It has been several years since I first tested the waters of a PBN or Private Blog Network. They are considered Dark Arts of SEO and Google generally dispises them as gaming the system. PBNs when discovered often are delisted and the creators viewed with some disgrace in the SEO circles of popular readings.
They do work though and thats why theres such an emphasis on finding them and removing their influence. Let that serve as a warning to anyone thinking of making one, this like anything of value can come at a cost.
White Hat SEO though is usually either ineffective dated content only methods or … still gaming the system but in ways that haven’t yet been identified. For instance some time ago SEOs realized that a press release was a great way to get their content, rich with anchor text links to their target sites, published on countless news sources. But then someone had to go too far and make it an issue. PR articles quickly lost their relevance with Google and media outlets clamped down on embedded links in paid content. But … that was gaming the system too. Also on the same level SEOs entered into agreements between sites to exchange a link for a link. These became known as link exchanges and many sites began selling links outright. These are also against the rules with Google but as they are almost impossible to prove intent they generally go unenforced. Comments on popular blogs including links to sites are yet another link building scheme which Google frowned upon.
With PBNs the trick between a successful one and a failed one is work. Do not think you can just register a domain, toss up a 4 page site and link to yourself, rinse and repeat. That is not effective. To be effective you have to do the following:
- Established Domain
- Regular content updates
- Diverse Layouts, Content and Updates
- Each site should have the basic elements every site should have
- Randomness …. the most important ingredient in everything.
- Each site should have a story, a unique purpose.
Lets dive into each of these further one on one.
Regsitering 10 new domains and linking to yourself is pretty dumb. First, those sites have no authority or link profile of their own. So 10 sites with no backlinks to them, magically linking to the same site is a dead give away. Rather than that you’d be better served buying existing sites which is expensive or a favorite of mine buying expired sites. Every day thousands of domains go back into the pot and their sites are no more. But their links from other sites tend to remain … registering an expired domain with a backlink presence fixes the issue noted before.
You can find domains as the expire from many sources but the name registrars themselves offering auctions of returning domains and these are generally pretty good quality. If you wait for the domain to completely expire you’ll often found pretty low quality domains. In another blog we discuss assessing a quality domain.
One auction site I like is Godaddy. No reason other than the fact that so many people use Godaddy so the amount of domains to pick from is generally more. Godaddy Domain Auctions The closeout and bargin bin sections are somewhat picked through but if you find a good one, and there usually are several, its next to nothing.
In the examples above, we see for $50 we can buy a domain that reportedly got 3300 visitors a month. themadphilosopher.com … now think about what kind of site it likely was and decide if that would fit as a site that would link to you.
You should research the domain using SEMRush, AHREFS or Moz. Using the Waybackmachine you can see what it used to look like, does this seem like a legitamite site? I ask because often, it may have already been a PBN site and after not being cared for has expired and reentered the pot. If thats the case it is less likely to be useful. If its expired one can assume that the owner didn’t maintain it.
But once you have a domain picked out you buy it.
Regular Content Updates
Why does anyone buy a domain? To publish content on, and usually if its your baby you publish often. If you want a successful PBN you need each site to have new content on them regularly. You could write it or pay someone but as the number of sites grow that can take up all your time and distract from the site you mean to promote.
Some tips….use WordPress. It allows a lot of plugins and ease of use, its also used by 50% of all sites …. so hide within the masses.
With WordPress you can install a plugin that publishes rss feeds on a schedule! With another plugin you can auto link key phrases in this content to your target. Now this is called syndication. Some don’t want their content syndicated, you should respect that but as long as your syndicated content links to the original source most authors will appreciate the link and any added exposure you’ve provided. Just always include the link to them and note the content as syndicated. More detail is discussed in the article on Autoblogging.
Diverse Layouts, Content and Updates
Use different color swatches with your sites, use totally different themes, don’t syndicate the same rss feeds across all your sites and don’t set the schedule for posting these updates at the same time. Use different feeds, posting at different intervals on different days to sites that look different.
Tip: Don’t use the same Google Analytics account across your sites!
Its fine to use the free layouts and it can be fun to experiment
Each site should have the basic elements every site should have
When someone starts a new site, they are proud of it and want to promote it. Your site needs an About page, a Contact page, a couple social media accounts…twitter is an easy one for this.
I’m gonna mingle in the 6th point I made here as they are related. That About page should convey a story. Why is the site there, whats its purpose? A good site has a reason to exist, you have to make one up for this site too.
You can list fictional people as the authors and such but keep in mind that Generic is going to be your friend here. Give enough detail to say the site has an owner with a purpose and then leave it alone. We don’t want to walk into the fraud zone.
In the past I created sites on music that were purportedly a high school music classes projects and they posted music news of importance to them. Since they were minors, no direct info was provided to protect their identity. It allowed for several sites to be made that seemed to make sense and of course they might link to different sites with shared opinions.
So this isn’t last because its the least important, its last because it is the most important. Everything needs to be random. How often you update, the theme of the site, the header menu options, the rss feeds you use, the links being made …. but beyond content…
The domain registrars need to be random. Don’t get them all from Godaddy.
The host servers should be random. Don’t use the same web host. The email service should be random, and there should be email. This may seem like a logistics nightmare, and it is! You’ll need to write down what is where and how to log in, because your login to the sites need to be random too.
Even your link targets need to be randomized. If every site only links to yours then thats a give away. Keep in mind that when an external site links to your content, they will be unlikely to link to just your homepage. So don’t do that. You have to mimic organic growth.
A good source of hiding in plain sight is Cloudflare. They act as a reverse proxy service and millions use it. Just remember to create more than a few Cloudflare accounts as each account is assigned a set of nameservers. You don’t want all of your sites using the same two. And don’t use Cloudflare on all of the sites….a lot is fine but still nothing can be uniformed. You can’t even use the same plugins on all of your sites….they have to be diverse.
The telltale sign that will get a collection of sites spotted as a PBN is the lack of randomness. Stay organized.
Growing pains seem to come at the same intervals … at about 30 sites I would have to retool and reorganize to keep growing. I think at 100 sites it was the same and then at 300 I needed help.
You can’t just make the site and leave it to do it all on its own. Each site needs to be logged into at least once a month and you need to make sure someone hasn’t hacked in to your site, the best way to prevent a security issue is logging in and running your updates. With 300 sites that can take weeks….so prepare to hire help just to maintain a large network.
Is it worth it? Totally.