Private blog networks (PBNs) are a very controversial technique that gray and black hat marketers like to use but is something that is roundly condemned by Google. This type of strategy can work, and even very well at times. However, they can be a massive resource and time sink and may backfire and end up destroying all of the hard work that you have put in.
Whether you as a small business owner look after the online presence of your business yourself or else you have outsourced the SEO and online marketing stuff to an agency or a freelancer, it is important to know the basics so you should be sure that your online marketing is going in the right direction.
This article will discuss how PBNs work and pros & cons of PBNs for small business and startup websites.
What is a Private Blog Network?
A Private Blog Network – or PBN – is a bunch of blogs that one person or company owns. Frequently, they are set up on a free domain such as Tumblr or WordPress.com. However, there are also powerful PBNs that are on self-hosting, and frequently several hosts are used as well as various website architectures and designs so that the sites don’t all look alike. It can be a powerful technique if you follow the tips of a quality SEO like Matthew Woodward. Matthew’s blog offers some pretty comprehensive tutorials on building top notch PBNs. However, there are plenty of lesser offerings out there too. So be aware.
How PBNs Work
Frequently, PBNs are based on other kinds of marketing strategies, expired domain marketing in particular. Owners of private blog networks monitor domain auction websites and look for potentially relevant or interesting domains to buy. They search for domains that have some value to them so that they can give their websites a head start on generating traffic. They then build a blog on the domain that is just good enough so that it looks legit, but not good enough to ever really rank very high in the search engines.
The main purpose of using blogs that are part of the PBN is accumulating small quantities of link juice from every blog. They are basically worthless on their own, but when there are 50, 100 or even 200 blogs, those minor amounts of value can start to add up. Your money site can then be linked to from each of your PBN sites, and these links can give the money site’s a big boost in their SEO rankings.
Google obviously hates this strategy since it is a method used to circumvent their algorithms through the introduction of artificial links. When it is possible to manipulate the algorithm, then the focus becomes manipulation instead of the elements that are preferred by Google, such as content value and user satisfaction.
PBN Pros and Cons
Using PBNs is definitely a black hat technique, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. Google has directly called it out as a technique that it doesn’t want webmasters to make use of, and websites using the technique can get penalized. Anybody who tries to claim you can operate a PBN without potentially incurring a penalty is lying to you, probably so they can sell PBN builder software to you.
There is one critical aspect that makes using PBNs such a bad technique. It is their only purpose. A majority of PBNs are full of spun, copied, stolen or thin content. They are just barely one step over spam sites, and that is just because technically the content can be read by humans. However, on their own, they don’t offer much, if any, value. In a lot of cases the content on these sites is boring and basic, and there is no extra value provided. They don’t serve a good purpose such as being a support location or sales portal. Frequently they are barely active, with just a couple of thin posts published per month, if that.
Google Webmaster Penalty
By contrast, it is possible to own a network of interrelated blogs that can be beneficial for you. The Gawker media network is an example of this. Lifehacker, Kotaku, Jezebel, Jalopnik, Io9, Gizmodo, Gawker, and Deadspin are all a part of the network. These blogs all have similar formats and are managed by the same group. If you were to squint closely, they actually meet a PBN’s technical definition.
There are two main reasons why they are different. First of all, these blogs provide value. They are updated frequently, publish legitimate stories and do original reporting. The second reason is variance. Different types of content are published by Jalopnik and Jezebel. You won’t ever find one of the sites linking to all the others unless it relates to the actual Gawker network. You can’t purchase a link from all of the sites in the Gawker network.
PBN sites are thin; whereas a real blog is not. That is the major difference between the two. So, while keeping mind the definition of a PBN, what are some of the pros and cons that are involved in using them?
It can be very expensive to set up and maintain one. You have to purchase a domain name for each site, which can range from $10 up to $100 depending on the domain’s quality. You will have to pay to get private WHOIS protection. There will hosting to pay for as well. Then you will need to pay to have content written. You will need to either steal content, use an article spinner or hire writers or get content from a writing service. You might get conned into purchasing PBN builder software to automate a lot of this. It cuts corners, but still costs a lot of money and makes things less efficient.
They ake lots of time. Just monitoring domain auction websites will take up several hours every day, and there are no guarantees that you will be able to find domains that you can use. You will also have to register the domains and set up the blogs, and that can take hours or even days to do. You will have to maintain your sites, and that will take up even more of your time, especially if you don’t want everything automated in order to risk the chances of your network being detected.
They are very risky. Google constantly searches for PBNs. If they happen to find yours – and most likely they will eventually – all of your sites can end up being deindexed and manual action can be taken on your money sites. That can turn all of the positive value that your PBN is providing you with and turn it into something negative, and leave you with nothing.
They don’t last. Usually, PBN sites have to be rotated since even when your network overall is safe, individual websites can still be easily penalized and deindexed. It is much easier to get rid of a website and then replace it compared to recovering from a penalty. You have to cycle through websites constantly and repeat the entire process over and over again.
You can control your SEO much better. It allows you to dictate where and when your links come, what particular anchor texts are used, and many other factors. PBNs can be used for testing Google changes and attempting to reverse-engineer the link value that Google gives you. If nothing else, they can be useful as an experimental tool. You don’t need to be proactive with networking or outreach in order to grow. Everything is in your control, instead of having to rely on your personality and other people.
There are lots of technical tricks that people use trying to hide their PBNs. They include such things as using different host companies that have different C-block IP address, having dummy websites, and other things that you have to do in order to keep your PBN a secret for at least longer than a couple of weeks.
The Bottom Line:
You can frequently purchase placement from a PBN instead of having to create your own network from scratch. However, that is also risky, since Google can track the network you are on. The search engines might even use fake clients for tracking where the links from a PBN are coming from.