PBNs: Relevance for Google in 2021
Just ten years ago building Private Blog Networks (PBNs) was not a hitch because Google Panda and Google Penguin algorithms had not yet appeared, and the other algorithms were imperfect. Nowadays in a number of articles SEO experts keep on writing of the “black hat SEO” phenomenon to avoid. The Forbes article quote (April 2020):
Increasingly in recent years, a prevailing number of SEO promotion experts have warned against using PBNs. For example, Kevin Rowe suggests staying away from PBNs at all.
“None of reputable SEO consultants will recommend private blog networks for link building or increasing the website traffic.”
a professional linkbuilder
Note that the professional linkbuilder Kevin Rowe promises exclusively “white-hat links” in his expert profile.
It is certainly unacceptable when it comes to buying SEO links and you have been sold a PBN drop-domain link for a trusted site price. SEO optimizers offering cheap links from PBNs ought to be really avoided. After all, you will never know what plans an owner of the satellite network has, where you are offered to buy links. Currently you are being sold private PBN links. Then they resell that PBN a month later – and a new owner will replace all the links with the other ones or start selling that many links for the whole PBN to soon be sanctioned by Google and deindexed.
A different story is if you order PBN for your project specifically, when the negative effects can normally be avoided with a proper strategy. Using your own PBN helps you totally gain your thematic link building control over. Nevertheless, live trust sites links are also fundamental, as well as the crowdsourced ones: the more diverse links you have, the better the PBN links are hidden in your link profile.
In 2021, as before, the most varied topics competitors notably demonstrate new PBN in their link profiles. Analysis and practice show that PBN are constantly and still successfully used. In some cases PBNs are indispensable in SEO promotion. For example, if it is necessary to top regional site positions and finding a sufficient amount of thematic regional links donors is impossible. In addition, link building might be so expensive in some competitive topics that it is cheaper to build a PBN network. This is especially true for getting links from the topical donors’ main pages.
Thus, if a SEO expert states that you have to beware of PBN in any form, it does not obligatory mean that PBNs are off, but simply that they are exclusively “white hat SEO” supporters. Additionally, take into account a nuance that Forbes and the other similar publications will never positively write about “black hat SEO”, even though specific methods are working thrivingly at present and they are widely used by professionals.
Some background on Google’s struggle with the PBN
The more search engine algorithms improved, the less frequently PBN link building was used in sites promoting. The reasons are, obviously, not that PBNs stopped working, but in an increased manual penalties risk probability.Since 2012, Google has scaled up their efforts to communicate with webmasters via Google Search Console (GSC), previously known as Google Webmaster Tools. So, webmasters started getting “black hat SEO” notifications, with manual penalties usually coming to the GSC about a specific concern.
In September 2014, webmasters began receiving messages en masse from the GSC about manual penalties for using PBNs.
A webmaster Spencer Howes demonstrated how exactly then, almost simultaneously with the GSC notifications, Google traffic dropped on those sites where he used PBN links.
In 2014, Google used both algorithms and manual assessors’ checks to identify PBNs. In September 2014 already, when Google began an active, open fight against PBNs, varied factors were considered to determine these satellite types.
- WHOIS data. There were examples, where Google has sanctioned a newly built network, that has not yet been used for a link building.
The corresponding to mentioned above messages were sent in the GSC to sites whose domains were bought at the same auction or registered by the same person, that is, at the register’s data expenses. A qualitative content was not either an excuse, PBNs were completely deindexed. However, PBNs with domains registered by trainees to different contact details were not affected at all.
- Not exclusively, the satellites with few texts or automatically generated content were also sanctioned, but there were many exact anchors links.
WordPress hosting and template design did not play a decisive role then, but could affect alongside with the other factors. Since then the only PBN building strategy mistake has threatened all the satellites’ loss. Therefore, the last few years PBN networks have been created by narrowly focused SEO experts, with this business being more frequently done by reliable outsource contractors.
In September 2014 at that time, one well-known “black hat SEO” dedicated forum blackhatworld.com expressed concern about a massive PBNs de-indexing growth, and some versions of how Google finds them were suggested. Then the expert nicknamed alexodysglobal, who was a PBN consultant, shared an opinion that even the Google increased struggle with search spam will not prevent SEO from an efficient aim with using PBNs. On the contrary, algorithms improvement motivates skilful professionals to create PBNs as efficiently as possible, increasing their level of security and anonymity.
At present this quote can be considered prophetic, it came out that way: PBNs are still one of the SEO promotion auxiliary methods. However, after 2014, those PBNs are considered to be relevant which were made exceptionally carefully, with all precautions.
In order to finally debunk the myth that PBNs are solely “black hat SEO”, remember howthe U.S. and Europe real estate market monopolistic companies buy competitors’ sites of millions dollars cost. It is relevant for a large long-term project not only to buy links for SEO, but also competitors’ sites, to get their traffic. Google fights affiliates and tries to give out one official company website for branded queries, but affiliates still collect traffic. Officially repurchased competitor sites with their positions, traffic and trust become satellites for an acceptor site. Obviously, competitors’ sites deals are not always done openly; sham companies might be used, neither users nor Google find out about the affiliates. In fact, large real estate companies build PBNs from affiliates.
PBN is not “white hat SEO”, and professionally built PBN should more appropriately be referred to as “gray hat SEO” link building methods rather than “black hat SEO”. The classical link building (buying links from trusted donors), in fact, the same “gray hat SEO”, because Google does not welcome paid links and the other search engine manipulations. Nevertheless, SEO optimizers are not usually against link building, but they highlight a top-quality, relevant donors selection. Moreover, in the Google sanctions case unwelcomed links are removed by Google Disavow Tool.
How and why look for PBNs
It can be argued that your own network PBN links for SEO will work positively was done meticulously, taking into account all the nuances, so that even the Google assessor cannot determine it. On the other hand, buying links from other people’s PBNs is unlikely to work positively for SEO. In the long term, the other people’s PBN fate is doubtful, they are most typically resold, chaotically overfilled with links and relatively quickly fall under the search engines sanctions, entirely deindexed in Google.
Apparently, PBN donors should be avoided when you build links. Check your competitors’ PBNs set so you can visually identify satellites more promptly while selecting link building donors. To do this, search through Ahrefs for sites that look like drops and then selectively examine their link profile to identify PBNs. Though it is overwhelmingly difficult to identify modern professional sites from PBNs, a thorough, comprehensive analysis might help.
- To begin with, using special services, find out which competitor’s link profile sites are on the same hosting and have similar IPs. Many PBNs “builders” still save money and use one hosting for the entire network. Google’s algorithms rarely impose sanctions just because they use one hosting, as large hosts can have many sites on the same IP. Although the examiners may pay attention to such a suspicious factor in a manual check, but there are almost two billion sites on the Internet, webmasters hope that their satellites will not attract the examiners’ attention.
- Check WHOIS data for domains from competitors’ link profile. PBN creators try to hide WHOIS data, but the fact of hiding can also give satellites. Also, look at the NS sites in backlinks: so you can calculate the networks that use the same hosting, NS register or the same Cloudflare account.
- When you identify at least a few matches by NS, IP or WHOIS data: look at these sites, if they have the same design template on WordPress or other popular free CMS, then you have already found a PBN.
- Make sure there is no “Contact Us” section on the site at all, or if there is, it does not say anything at all. There is no information about the site, its creators, but there are links to the same site.
- Check the content: illogical 400-500 words, repeating pictures and videos are also a PBN satellites sign.
- Finally, check the backlinks profile in Ahrefs or Majestic for the most suspicious sites from your competitors’ link profile. At this point, you can figure out all the PBN satellites.
Lifehack: find the GSC webmaster panel code on the suspicious site, then check it on publicwww.com and get the same code identifier sites list.
Modern PBN satellites can be as similar as possible to real people sites, have a “Contact Us” section with a phone and an active voicemail. Consequently, the most reliable way to detect PBN is to analyze external links and study the domain’s history, the content evolution on it via Web archive. If previously there was a company site on that domain, but now it is a dead site, it means that the domain is a drop.
Experience shows that most link builders do not spend time on such a thorough donor’s relationship to PBN networks check. Therefore, among competitors’ backlinks you can normally find donors from different PBN networks only because the links were bought without proper donors’ analysis.
PBNs relevance – to do or not to do
Mostly, PBNs building relevance has been limited to profitability. It is important to correctly predict the costs to profits ratio. Predicting in a PBN building potential to promote your project, initially analyze the competitors. If a thorough competitors’ backlinks analysis reveals exceptionally trust links and you have not found any PBNs, it is probably subject irrational in its performance complexity and unprofitable.
The E-A-T factors after Google’s Core Update in 2020 have affected sites in a wide topics variety. Google is currently fighting misinformation, and in June 2021, it openly announced that it would warn in search for “unreliable information”. That means nowadays, in a number of topics, link building must be based on truly reputable sites where the expert content authors level is unquestionable.
For example, medical sites had a drop in traffic after Medic Update in the fall of 2018 if link donors had E-A-T issues. However, this does not mean that effective PBNs can no longer be done for medical sites. You can and sometimes should do PBNs even for sites with YMYL themes (Your Money or Your Life), but the drop domains and content should be of the highest quality possible.
In addition, expediency and profitability depends on a country where a PBN creation is necessary. More often, it is essential for a project promotion due to thematic donors’ links lack in a particular region. For example, there are countries with small populations: Finland or Norway (about 5.3 million people each) and there is a need to get to the Google top.
To illustrate, let us look at the Finnish web region features. The most vital information sites in Finland are city portals. It is extremely challenging to compete with such portals: they occupy several positions in the TOP ones of any regional query, including those related to services. The city portal domains have a maximum trust, they have accumulated enough authoritative external links over the years and they always have a live audience. Sometimes you can buy a link to promote your project on a city portal (for a lot of money). Sometimes you cannot buy a link on the city portal (even for distinguishable sums of money). Thus, the link building possibility for the Finnish web region will depend on its donor sites administration loyalty to a promoted site theme and its budget size, as you will be in need of lots of links.
From the Finnish web region example, it is clear that sometimes the PBN is just a must for effective SEO promotion. Though do not mess with the PBN when you are not willing to risk wasting your budget on the one if the satellites network is de-indexed.
- Never buy PBN if you are doubtful about the specialists’ competence and the quality of the result. Frequently there are sites that were sanctioned by Google because of the PBN, which consisted of doorways with generated text. A typical story: a site owner was convinced of a PBN effectiveness, and then they registered drops on the same day, apparently right after a budget advance.
- When unprofitable, it is not worth any budget allocating, if there are payback doubts. Complex YMYL subjects, vast, various and many years developing reference competitors’ profile, a region with high requirements for a domains registration. These and the other factors can inflate your PBN budget to fantastic proportions.
- A standard drop satellite price is from 150 dollars, but a budget will be more for YMYL. To get a pleasant result on SEO you cannot cut down on your PBN construction, and if the budget is not enough – better not do it at all and allocate the budget to the other methods of your SEO promotion.
When competitors do not have links from PBNs in their link profile or those cannot be identified, you may probably get on top without PBNs. Do not think that if your competitors did not use this method, you will benefit from it. It may quite be the opposite: the other competitors used PBN, but they have already been de-indexed because YMYL themes and assessor manually imposed the sanctions. To get ahead of a competition, use strategies with PBNs in a last turn, presumably work on your site optimizing, its E-A-T factors alignment, explore outreach link building, content marketing in your region.
On the contrary, there are the topics in which PBNs are popular, in demand and help businesses thrive. For example, SEO for crypto exchanges is often based on PBN. The reason is that for cryptocurrency exchanges during its “hype”, a budget size is not that essential, but it is a first priority to accelerate its time of the top getting. The so-called cryptocurrencies “hype” periodically falls, and if PBN crypto exchange will lose positions in half a year, it will not be that dramatic, a main thing is to have time to hit the Google top during the “hype”. The search engine sanctions are not critical for a crypto exchange due to the traffic specifics: a significant customers’ part comes from social networks, forums and chat rooms of cryptocurrency enthusiasts, as well as through traffic arbitrage.
Despite that, there is always a chance to have time to recoup all costs and make a good profit in any subject, even if Google eventually de-indexes your PBNs. A real site graph example that at its peak traffic of 10,000 brought almost $2,000 a month.
That was so far good for two years, but then the traffic disappeared abruptly because of Google sanctions. Be prepared to take a risk that Google will sanction your acceptor site, either. That risk is there, even if you originally made a PBN, taking the utmost precautions. If you do not take risks, you do not make a PBN.
How to make a long-run PBN
If there is an obvious necessity of PBN links attractions, look for professional contractors, but still agree on a plan and monitor their actions. If they refuse to tell your project PBN building principles, it was probably assumed to make low-quality doorways.
Sophisticated secrets of PBN network construction do not exist; the goal is always to make a sites network that are as similar to the regional thematic sites you want as possible. Each SEO specialist gains one’s thematic and regional specific knowledge with experience. Use “gray hat SEO”, that is, gray methods that do not go completely into “black hat SEO”.
Domain selection stage
- Your PBN basis should not be web 2.0 blogs, but sites on regional domains. Moreover, links from blogs can be considered as spam, because even automated systems (program XRumer) make such links on blogs in comments. Modern PBN is not just links from blogs of free platforms, it is relevant to choose drop-domains carefully. If there is a need and the budget allows, additionally look for thematic domains on auctions.
- Register drops on different names and interns’ documents, freelancers at the rate of: one name per domain. Use a different email and other contacts for each domain, and then do not hide these data in WHOIS.
- Avoid using dropping search services such as DropCatch, as Google often takes a long time to filter those domains.
- It is not desirable to buy very old domains, which were registered several times for different topics sites; they pass less thematic weight on the links. Check on completedns.com.
- Do not register domains for PBN in one day or week, take your time here for as long as possible.
- Analyze the drops backlinks: preferably, there should be at least 30. Never buy a drop if it has clearly had spam backlinks or links to forbidden topics (adult, gambling or other, and also laws and bans depend on a country).
- If you see through the Wayback Machine that the drop has previously had 301 redirects to other sites, then this domain is not a proper choice.
- Try to buy drops with expired or recently expired registrations. Always check the domains, it is crucial to make sure they have not been used before you as a doorway, a part of another PBN.
Filling and testing stage
- We use the Wayback Machine to see what content and design was on the drop earlier. If the content fits the theme, try to restore it, partially at least, make crowded links and see how it goes in the Google index. If it goes straight to the index – that goes well enough, if not we make a new topical content for dropping. First, we create some test pages in HTML, wait and analyze the traffic on the content drop. When the traffic is at a normal rate, we make a wholesome site on CMS.
- Create themed informational content for the PBN in large enough quantities. Add different videos from Youtube and pictures for authenticity. For many years, placing links has been done in articles of about 2000 characters, now for the best effect on the pages with links it is desirable to make a unique text of about 4000 characters. Cross the subject, because the site with content purely on one narrow topic rarity. Suppose you have the tourism subject, then do part of the content and add some of air travel, pandemic COVID-19.
- Do not use generated content for satellites, hire authors to write content. There are different exchanges where you can order cheap content. When content has a real author – it is a good E-A-T factor, which increases your site credibility. Also, make content orders with the condition that the author must know the subject matter. For example, if you have a medical topic, then look for medical professionals. This is so that the author can leave a real signature and link to a social media or business card site. Google easily indexes any unique content, but it also easily de-indexes it.
- To promote YMYL topics, create the appearance of a real regional company. Accurately design the “Contact Us” page with the feedback form and the “About Us” page: indicate the address on the map, find a way to get the phone number of the desired region. Do not put fictitious names on the “About Us” page; make pages about the site in social networks. Find experts on your topic of the right region in social networks and agree to put their names on your site. It will be like a portfolio for them and an authority indicator for you. Ordinary users can hardly distinguish a satellite site from a real site of a company and will agree on some conditions, so that you listed them as experts ostensibly for your advertising. You do not certainly need highly paid and famous experts, any real people working in a suitable professional area or with a proven education in an apt field will do. It is only essential that the author’s qualification was documented, and that one had a page in Google Scholar. Any references to the expert’s portfolio will do, if his work is previously listed along with his name on reputable sites.
- Most importantly, when a satellite site is already indexed by Google, test how links from it work. Initially, we do not add the site to the GSC, but from different indexed pages of the site. The anchor’s first part may be a thematic word, the second part of a made-up word that does not exist in the dictionaries. We wait 1-2 weeks and see the test results: use an operator “Inanchor” to search for pages in Google, which have links to our unique keyword. If the links are uncovered, then the drop is working and it can be prospectively developed.
Hiding and optimizing the PBN
- We use a varied Google search console and Google Tag Manager. The proxy will come in handy for registering drops, as well as for working in the GSC.
- There are many methods to show Google different IPs for satellites from the same PBN. For example, for professionals using a CDN (Content Delivery Network). This is an additional budget and server administration specialists’ work. Make your own CloudFlare, which will link to your servers. You have to monitor your servers operation, provide backups, and switch to a backup server in case of failure.
The easiest and inexpensive way for beginners: buy a suitable shared hosting. On shared hosting your drops will be among many other sites, of course, there may be “bad neighbors”. The possibility of having “bad neighbors” gives you an opportunity to get lost, as indulgence on the part of Google: if the algorithms were to deindex only the IP of virtual hosting, a lot of neighboring good sites would fall into the ban.
- You must not abuse your satellites PBN interlinking not to be caught with one of those with the only one uncovered.
- Use additional links to strengthen links at tier 2 and tier 3 crowds and links from different exchanges. For authenticity, a part of the links should be dofollow.
- 301 redirects from the drop are not as effective as anchor links. Try to build link building with PBN on the scheme of conventional SEO promotion. The only difference is that the donors for links belong to you.
- However, do not make many links with exact anchors: dilute the anchors with a variety of auxiliary words. Think about the scheme of links in the situation; be sure to use unanchored links as well.
- Competently tweak the behavioral factors, because the lack of traffic is also the hallmark of PNB. Therefore, look for sources of traffic to make the satellites seem alive.
- If the theme for your PBN at least indirectly concerns YMYL, then eventually the assessors will drop by. Initially, prepare the satellite for this, make a logical structure and design as competitors. In addition, make external links to trusted thematic sources, or at least Wikipedia.
- Do not sell links from your PBN to outside optimizers if you still need it for at least one of your projects.
Lifehack: Find a regional companies catalogue and select those that do not have a corporate website, but only links to social networks. Offer them a domain registration and website creation with further support free of charge, ostensibly for your portfolio. Then make a simple satellite on the drop domain, but with the real regional company data. An important condition for cooperation will be a links placement without anchors to your desired site. In this case, the satellite site can then exist as a real original company site.
Tip: make links from internal pages of PBN sites to acceptor site more often, too many links from main pages can be a suspicious factor for Google. Many people advertise PBN exactly as a unique source of links from the main pages, but a number of such links should be reasonable: correspond to the acceptor’s site backlinks quantity and quality. Therefore, the classic link building will still be your SEO promotion strategy basis: links from the articles contexts, pictures links. Home page links should be divided into ones from the site basement and sidebar.
How much PBN costs
PBN can be partly used as an auxiliary method of building thematic SEO links, which you have full control over. In the future, if necessary, you will be able to add and change content on PBN sites. For example, if your project is connected with tourism and key queries have a seasonal tendency; it means that you have to regularly promote new pages.
|A key query in Google top in a region based on PBN in 2020||PNB sites total||A minimal budget on a PNB set up only|
|Hairdresser Birmingham||30||4500 $|
|Hair extensions Birmingham||70||10500 $|
|PPC management London||240||36000 $|
|London private hire||130||19500 $|
|Spray tan London||85||12750 $|
|Holiday cottages Lincolnshire||48||7200 $|
|Haulage company Giasgow||60||9000 $|
|Taxi Madrid||95||14250 $|
|Italian restaurant Paris||200||30000 $|
|Logistics company Berlin||88||13200 $|
|SEO agency New York||180||27000 $|
Firstly, it is important to determine why your project needs PBN. Conduct independent SEO audits to justify the need to use PBN as an additional SEO promotion method.
- Suppose a project is promoted in different regions of the same country and has several official sites related to the same topic. Google usually does not consider websites of the same company to be affiliates if they are intended for different regions. It could be a fast food chain, and each restaurant in each city has a separate website. It is likely that for such a restaurant chain, PBN sites will prove to be a good auxiliary method for SEO promotion.
- Another situation: a factory site producing tires and disks for tractors, heavy trucks. A sufficient number of thematic links purchase is not an option, the donors for links in the region is decreasing and conventional methods of link building does not help beat the old competitors off the top. In this case, only the PBN will help to get into the top Google.
Standardly it takes several months to build a quality PBN, if contractors specify a period less than two months, it means drop-domains will be bought too quickly, there will be no time for testing. A hastily made PBN, sometimes looks nice, but can do more harm than good for the acceptor’s site. Problems are possible when due to lack of time they do not check the links from drops indexing. Sometimes by means of PBNs you can get to the top faster, but you should realize that it will still take months of work. For example, instead of one year of SEO promotion it will take about six months.
Do briefings with contractors, ask questions about their methods of working with PBN, ask for cases to see results examples. If you need a Google TOP for the European region, and a contractor shows successful cases in the USA, probably one yet lacks European region specific knowledge. When there is no possibility to involve the specialists who were exactly doing successful PBN in your required region, you will have to use PBN for experiments at your own stake. Remember that in some cases you will need to look for freelancers with a country citizenship you want, in order to register drop-domains legally in different names.
PBNs definitely work for SEO in 2021 as well, because a great number of domains are sold before they expire. Despite the improvements of Google algorithms, expired domains do not always have the weight of backlinks reset, especially if a domain has recently expired. An ability to use drop-domains registered to varied authentic names allows you to successfully conceal sites from PBNs. As in previous years, PBNs are notably used in SEO promotion, hence, this Google struggle with “gray hat SEO” and “black hat SEO” will never come to end.