With Google’s algorithm updates penalizing sites built on paid links and other dubious linking strategies, can any (somewhat) non-natural link strategy work to raise a site’s rank online?
That is the big question behind the private blog network.
What is a private blog network?
A private blog network (PBN) is a set of blog sites that is intentionally built to help other websites achieve high Page Rank (PR) through one-way links. These blog sites usually number five or more and center around a very specific niche topic (e.g., red shoelaces). Thus, the domain names, content and keywords of these blog sites will all focus on a particular topic.
The PBN sites must first achieve high PR themselves; this is typically accomplished through the time-tested principles of in-depth keyword research and the posting of quality content. Once that high PR is achieved, the owner of the PBN sells one-way links (i.e., backlinks) to other bloggers and website owners.
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PBN one-way links are typically not advertised as such; instead, the PBN owner offers potential customers either membership in the PBN for a set monthly or yearly fee or the option of purchasing a given number of blog posts, as shown below:
Sold blog posts may contain backlinks to the customer’s website- or they may not. It simply depends on how much “fluff” or linkless content the PBN owner wants to add in before inserting a purposeful one-way link. Many PBN owners maintain a least a 3:1 ratio of fluff to linked content, in order to avoid being penalized by Google and other search engines. And speaking of search engines…
Is a PBN a legitimate search engine ranking strategy?
The folks at Google have stated time and time again that the search engine will not reward websites that engage in any kind of link schemes, including paying for links directly or for blog posts that contain links. PBNs are, in effect, selling links that increase site PR, and PBNs are on Google’s RADAR. Given this reality, how can PBNs be or stay legit?
There are many arguments that PBN owners and proponents use to justify that such networks are a legitimate link building strategy. To begin with, they note that many SEO agencies buy and/or use PBNs as a traditional method of building rank for their clients’ sites. Proponents also say that PBNs are not a big deal as long as they feature quality content and links.
Many PBN owners go to great lengths to limit membership in their actual network. Other PBN owners charge high membership fees to enable quality content creation, including the generation of pillar articles, in-depth graphics and images, etc.
It could be argued that as long as the network sites are not junk and contain high quality content, no harm is done. However, there are some inherent issues with creating a PBN in order for it to go undetected by the search engines and still make money by selling links.
The eyebrow-raising areas of PBNs
Most PBN tutorials advise that prospective PBN owners purchase recently expired domains with .com, .net or .org extensions that already have some established domain authority and backlinks. The prospective owner is also advised to double check the site for its rank and link quality. So far so good.
However, there is more. Buyers are also advised to enable Whois privacy of their purchased sites in order to ensure anonymity of the network. Anonymity from whom? From Google, of course. For the same reason, it is advised that the Google Chrome browser not be used while the purchased sites are being set up.
Additionally, site buyers are instructed to shop at different hosting companies so that different IP addresses are noted for all the compiled sites. Different IP addresses make it seem like there are many different site owners rather than just one or two.
Because it’s rather tedious to purchase one or two sites each from a different host, some PBN gurus advise using content delivery networks (CDNs) in order to mask the IP address. In brief, CDNs use several servers, scattered globally, to host websites and deliver content from them. It’s the perfect disguise if one is trying to hide the fact that a bunch of websites have originated from the same geographic location.
Are PBNs doomed to fail?
Google isn’t just a search engine; it’s also a domain name registrar. This means that it’s just a matter of time before Google perfects its ISP sleuthing algorithms and roots out PBNs.
It’s also quite expensive to operate a PBN or become a member of one. Think about it: to operate five sites per content topic, you need to purchase the sites and (ideally) two or more hosting packages. That’s about $15/month for hosting x 12 months x 2 hosts = $360 for hosting and $10/site x 5 sites = $50. Thus, just for one niche topic PBN, you’re shelling out over $400.
But that’s just the beginning of your expenditures because you still need to populate your sites with content, images, logos, etc. Sure, there are economical places like iWriter and oDesk, but the drawback is that such sites also provide content that is nothing more than generalized drivel. So, you save a few bucks up-front with the affordably priced content, but then need to tweak and flesh it out later.
And the biggest risk, of course, is that if you make just one misstep, your digital footprint is picked up by Google and you’re “outed” out of your PBN.
Are PBNs worth it?
To be fair, most decent PBNs do warn you that what you’re about to join or start is a somewhat risk-laden venture and could result in your website being de-indexed by Google. Therefore, you may want to think twice before investing hundreds if not thousands of dollars into what is essentially a link-selling business.