Why Do SEOs Create A Private Blog Network?
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 to your site.
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 and so 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 and so 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 which you registered the account with.
Plugins and themes that are mainly used by SEOs or 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 and it is likely to give an unfair advantage to sites that can use PBNs for backlinks. For this reason Google has attempted to identify 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 and managed 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 because 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 well defined rules that prevent detection. This means having the right tools and resource to create and efficiently manage your PBN. Tools that SEOs use to build their PBNs include:
- Onlywire automatically posts content from your website or blog to social media.
- Link Emperor finds keyword opportunities and helps to build links to add strength to your links.
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 and so 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 and so 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 and so 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 as some valuable domains fall through the net and get deleted.
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, but 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 and be warned that 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 produced a guide which is very comprehensive. This points out that PBNs are expensive and very time consuming to set up and if you don’t plan them carefully you are likely to be found out by Google.
It will be interesting though 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.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk, partypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on CXL and Usabilla.com. As an ex-market research and insight manager he also had posts published on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact us please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter @conversionupl, see Neal’s LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.