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Private Blog Networks (PBNs) are a huge part of the SEO industry and whilst getting backlinks is still a key driver in the Google search algorithm, PBNs will always be the source of debate and interest amongst SEO practitioners.
If you have ever bought a domain or run a website that ranks on Google, you are probably accustomed to getting emails from PBNs on a daily basis and they will tend to offer you a list of links that you can buy. The emails you receive will typically be called:
But should you be paying to add these links to your website? And what is the damage?
Content created in collaboration with Tudor Lodge Consultants.
PBNs are very simply blogs or old websites with domains that have expired, but still, have a lot of value due to gaining thousands of historical backlinks.
Anyone can buy these domains once they expire or sometimes they are bought via an online auction.
But it is the ability to use this expired site, maybe re-design it, add some fresh content, and then start adding or selling links from this site to boost your SEO rankings or for commercial gain.
XYZ.com suddenly expires but has generated thousands of backlinks over the years. Now the site is available to buy, I will redesign it, add some new content, and start pointing links to my own sites and then start selling the links to other people too.
People will sell links on PBNs anywhere from $10 to $1,000 per link and when you are looking to justify or scale your SEO spend, it is easily measurable to know what you get for $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000.
Equally, a PBN can just be a news site or blog that purposely sells links for income.
Prior to 2014, buying links from PBNs was a quick and highly successful way to rank any website, in any industry across finance, money, fashion, insurance – you name it.
However, over the last few years, Google has started to penalize any PBN site and who they link to, considering this a quick gaming of the system and anti-Google guidelines. Get on the wrong side of Google and you are looking at a serious penalty in your rankings or total blacklisting altogether. Wake up one morning with a penalty and your business model changes overnight.
PBNs have different uses and interpretations, but can be used in the following ways:
Take an expired domain, set up a new website and start writing articles and include links to your own websites.
You can sell links to other SEO companies or practitioners – however, this is considered malpractice and anti-Google guidelines.
You can purchase multiple PBN sites, re-design them and just add your links on every homepage (which is considered the highest trust flow).
In the world of grey hat or black hat SEO, using PBNs can theoretically improve your website’s search results.
Certainly in the short-term, an influx of links from websites with high DAs will give you an instant boost.
For many SEO businesses and online companies, PBNs is the way they conduct an SEO strategy and essentially do business.
If they can stay clear of penalties, PBNs are attributed to ranking some of the top search positions on Google – certainly for industries that attract shady techniques such as loans, web hosting, casinos and pornography.
If you are using PBNs to acquire links, you are walking on a constant tightrope and risk of getting penalized by Google. You may not be automatically downgraded – but all it takes is one Google update or algorithm shift for this to change overnight.
Presumably, if you did nothing but by links from PBNs for years and years, at some point, you will face a penalty and then need to look at removing them to restore your rankings.
In some respect, more experienced SEOs are able to balance PBNs with a clean approach – and this might include creating natural content, a strong user experience, generating clean and natural links and also doing regular link disavows.
Source: DP TECH Group
Seb Atkinson, Head of SEO at Know Your Money explains,
“PBNs are seen as a quickfire way to buy links and boost your rankings – but this is very much an old technique and today is likely to attract penalization. Your best approach is to create unique, interesting content that provides real insight into a topic, making it genuinely link-worthy so people can naturally link back to it.”
Ian Sims, Director of Badger Loans commented,
“Working in the payday and short term loan space, I am inundated daily by emails with people offering me links from PBNs. I tend to stay clear of this because although it might give me a quick boost in rankings, a potential penalty could be very costly for our business. I get annoyed when I see other sites ranking on page 1 and they have clearly used this approach – but I know that their success may be short-lived.”
Andrew Speer, Consultant for Fund Ourselves explains,
“I have worked in SEO for almost a decade and originally PBNs were a proven source of link-building and the status quo. It wasn’t until algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin that started to reward clean content and link-building and with this PBNs have gone out of favour with Google, despite still being used by tonnes of people across the US and the world. But if you were to start learning about SEO today, this is something that you would stay clear of for sure.”
There is an argument that using PBNs as part of your link building strategy could be successful for more experienced SEOs.
But in reality, Google is known to changing their goalposts and revelling in such a high-risk strategy is unlikely to go down well with investors, clients and business partners.
It may not be if you get a Google penalty, but when.
The “will I get penalized” section suggests PBNs could be used by experienced SEOs but the conclusion doesn’t really support this.
Maybe the main downside of PBNs could be highlighted more, for example, you will always have a risk of a penalty on your site as Google is known to move the goalposts over time. This could be a risk that your investors/clients/business partners are not comfortable with.
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