What is a Private Blog Network (PBN) – A PBN is a set of domains that you control which all link back to your money-site. Typically PBNs are made of expired domains that have great back links and therefore pass high levels of link equity to your money-site
Purpose of this blog post – This blog post has been written to help you setup a PBN with the lowest risk of being found and subsequently de-indexed. Once you have read this blog post, we recommend checking out the pbn setup checklist guide.
Table of Contents
- When Google penalized PBNs
- Reasons for penalties/deindexation
- 11 Rules for building a safe PBN
- Domain Acquisition
- Software/Hosting/Platform Strategy
- Content Strategy
- Backlink Strategy
- Passing manual reviews
- Final word
- Frequently Asked Questions
Towards the end of 2014, Google de-indexed a bunch of PBNs and following this event, many SEOs decided never to use this technique again. There was a lot of speculation online about how these networks were found and most of them point to the networks having used very poor low quality content and not having followed the rules required to keep a PBN private.
Since 2014, there has not been any major news of Google going after private blog networks. The reason is probably that Google is unable to algorithmically find PBNs and needs humans to manually find and penalize them. Google is all about automation and they would therefore only bring in human reviewers once in a while in order to keep certain SEO techniques in check.
In 2017, it is therefore even more important to make sure that when a human reviewers takes a look at your PBNs they only see a list of independant, authoritative websites.
First and foremost, you want to stay away from Public Blog Networks – these are networks owned by someone else, where you can purchase a link. Since this network is public, it is easiest for a Google employee to purchase a PBN link package, then simply use the back links to trace out the entire network. This is exactly what Matt Cutts did to the public network – Anglo Rank
In an ideal PBN, each domain is hidden from the others in the network and by design a PBN makes it impossible for anyone to locate other domains forming the network. The fact that an entire network was found and de-indexed probably means that the rules were not followed.
Today, you are going to create your PBN following the specific rules list below. Ignore these at your own peril.
- Selling links (publicly or privately)
- Poor content quality (spun content) that results into a manual review
- Hosting multiple domains on the same IP address
- Having the same registration info (WhoIs) for multiple domains
- Hosting with SEO-hosting companies (many have their IP address range flagged)
- Being vocal about owning a PBN (resulting in manual review)
- Blocking crawlers in robots.txt and not at the web server level
- Using a domain that already had a penalty
- Not linking out to other useful websites
- Not mixing up Anchor texts in links from PBN
- Different Registrars: Try and buy domains through different registrars. You should have the Who Is Guard enabled on most domains. We do not suggest having fake details in the Who Is records. However, if you must, do this for domains that have not cost you a lot to aquire (since you run the risk of losing the domain). Also make sure to use the DNS of the individual registrar.
- Different Hosting: Each website should be on a different Subnet IP address. If an IP address is represented as AAA.BBB.CCC.DDD, then the CCC and DDD should be unique for each of the websites in the network. Many web-hosts only get a small range of IP addresses that they can provide to a client. While the IP address might be different, you may get the same “AAA.BBB.CCC” – in this case, only hose one or two domains with this web-host.
- Content: You should have unique and valuable content on each of the websites. There should be no spun content whatsoever. Treat the domains in your PBN with the same respect as you treat your money-site and invest in their quality.
- Each domain will link out to any money site once only. No matter how tempting it is to link out to all your money-sites through a single domain, remember that this only increases the risk.
- There should be no site-wide links – only links that are embedded in contextual text. We strongly believe that in the future all non-contextual links are going to be devalued.
- Each page has a maximum of 2-5 outgoing links. Some pages should also have no links at all. This is done to keep the link profile natural. All outbound links from a single page should go to authority sites that are relevant to your niche. Linking out to other useful sites in your niche is very important.
- Each domain should start to link out to your money site only after it has got a few pages created. The initial links should all be to other authoritative sites in your niche. Don’t simply link out to wikipedia, youtube and other big sites. Choose authoritative sites in your niche.
- Use different anchor texts when linking to your money site. This will depend on your current link profile. If you have a diverse link profile, then its fine to use specific anchor texts to rank. However if your site is brand new, use a few naked url anchor texts as well.
- Your PBN site should be in the same niche as it was before the domain had expired. Google’s John Mueller has clearly said in a Google webmasters hangout that if Google realizes that the new website is not the same as the previous website, then the link to the old website do not apply to the new one. Basically if you don’t stay within the same niche, the back links will lose all value.
- Absolutely NO selling PBN links – and no sharing information with anyone about the domains you own
Above you can see a sample network architecture for a PBN with 3 domains. A mini pbn would have about 30 domains, whereas larger ones can easily grow to above 1000+ domains. Each domain also links out to other high authority sites in your niche.
Your Private Blog Network is only as good as the expired domains it is made of!
All the link equity for a PBN network comes from the back links to the expired domains in the network. Many a PBN builders spend $$$ building the perfect network with great content and good hosting, but spend very little on their expired domains. Unfortunately it does not matter how good the content is or how safe your network is, if you don’t have awesome expired domains, then your network is worthless.
To get the perfect domains for your network, head right over to DomCop [shameless plug]. Search for domains that are at least 3 years old, have 10+ referring domains and have a Majestic Trust Flow of at least 15 for the root domain. Bonus points if the Topical Trust Flow matches the niche that your money-site is in.
If you have not already, read this to know why we only look at the metrics of the root domain.
Look at the Majestic Seo Trust Flow and Citation Flow ratio as it will give you a good idea on how good the domain is. A ratio close to 1 is the best. Very low ratios mean that the back links to the domain are fake. Check out all the three sections – Expiring, Expired and Archived. (There are loads of decent domains available for registration in the Archive). Use the following 4 point checklist to quickly reject domains.
If you are building a large PBN, definitely check out the Personal expired domains crawler, provided by the Guru Plan.
Great expired domains are in high demand and their supply is limited. The best expired domains get picked up by Drop Catchers – read this to know all about backordering domains
The best domains will be found in auctions – where you will need to pay a premium. The next best set of domains are caught by Drop Catchers. Finally the next best set of domains can be purchased directly after a domain expires.
When you are starting out and do not have enough funds to invest in an awesome domain (TF 40+), then you can drop catch TF15+ domains (or purchase them from the Expired/Archived sections). However, once you start making money do remember to invest in powerful expired domains so as to build the strength of your blog network.
Hosting: We do not believe in SEO hosting since there is way too much risk involved. Google knows the IP ranges for those hosts and it would be trivial for them to figure out which sites are part of PBNs hosted there. The advantage of a PBN is that someone else’s carelessness (or greed or stupidity) does not affect us. You are therefore much better off buying low cost VPS from different providers so that there is no single point of failure. Check out LowEndBox.com or VPSBoard.com for a 128 MB VPS for around $10 – $15 a year. 128 MB is more than enough for a LEMP server with wordpress. (64MB if you plan to host a static website)
For those who find setting up and managing a VPS too much of a challenge, you can go with shared hosting. However, I think it would be a good investment if you took the time to learn how to manage VPS hosting. I promise it is not too tough and definitely worth it in the long run.
If you have static websites, you can use AWS S3 + Route 53 to host 10-20% of the websites in your PBN. Hosting charges come to about $1/mo and it’s also pretty easy to setup.
Analytics: You may want to use analytics on your sites to see how much traffic the PBN sites get. However, this would either leave a footprint or you would have to create a new analytics account for each site (from different providers). Do not ever link your sites together in a single Analytics or Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console) account.
The important thing to note about content writing is what we call the Freshness Factor. Search engines give more weight-age to websites that constantly have new content. No one really knows what is a good freshness factor – but I believe that having one article a month would be good enough to keep the websites fresh. Remember – it is important the content be high quality.
That said, I actually recommend not writing any content immediately. Content tends to be the costliest aspect of a PBN (apart from the cost of an awesome expired domain) and therefore it makes sense to check whether the domain is clean and has no penalty before spending time and money in content. When you have a domain and hosting, I suggest you put up a website with a single page of content on it and follow the process below.
Penalty Check One: Once you put up a default site with a single page of content, wait for a couple of weeks. If the site has not been indexed in 2 weeks, the domain may have been penalized. You can wait for an additional 2 weeks at this time, but beyond that I suggest you accept that you bought a bad domain and move on to the next one.
Penalty Check Two: After a domain has been indexed, you should check if the domain ranks for the naked url search. For example if the domain is “mynichedomain.com” you should run searches for “mynichedomain.com”, “mynichedomain” and “my niche domain” to see where the domain ranks. If the domain does not rank at the top for “mynichedomain.com”, you should wait for a while till it does. Once it starts ranking for the naked url search, you can start building content and link out to other authoritative sites.
SEO your content – You want to treat every site in your PBN as good as your money site. So make sure you spend enough time doing on-page SEO for your PBN websites. Have a strategy to rank for low volume keywords, by placing them in the url, title, description, headings and content of every page. If your PBN website gets natural organic traffic from Google, it will have a much better chance to pass the manual review (or not need a manual review in the first place)
Do not start link building immediately. Once you are sure that the domain has been indexed and ranks for its naked domain name and you have put a few links to other authority site, you can create a page (or use an existing page) related to your money site and place a link there.
You should check the back links to the domain in Majestic and/or Ahrefs and choose a page that has the most back links to it. Placing the link to your money site on this page will ensure you get the maximum link juice to it.
Remember to link to this page from other pages (especially the homepage) from the website. This is to help the link equity flow easily to the page with your link.
You should assume that every website in your PBN will someday face a manual review and it should be your main goal to pass each review with flying colors. Here are a few things that reviewers look at
- Contact information – A reviewer would like to find out if there is a real person behind the website. He would look for contact information on the about/contact page. Create a fake persona for this. Your about page should give information on why this person created the website and what he hopes to achieve by it. On the contact page, give some options to visitors to get in touch with the person
- Blog comments – Blog comments send an instant message to the reviewer that the blog is being read by an audience that is communicating with the writer. You can add some fake comments to every article you publish. Remember to reply back as the blog author to each of those comments.
Building an effective PBN for SEO is a slow game. If you build too many links to a new website, you are going to land into trouble. So whenever you are not sure of your link building speed, choose the slower option. Invest in building your PBN over the long run. Once you have a successful network, you will be able to use it for as long as you want.
Here are some questions we get frequently via email from customers.
Q: On your PBN site, do you link all articles on the homepage or do you have links to inside posts too?
A: Link from all pages. Your PBN Site should look exactly like your money site. Do all outgoing links only go out from the homepage of your money site? you should therefore link out from home page and individual pages as well.
Q: Can I monetize the traffic to my PBN sites using Adsense?
A: Absolutely not! This would leave a large footprint and you can be certain for a penalty. I understand the need to monetize every visitor you can get – but seriously – don’t do this.
Q: Does the expired domain have to be in the same niche as my money site?
A: It’s great if you can find expired domains in your niche. However, that is not always possible or cost effective. You can then use expired domains from other niches, but find a way to get a link that seems natural.
Q Where do I link to money site from? Home page or individual articles
A: It is well know that a home page link passes a lot more juice than a link from an article. However, most natural links to websites come from articles and not home pages. So while you could have a few handful home page links, majority of your link should come from individual articles.