Perhaps you’ve heard about private blog networks (PBNs to their friends!) as you’ve researched different ways to promote your blog? If you haven’t, I’m going to explain what a PBN is so you understand the risks involved.
We know that promoting your blog is an absolute necessity if you want Google to give you some traffic love. You might have the published the most authoritative high-quality content ever. But without external links referencing it, you’ll be nothing more than a whisper in the search results.
If that happens, you’ll probably find it difficult to see visitors when you look in Google Analytics to see the traffic you’re “enjoying”.
Of course there are lots of ways to grow links back to your blog.
Some of them are inventive and useful. Others tread a fine line between white hat and black hat SEO… let’s call them grey hat.
Then there are others that blatantly go against search engine T&Cs. These will likely get you a Google penalty.
In this post, I’m going to take a look at the darker side of SEO. I’ll discuss the controversial concept of promoting blogs with private blog networks, focusing on:
- What is a PBN?
- How PBNs works.
- Whether PBNs are a good idea.
- My view of them.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a general idea of what a PBNs is. You’ll also have a view on whether or not you should risk using them to promote your blog.
What is a PBN?
A PBN is essentially a network of websites employed to feed external inbound links to a primary website. These links help build up the primary website with a view to boosting its presence in search engines.
In theory, PBN links create a degree of authority for the primary website. Search engines like Google recognize and reward authoritative sites with higher placement in results. The more links and the more credibility the PBN has, the higher Google ranks the primary website.
PBNs undoubtedly work in this regard and can be very effective… until Google identifies the PBN and detects the links aren’t organic and therefore authentic.
Any attempt to manipulate search results in this way is a breach of Google’s T&Cs. If a PBN is identified, Google can apply an SEO penalty to the primary website and it’s ranking will plummet.
Worse still, Google can drop the primary site from its search results altogether, wiping out your traffic in an instant.
Private blog networks are a risky move!
How Are Private Blog Networks Effective?
The entire mechanism of the private blog network revolves around backlinks and the authority they create. Google tells us openly that backlinks are an important ranking factor when assessing page rankings.
Backlinks are created when one domain links via hypertext to another. Normally, we’d expected to see links created organically, in cases where one site references another for information. Links such as this may or may not result in people visiting a site through clicking the link itself.
Perhaps more importantly, external backlinks communicate to Google that one site is voting for another as a trusted source of information.
So… if Google sees a site that links to your blog as authoritative and “powerful”, the more power the link has to affect placement of your blog in its search results.
Following this thought through, the more links pointing to your blog from authoritative sites, the greater the boost to your blog’s appearance in Google’s results.
How Do People Set Up a PBN?
There are two methods people use to begin constructing a PBN:
- Purchasing expired domain with high authority.
- Registering new domains with no authority.
PBNs and Expired High-Authority Domains
Purchasing domains with high authority that people have allowed to lapse (expire) is probably the preferred way that PBN exponents start their networks.
Since the domains already have high authority, any backlinks they build to their primary blog will have an immediate effect on its position in search results.
Authoritative expired domains can help your primary blog to rank fast. This makes them attractive to people looking for fast results and as a result it pushes up their value.
There are specific places from which you can buy authoritative expired domains and pay a price for them dictated by their authority.
PBN practitioners will buy several authoritative expired domains and add content to them with links pointing to various pages within the network to boost the primary site. The more domains they have in their PBN, the more potential power they have to boost the primary site.
However, it’s not as easy as it may seem to manipulate Google in this way. Google’s search technology is more than adept at identifying PBNs unless their footprints are extremely well concealed.
Most are not.
If you figure you might like to set up a private blog network with high authority expired domains, you’d need to plan how you set them up meticulously.
You’ll also need to use all sorts of subterfuge to avoid detection but when you start doing things like this, you’re on a slippery slope.
PBNs and New Domains
A less preferred option for PBN practitioners is to use new domains that have no authority. Since they have no history and therefore no authority, their ability to help a primary domain rank is more limited than using the approach I’ve discussed with expired domains.
A benefit (if you can call it that), is that because new domains have no history, they may provide less of a clue to search engines that they’re part of a network designed to boost a primary domain.
But that doesn’t mean the network is invisible to Google.
A network configured with new domains still requires the same care in configuration as PBNs built with expired domains. Hence the complexity involved and the care required to avoid raising alarms is very similar.
However, to get the most from this approach, you’d also need to grow the authority of the new domains by building back links to them too, which requires more work.
The Risks in Creating PBNs to Promote Blogs
In both the case I’ve mentioned above, the more aggressively a PBN promotes all of the domains within the network through links, the more potential there is for Google to discover the network and penalize the whole shooting match!
Google is aware how links to blogs tend to grow and understands what a “natural” link growth profile looks like. Anything that appears abnormal by comparison will likely raise an alert and cause closer examination.
If Google sees activity as an attempt to game results, the punishment can be a penalty or complete deletion from its index.
In my view, it’s simply not worth the effort to risk losing your primary blog, regardless of the potential gains.
Running a PBN requires investment in domains and hosting. Depending on the size of your network this could run into substantial sums.
It also takes a huge amount of effort and attention to manage a PBN. For me, that effort and focus is better spent working to grow a blog that will stand the test of time.
Imagine losing a whole bunch of time and sweat overnight just because you’ve tried to fast track your primary blog and gain an edge by breaking Google’s rules.
I know of many people who have had success leveraging private blog networks and I wish them luck. But it’s not something I want to do.
Summary – What is a PBN?
In my view, PBNs are a very risky business. As with any black hat marketing technique, it actually takes an awful lot of work to stay ahead of the game… and Google doesn’t get any less vigilant or smart as time passes.
My advice is to stay away from black hat techniques that breach Google’s Webmaster Guidelines… and be very careful with grey hat strategies that fly close to the line.
Promote your blog using techniques to build more solid backlinks such as:
- Producing link-worthy content.
- Being helpful to people.
- Guest posting.
- Co-authoring articles.
- Writing testimonials.
- Social media promotion.
- Building relationships with other bloggers.
There are dozens of ways to encourage backlink growth that don’t require you to put your primary blog at risk.
But I guess it’s up to you.
That’s all for now.
What’s your opinion of private blog networks? Anything to add to this discussion of PBNs? Leave me a comment below and let’s get some discourse going!