A private blog network (PBN) is a black-hat SEO technique for creating high quality backlinks to improve the domain authority and traffic for a site. PBNs hit the news in 2014 when Google tried to eliminate the benefits of sites using private blog networks to build backlinks. As any SEO expert will tell you one of the best ways to improve your search engine ranking and get more traffic to your site is to establish high quality backlinks.
However, getting good backlinks is not that easy. It can take a lot of time and effort to build just a few mediocre backlinks. Blog outreach campaigns for example have a very low conversion rate as high authority blog sites are inundated with requests now that much of it is automated using software. Even if you do get an anchor link you have no control about where it is located and the Anchor text. It might end up at the bottom of the page and therefore not be embedded in quality content.
What is a private blog network?
To make the process of building backlinks more efficient and controllable some SEO experts mimic the real world by setting up PBNs. A private blog network is where you create a network of high domain authority sites that you control and that you can use to build links from to support your primary site.
A private blog network is usually comprised of expired domains or sites that have been purchased prior to expiring. This means they have high quality backlinks and can therefore pass on high levels of link equity to other sites. Some SEOs who use a private blog network create networks that may comprise over 1,000 sites. They can over time deliver a high volume of backlinks for the primary site. Of course the PBN owner has complete control over the anchor text, the blog content and link placement to optimise the impact of the backlink.
The image above shows how a private blog network comprises multiple sites and that all will link to your primary site. Notice how none of the PBN sites link to each other. From a search engine perspective they are difficult to identify. Indeed, SEO experts who set up private blog network are very careful not to create a footprint that could mean their PBN is uncovered.
What is a footprint?
A footprint is a unique identifier that is on all blogs, such as the owner or an outbound link pattern (e.g. links only to your websites). To avoid the latter SEOs also link their PBNs to other low authority sites that are not direct competitors to the primary site. In addition a start of authority (SOA) record is shown in DNS reports and displays a “hotmaster” email address. When you use the cPanel this normally uses the email address you registered the account with.
Plugins and themes that are mainly used by SEOs. Using the same theme for all your PBN sites can also potentially act as an identifier. Analytics tools, such as Google Search Console, or advertising codes have unique IDs in the source code that can also be harmful for a PBN.
What does Google think about PBN’s?
PBNs are a grey hat/black hat SEO tactic as they are a form of intentional link building that is clearly against Google’s guidelines. Many people would see private blog network as an attempt to play the system. It is likely to give an unfair advantage to sites that can use PBNs for backlinks. For this reason Google identifies PBN’s and de-index the sites in the network. In addition Google may apply thin content penalties on sites that receive links from PBNs.
However, for Google it is probably almost impossible to identify a well set up PBN with its algorithms. This means that PBNs are only likely to be uncovered if Google undertakes a manual review. But Google is about automation and so this won’t happen very often. For this reason many SEO experts continue to use PBNs. The risk of being found out by Google is probably a lot smaller than the potential benefits to their SEO practice.
How do SEO build PBNs?
Creating a successful private blog network is all about planning and keeping to rules that prevent detection. This means having the right tools and resource to create and efficiently manage your PBN.
- Onlywire automatically posts content from your website or blog to social media.
You should also estimate things like how many PBN links you will need and how much it will cost. You could use a spreadsheet to manage some of this. But if you plan to create a large PBN this may not be scalable. The number of links you need is partly determined by how competitive a market you are in and your existing domain authority. You would never use a PBN to support a site with no existing backlinks as that could put your PBN in jeopardy.
The cost of creating a PBN mainly comprises the cost of the domain, hosting and getting new content. However, the value of a PBN is being able to provide backlinks from high authority sites. You need to ensure you can afford to buy such sites. The better the authority of a site the more it is likely to cost. Be careful not to go over your budget unless you think it will be worth it.
How to structure your private blog network:
SEOs will structure their PBNs according to the nature of the primary site (often called a money site). The options here are that you have a single money site, multiple sites in the same market, or multiple sites in different markets. When you have a single site or multiple sites in the same market/category you can have all your PBN domains in the same network.
Where you plan to support multiple sites in different markets you will need to create separate Master Networks for top level market niches. For example you could allocate all websites related to loans, banking and insurance to a single Financial Services Master Network. You could then group sites that cover football, rugby and ice hockey into a single Sports Master Network.
You can then provide links from the relevant master network for sites in the same market. For more generic sites you can then use links from both master networks. The advantage of creating master networks is that if one master network is uncovered by a manual review, the other networks should be safe from detection. Secondly you can create links from different master networks for sites that are not in a specific market niche or are in multiple markets.
How to buy sites for your PBN:
Thousands of domains expire every day and so it is easy to find domains to buy. The trick is to find ones have a high authority and so can offer quality backlinks for you primary sites. The main ways to buy domains are as follows:
Domain auctions: You will often find the sites with the best backlinks will be available at domain auctions. There are lots of domain auctions including GoDaddy, 123-Reg, and Snapnames. Because auctions attract competing bids this pushes up the average price of a domain. It can be difficult to buy domains cheaply.
Domain brokers: Brokers, such as NameCorp and Sedo, are the preferred choice for many PBNs as they regularly buy and sell thousands of domains. Brokers will even go out and search for domains for you once you have confirmed what you are looking for. You can also find domain brokers by going to forums like WickedFire.
Pending delete domains: Sites like Expireddomains.net allow you to find good expired domains that are pending delete. Sites that will drop are categorised as “Pending Delete” five days before they drop. You can then place multiple backorders with auction sites as you will only pay if they catch the domain for you.
Archive of dropped domains: Lists of deleted or dropped domains are also available on sites like Expireddomains.net. Some valuable domains fall through the net.
Expired Domain Crawler: This can be used to crawl the pages of an authority website looking for broken backlinks. Once it finds a broken backlink it checks if the domain that it is referring to is available to register. When a domain is available to register, the crawler checks common domain authority metrics to allow you to decide if it is worth purchasing.
Private blog networks are a clear example of how some SEOs try to play the system. Given the potential benefits it is not surprising that some SEOs use them. PBNs give SEOs total control over how they establish a backlink and the specific keywords that they want to rank on. However, a private blog network is a black-hat technique. If Google identifies your PBN the sites in the network will be de-indexed and the sites they point towards are also likely to be penalised as thin content.
For those of you who want to know more how PBNs work and the mistakes to avoid. DomCop have a guide which is very comprehensive. This points out that PBNs are expensive and very time consuming to set up.
It will be interesting to see how Google responds to the use of BNPs and whether they are able to exert pressure on registers to disclose more information about site owners. If Google was able to identify most site owners this could be the end of BNPs. That could create a more level playing field for sites who don’t use PBNs.
SEO Services & How To Spot SEO Scams!
On an almost daily basis I receive emails about SEO services offering to “optimise” my site and improve my Google search ranking. These SEO services often claim to guarantee to get my site at the top of the first page of Google (even though I have already achieved that), to send more visitors to my site, to fix broken links, provide site analytics and get more authoritative links to my site.
But, are many of these SEO services just a scam to get money from unsuspecting clients? Although there are many excellent SEO services available from experts. On search there are also many companies that see SEO as an easy way of exploiting a general lack of understanding of how it works.
What the hell is an “optimised site”?
Any SEO consultant who offers to quickly “optimise” your site for SEO or any other purpose is a fraud and is probably charging you a lot of money for little, if any benefit. It normally takes weeks, if not months to configure a site for SEO and to build backlinks to improve your domain authority. There is also no such thing as a “fully optimised” site. It’s like repairing the roads, the job is never really done.
For example getting back links is a costly and time consuming process. You will need a number of strategies to obtain high quality back links and this is an on-going process. If your SEO services provider guarantees to quickly obtain high quality backlinks it is likely they are either misleading you or they are using black hat SEO techniques. Such as private blog networks. Be very careful how your SEO services company gets back links. If they use techniques frowned on by Google you could end up being penalised by search engines.
Most SEO scams start with a guarantee to optimise your site and get first place on Google. Be careful about such SEO services.
80% of SEO is pure hype:
Since 24th April 2012 when Google released their “Penguin” update most of what SEO services previously did became irrelevant. Even more worrying though is that a lot of what some of these SEO services offer to do may actually harm your ranking and they certainly can’t guarantee to put you on the first page of Google.
The old tricks don’t work anymore:
Stuffing your site with keywords, content cloaking and blasting blog sites with links to your site don’t work and are more likely to get you penalised. Even keywords are much less important than before as there is evidence that Google now evaluates the content on the pages that link to your site to identify what searches you rank for rather than relying on the keywords that are on your page.
Search engine algorithms are much better than before at spotting attempts to play the system and conversely are more adept at identifying good quality and relevant content. There are still SEO best practices, but these are more about avoiding mistakes than using any tricks of the trade.
What drives SEO rankings?
Part of the problem with SEO and why so many SEO scams are circulating is that Google and the other search engines don’t publish exactly what gets you a high page ranking. However, SEM Rush have conducted extensive research to identify what drives SEO search rankings. This shows that direct website visits, time on the site and pages per session are the strongest factors in influencing search ranking.
Close behind these factors are factors that SEO services can directly influence. These include referring domains, total backlinks to your site and referring IPs.
Image Source: SEM Rush, 2017.
Most basic tools are free:
For many of the genuine aspects of SEO there are free tools available that you can easily access. I’ve previously written a post on how to use Google’s Search Console. This is a great free tool that will answer most of the questions you may have about the performance of your site including; crawl errors (e.g. page not found – 404s), external links to your content, average page rank, clicks, impressions and structured data errors.
Google Analytics is also free and allows you to identify your most popular content and track page speed and conversion goals. If you have the time and resource there is no need to pay SEO agencies lots of money to identify where your problems exist.
Why don’t SEO services tell you this?
People have a made a lot of money out of SEO and continue to do so and so why would they admit they add little, if any, value? There may also be an illusion of skill for some SEO agencies that psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums it up nicely:
“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow
This is not only a waste of money it is quite dangerous for companies. By measuring metrics that don’t influence your bottom line (e.g. Likes and Shares), people can’t stop themselves optimising campaigns using such meaningless targets (see Cobra Effect).
A lot of investment has also been made into SEO and optimisation. Due to our tendency not to want to admit when we have made bad decisions (see Sunk Cost Fallacy), people often carry on with behaviour even when there is no evidence to support it.
12 SEO services and scams to look out for:
1. Guaranteed Rankings:
It is not possible to guarantee a #1 ranking on Google as their algorithms are far too complex for any SEO services agency to play the system and definitely deliver a sustainable first place on Google. The only way SEO services can often achieve this is to get you ranking on some obscure long-tail keyword phrase that no one searches for.
2. They don’t detail how the will improve your organic traffic:
Many SEO “experts” claim they have “secret” SEO strategies and don’t detail what exactly they are going to do to improve your ranking or traffic levels. Any legitimate SEO services agency should outline in detail tasks they will undertake and agree some targets to measure their level of success.
For example in October 2016 I implemented a new content marketing strategy and by the beginning of 2017 my organic traffic had more than doubled. I knew exactly what my plan was and also had the analytics in place to measure the impact of my new strategy. Any SEO services agency who can’t tell you what they plan to do is probably thinking of using black hat SEO techniques that will get you penalised or banned by the major search engines.
Here are a few of the SEO scams that try to leave back links on my site on a daily basis. They don’t even have the intelligence to hide their intent.
3. Offer free trial SEO services:
Genuine SEO services work is time consuming and takes weeks, if not months to deliver results. No genuine SEO company is going to offer this for free and if they also ask for access to your admin area or hosting account I would be very concerned about their motives.
4. SEO services claim a special relationship with Google or an employee at Google.
This is definitely a scam as Google can’t be seen to have a “special relationship” with any SEO services agency and so this will be a simple lie.
5. Offer to submit your site to hundreds of search engines.
In the UK Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for over 95% of searches and so why waste time worrying about other niche search engines?
6. Low priced SEO:
As I have already mentioned genuine SEO services is time consuming and labour intensive and so anyone who offers to do it at a very low cost is either having you on or they won’t do a very good job for you. Concentrate on learning how to use Google Search Console and Google Analytics for free and you will save yourself a lot of money.
7. We understand Google Algorithms and are algorithm experts:
Search engine algorithms are very complex, dynamic and are frequently updated and so it is virtually impossible to understand for certain how they will rank your site for a specific search query. Research by SEO services experts like SEM Rush is your most reliable source of information on why most influences SEO rankings.
8. SEO services can submit your site to well-known directories:
Some SEO services agencies offer to manually submit your site to various directories. This is another scam as this is the internet; the vast majority of people use Google not directories to find a service or a product they are looking for. Online directories offer poor quality backlinks and may end up getting you penalised by search engines.
9. SEO services can submit new content to search engines:
Continuously submitting your site to Google is a complete waste of time as it won’t influence your ranking. If you have new content you can submit it to Google for instance using their free Search Console.
10. We are partners with Google or work with someone at Google:
Google can’t be seen to partner with any SEO services company and nor would any employee want to risk their jobs by illegally working with any such firms.
11. SEO services companies that want ownership of your content:
You should never give up ownership of your content to an SEO services agency as you should retain ownership of anything you pay for.
12. You pay for a monthly SEO package:
Monthly SEO packages can be a great money spinner for unscrupulous agencies. Before signing up ensure you have agreed a suitable number of hours per month that the agency will work on your site and get them to specify in detail the tasks they will undertake for you. Further, agree some targets for quality links and an increase in traffic to ensure you get value for money. Any SEO services agency that is not willing to comply with these requests is not worth dealing with.
OK, so genuine SEO services can be valuable for a site. However, the key here is to agree objectives that have clear benefits and set performance targets to ensure you get value for money. Avoid signing up with any SEO services agencies that use any of the above tactics as they are likely to be poor value for money and could actually damage your search engine rankings.
If you can, educate yourself about SEO practices to allow you to take greater control over organic traffic generation. Further, remember that what your visitors and Google want is great content and that should be your priority. Everything else, including SEO, should be secondary to the content. If you focus on quality content in the first place then SEO may largely take care of itself as good content will attract external links and social media mentions and shares.