Private Blog Networks: What Are They & Why You Should Avoid Them

Link building is key to any SEO strategy and is something you should not neglect if you want your site to rank in Google’s search engine result pages. Backlinks are also one of three major ranking factors, along with RankBrain and page content.

However, earning organic backlinks isn’t a walk in the park, and it often takes time before you start to see results. Because of the effort and time required, some marketers often turn to black hat SEO to get fast results, with a common method being the use of private blog networks (PBNs).

In this post, we’ll deeply dive into what a private blog network is, how they work, and how they violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We’ll also debunk common PBN myths so you can stay safe from agencies who use these unethical practices.

What is a Private Blog Network (PBN)?

PBNs are networks of websites built with the sole purpose of providing backlinks to their target websites. The link network aims to manipulate Google by masking as legitimate websites and linking to their targets with the single intention of boosting keyword rankings.

Unlike organic link building, SEOs with private blog networks can directly control all their backlinks as they don’t need to naturally earn backlinks through legitimate websites.

Furthermore, PBNs typically consist of expired domains with high domain authority. While this method may be perceived as powerful methods of link building, it directly violates Google’s best practices as these websites hold no actual user-value.

PBN-owners typically use a combination of techniques in their attempt to hide themselves from being detected. Such techniques may include:

  • Using different hosting providers
  • Having other registrars for domain registration
  • Diversifying website themes/layouts
  • Using unique domain extensions
  • Posting dummy content to disguise manipulative posts with backlinks

Why Some SEO Agencies Still Use Private Blog Networks

Despite the apparent risk, some SEO agencies still cling to PBNs for link building for the following reasons.

Earning Backlinks Takes A Great Deal Of Time and Effort

Earning high quality backlinks can take up to weeks and be difficult if not executed properly. Creating valuable content that others willingly want to link to takes a great deal of time, planning and expertise. 

To put it simply, link building takes time and that results in a lot of unpredictability for many SEO agencies. With a PBN, an SEO agency has full control over their client’s link building and can add or remove backlinks at will. 

To Have Full Control over Anchor Texts

About a decade ago, exact-match anchor texts were the go-to in being able to effectively target and rank for specific key terms. SEOs at the time found a way to manipulate their SEO rankings by heavy anchor text spamming.

Google’s Penguin algorithm update was then released to crack down on such link schemes, eventually putting an end to manipulative anchor texts. A few black hat SEOs will still use PBNs to control anchor texts and manipulate SEO rankings, but in most cases will almost always end up with penalisation from Google.

How To Best Identify A Private Blog Network

We recommend that you ask the following questions should you feel like your SEO agency is building backlinks through PBNs.

Is Your Backlink Coming From An Established Domain?

Through a simple visual inspection of the website, can you see that it is established? Does the website have an appropriate logo, about us page, contact details and topical content that is actually providing value to the reader.

Does The Website Receive Sufficient SEO Traffic?

PBNs are built for the sole purpose of acquiring backlinks, so most will not have a sufficient amount of organic traffic. Using free SEO tools like SEMrush, you can quickly check the website’s SEO traffic to determine how much traffic the website is receiving. Should the figure be minimal, you should be able to quickly determine whether the domain is a PBN.

Is The Website An Expired Domain? 

A majority of PBNs comprise of expired domains. These websites are dropped domains that have been restored with the intent of becoming a PBN. 

By using Wayback Machine, you can turn back time and check whether the domain was previously a different type of website.

Top Myths About Private Blog Networks

PBNs aren’t clear-cut among the SEO community due to many confusing myths and the natural uncertainty that comes with them. Here are some of the top PBN myths and the facts behind them.

1. Google has a hard time finding PBNs

Google’s first iterations of Penguin have now been fully integrated into Google Core Algorithm. This means that Google has become much smarter at being able to accurately identify and penalise websites that engage with PBNs.

Poorly organised networks are easier to determine since they leave obvious footprints such as shared IP addresses, duplicate content, and with many sharing the same domain registration details.

We firmly believe that Google’s ability to detect PBNs and other spammy manipulative practices will only strengthen with time.

2. PBNs won’t help you rank

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines consider PBNs as link schemes. But one reason why black hat SEOs still use them is that they can potentially improve keyword rankings quickly. This may be the case in the short term, however, in the long term, you are severely risking the livelihood of your business. For this reason alone, we deem it not worth it the risk.

If your SEO agency focuses on short-term tactics such as PBNs, then it’s time to reassess your relationship with them.

3. All paid links are considered PBNs

Many legitimate bloggers earn backlinks that are tagged with rel=”sponsored” or rel=
“nofollow”
. In this case, they are not violating any webmaster guideline, because of the inserted link tags. This provides context to Google on the nature of the links and works to support your linking intentions.

Most, if not all PBNs will not consider using any sort of link tag. In this case, not all paid links are considered PBNs.

What Should I Do If I Think My SEO Agency Is Using Private Blog Networks

If you think your SEO agency is using a PBN or another form of link scheme, we strongly recommend taking action and finding another agency.

Most businesses rely on SEO or another major form of digital marketing as their primary lead generator. Engaging with PBNs not only jeopardises your lead source but could impact your entire business’ livelihood. 

At Red Search, we’re a white hat SEO agency that focuses on producing real business results. All our practices are ethical and entirely Google-safe. Speak to one of our experienced SEO experts today and let’s discuss how we can put together a custom SEO strategy to grow your business.



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