Everyone is after a high-ranking site. And, in the quest for perfect SEO (search engine optimization), backlinks play a major role. Quality external links pointing to your promoted site are a powerful tool for moving it up in organic search results. But quality backlinks from relevant sites can be tough to procure—especially if you're in a competitive niche and require a lot of them.
Standard backlink profile-building strategies include developing high-caliber original content that will naturally attract quality links, embedding links into guest blog posts on relevant sites, creating community relationships, and reaching out to turn mentions into links (plus many more). Overall, though, these tried and true strategies tend to elicit steady but slow link-building progress.
So, what if you want to take your link-building game up a notch and you wish to do it quickly (relatively speaking)? Well, one option is to consider building a PBN (private blog network). While PBNs can be somewhat controversial and definitely have their pros and cons, they do have the potential to be a worthwhile tool when used competently and under the right circumstances.
Not sure if your specific project satisfies the criteria for smart PBN building? Let's take a look:
What Is a PBN?
Private blog networks are networks of donor websites that are groomed and maintained specifically for the purpose of increasing the rankings of your main project (aka your promoted site or money site). Donor websites are often built using expired domains that have already achieved high SEO authority. These domains are essentially refurbished with new content that is relevant to the money site and become a feeder source of high-quality backlinks.
How Do PBNs Work?
Basically, donor sites help to increase the promoted site's rankings by bolstering its backlink profile. But sometimes, this is easier said than done.
Google is not a fan of strategies that try to outsmart its algorithms, so donor sites have to be carefully developed, curated, and maintained so as not to raise suspicion. Among other things (which we'll cover in more depth later in this article), PBN sites should not be obviously connected with each other, nor should they be accessible to bots that might discover their underpinnings. Often, PBN sites are kept out of sight by using different hosting providers.
While the main function of PBN sites is not to attract visitors or rank highly themselves, they still need to maintain the fundamental appearance of high-quality pages. Otherwise, they'll be sniffed out and penalized by Google's trawlers. If Google suspects a site is part of a PBN, it will de-index it (i.e., remove it completely from search engine results).
Keeping PBN sites in good SEO condition can also benefit your main project in other ways. For instance, you can divert organic traffic that happens to land on a PBN site directly to your promoted site with strategically placed links.
What are the factors that keep a site on Google's nice list? No surprises here. They include: Website architecture that includes a variety of believable pages (About Us, Contact Us, Resources, FAQ, etc.) and a strong internal linking structure; original organic content; frequent publication of new articles; and articles that include relevant graphics, videos, and images.
Do PBNs Still Work?
Yes. But approach with caution. Like any strategy that is a workaround, PBNs can have negative consequences, and you've got to know what you're doing.
If implemented and managed responsibly, PBNs represent an effective methodology that can generate links and improve organic search rankings. That being said, Google can turn a poorly handled PBN development into a nightmare.
Pros & Cons of a PBN
As you've probably already realized, PBNs are not the right solution for everyone. If you're still on the fence, let's dedicate this section of the article to further teasing out some pros and cons:
- Backlinks from niche-relevant domains are one of the most reliable ways to get your main project to a high-ranking position.
- PBNs allow a promoted site to continue to progress even when its positioning has already reached the top.
- PBNs provide flexibility, and once they’re up and running can provide juice for multiple projects (though not necessarily simultaneously).
- If and when you're done with a PBN, you can sell it (or the backlinks coming from it) for cash.
- PBNs provide a huge advantage over competitor sites that aren’t linked to a PBN.
- PBNs involve a significant financial investment (to purchase domains and order content).
- PBNs involve a significant investment of time (to find suitable domains and structure donor site development, content, and link placement).
- Google is not a fan of PBNs. This can have a substantial negative impact on your project if PBN building isn't handled sensitively.
Are PBNs Blackhat?
PBNs are not definitively blackhat, but they're not exactly whitehat either. Some SEO professionals have described them as grayhat.
The bottom line is that Google does not like PBNs and will penalize websites associated with them. This can make it incredibly difficult to gain any SEO traction at all in the future.
Can You Be Penalized for Using a Private Blog Network?
Yes. Search engines can (and do) dole out penalties for using PBNs.
Google's algorithms are automatically suspicious of websites with very little activity, few updates, and virtually no internal linking. If not maintained with expertise, PBN donor sites can easily be flagged for manifesting all of these negative criteria. Remember that Google's primary goal is to provide quality search results, and it trawls vigilantly for sites with sudden influxes of backlinks from low-quality referring domains (such as poorly managed PBN links).
If you do choose to build a PBN, it’s crucial to keep donor sites fresh and groomed so as to be interpreted as higher-quality sites by Google.
How To Host a PBN
If you do decide to shoulder the risks of building a PBN in hopes of potentially substantial rewards, how do you actually get the job done?
The process begins with selecting and purchasing PBN domains (dropped domains are often used, but you could also purchase a new domain or buy a domain at auction without breaking its history).
Next, you’ll need to register each domain with at least two domain registrars and use as many hostings as possible (the more authoritative the hosting companies, the more credibility a site will have in Google's eyes).
Many PBN developers opt to keep their PBNs out of sight by using multiple A/C Class IPs. Other tips include: Not purchasing too many network domains on the same day; keeping the sites unlinked (i.e., no obvious clues that they have the same owner); eliminating hit counters; and closing all sites to possible bots (other than search system bots, of course).
On average, a PBN with 20-30 sites will provide enough juice to power ranking gains for money sites in a low-competitive niche. A highly competitive one might require a PBN with 200 sites or more to have much impact at all.
How To Get Content for PBNs
When it comes to creating PBN content, you've got a few choices. As always, original content is a must; don't fall into the trap of duplicating content for your PBN domains.
You can write the content yourself, hire an SEO agency or freelance SEO content writer to produce content on a schedule as needed, or you can try using spun content. Spun content is AI-generated text, which can actually be cheap and of reasonably high quality for PBN purposes.
To conclude, private blog networks may boost your rankings, but they're also risky if not managed with expertise. They are considered grayhat SEO and can result in serious penalties from Google. PBNs are not for everyone.
That being said, if you've got the skill and know-how to effectively groom and maintain a successful PBN, the benefits can be significant.
Is learning how to build a PBN going to be the right strategy for you and your business? Only you can decide that.
SerpFocus Can Help
Whether you want more information about how to build a PBN or have questions about the efficacy of other SEO practices and strategies, the team at SerpFocus is here to help.
As an SEO expert for a major agency, I share tested strategies that work—and I would be happy to consult with you on a personal basis.
Reach out to SerpFocus today to get your SEO on track and boost your rankings!