juice to that particular money site. I understand that the sites like ahref, open site explorer, etc. show metrics (PA, etc.) from highest to lowest. But some are nofollow and I’m thinking that it isn’t representative of which links are delivering top juice. Am I correct?

From your experience when looking at a backlink profile of a site, can you tell which ones are the ‘big contributors’ to the rankings, or is it more from intuition and experience? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    Hi Winston, the ranking of the backlinks by whatever metric the tools uses is a great indication of which links are giving it the power. You are correct no-follows may not carry as much weight however as long as there is a natural split of nofollow to follow and all the weight isn’t coming from one link I don’t worry about it too much.

Ted says January 20, 2014

Hey Jon,
Great post, once again. This will undoubtedly save me a lot of trouble when looking for expired domains. Thanks again for another excellent guide!

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    no problem Ted, thanks for the comment and glad I can help!

constance says January 21, 2014

Great tips I have to says besides for the obvious adult site links I struggle to pin point spammy links

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    It takes some time to figure it out. My team even though they are finding A LOT of domains still will send me domains with spammy links in them I have to send back.

Carol says January 24, 2014

Very valuable tutorial – thanks! I especially benefited from the example site that WAS legitimate (Part 3) since it showed what we are looking for. Negative examples are very useful, but positive ones are great too. Now to get started looking for domains! Thanks again, Carol

    Jon says January 26, 2014

    Hi Carol, that was actually a mistake but I am glad it worked out from a learning stand-point. Thanks for letting me know, I will be sure to include good examples as well in any future similar post.

Brandon says January 29, 2014

Jon, do you think Google is close to being able to know when domains are dropped and possibly “de-value” the links from the URLs past? It seems scary to me.

Also, how much faith do you have in MajesticSEO metrics. You talk a lot of the trust flow being close to the citation flow.. It seems these 2 are in the top 5 variables for a domain worth it for you. There is controversy on MajesticSEO being not so great but how do you feel

    Brandon says January 29, 2014

    One more question Jon,
    If you answer ANY, can you just answer this one.. haha. Do you worry about the size of the site that you build on that domain? do you shoot for a minimum of indexed pages in google or just a 4 page site.. or.. don’t you really worry about the size?

Christian says February 11, 2014

Hi Jon,
quick question on the PR of an expired domain I’m looking at. I’ve gone through your 10 point check list and everything looks pretty good. The domain has a PA of 38, DA of 26 and is PR3. However, some of the fake PR checker tools are listing it as fake. Do you think that a link from a fake PR site can have a negative effect on the money site?



Alan says March 4, 2014

Hey Jon,
Once you find a domain and register it, assuming it gets re-indexed, how can you tell if its penalized (since domains can still be slapped but indexed) or has anything shady about it? I was also wondering how can you tell how much juice it actually pumps?

Francisco says August 15, 2014

Hey Jon,
Why do you use the Fresh Index instead of the Historic Index?
The former applies only to the last 90 days, while the latter applies to ever because it’s the largest index of backlinks on the web (started on 06 Jun 2006).
I am curious to know! 🙂
Thanks for the great blog, and keep it up.

pradeep says April 12, 2015

Hi, Jon thank a lot for sharing this quality piece of writing.. yes it’s really important to check domain name before buying… “you can have better opportunities in future if you research well now”…
Really helpful for me.

Jonathan Foster says May 10, 2015

Great article Jon!

I use Majestic religiously, but I also refer to SEMrush pretty frequently. AHRefs has never really worked for me, not sure why. I think the way they have all the data laid out just confuses me.

I’ve never really used much…but it makes total sense to use it, I’ll be giving that a try!

Isagani Esteron says June 12, 2015

This is really awesome and have helped my find expired domains.

I do have a question though.

I looked through the history of the expired domain on wayback machine and found several expired domains that have been made into a PBN site.

What are your thoughts about these expired domains?


Eric T says April 3, 2016

Great job Jon! Very informative lecture and presentation. Will pass along to my team.


Takipci Hilesi says May 27, 2016

Dear thanks for the post. BUT I have a question:
Can we buy a crap site just because of its domain age? Or just buying a brand new domain is better?

Hipect says October 13, 2017

Hey there,
Really great informational article I just wondering for checking backlinks – what do you think of using Way Back Time Machine Internet? It shows how the website looked like before any changes… don’t know what about links but I guess they can be inspected via chrome right?

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