Private Blog Networks (PBN’s) are a blackhat SEO tactic where you have your own network of blogs that exist purely to link to your main site, with the hope of boosting its search engine rankings — see this excellent PBN guide from DomCop for a thorough explanation if you’re interested. They’re considered blackhat (i.e. against Google guidelines) because you’re deliberately trying to manipulate your rankings by fooling Google, and as Google gets smarter and smarter, a lot of people say that PBN’s are a thing of the past, and way more trouble than they’re worth.
To help you make an educated decision of the viability of PBN’s in 2020 and beyond, this article is a compilation of comments from SEO’s of the state of PBN’s today, along with some tips for running them. We put out this simple question:
Are PBN’s still effective for SEO? If so, how should you be doing them properly?
What follows are the best submissions we received, from people who have SEO expertise (I have only published comments that I believe are from people qualified to comment). The general consensus is that PBN’s are highly risky, and generally not worth the risk, as you’re putting yourself in a highly vulnerable position by using them. BUT, they can still be highly effective if you run them properly (have a read through the aforementioned DomCop.com guide on them) and accept the risks involved. In the comments below, there are also some ideas on how to run PBN’s better such as buying just 1 (here), renting PBN links (here) or using them not to link directly to your main site, but just to pages that link to your main site (here).
And finally, if you are interested in running your own PBN, consider using Bulk Buy Hosting or SeekaHost to host it. Our editor Joma has experience in running PBN’s and has tested and written reviews of both those services, along with the aforementioned Domcop.
PBN’s are still effective for SEO, but I don’t use them personally and don’t recommend them to my clients because I view them as not worth the risk. PBNs are clearly not what Google wants sites to be leveraging to try and rank – it’s not in the spirit of their algorithm.
The sustainable way forward with SEO is to give Google what it wants. Historically, any attempt to “game the system” in SEO has ended very badly for the sites who are making the attempt. As an agency advising and working with real businesses on a daily basis, I simply can’t recommend PBNs.
--Kevin Geary, Digital Gravy
While PBN's can be effective for SEO, we always advise against them. Regardless of how hard you work to mask a PBN (e.g. separate IP addresses, different CMS, hiding WHOIS, etc.), they almost always leave some type of a recognizable footprint. And the algorithms are getting smarter at sniffing them out. What may work today in the world of PBN's may come back to be your worst possible nightmare.
Other considerations are also likely weighed by the algos in determining the legitimacy of a site footprint. These include features like frequency of outbound links vs. inbound links, types of anchors that are used on-site, internal linking frequency, niche vs. generic site, etc.
I know of gray hat folks who will build secondary and even tertiary links using PBNs, but even that becomes disingenuous to a primary source and is--in this man's opinion--unethical. If you believe in the long-term efficacy and sustainability of your online brand, don't even give mindshare to a PBN.
--Nate Nead, SEO.co
I formed my own criminal defense law firm nearly a decade ago, which might not seem like that far in the past, but in the world of SEO and the best practices that go along with it, I feel like a seasoned SEO at this point! Additionally, if you've ever looked at the competitiveness of the legal industry as a whole, you'll realize that law firms are some of the most aggressive online marketers out there. Average cost-per-click for PPC ads, featured listings at unremarkable sites, and so on all tend to cost a premium for lawyers, so we have to be diligent with our SEO efforts and where we spend our budgets.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) was a tactic that was used much more openly back many years ago. Around 2014 or so, Google went on a mission to root out the largest and most widely known networks that fell into this PBN classification. Those networks that were identified received manual actions from Google, which you don't want as a business owner or webmaster. This was because, and this is a general statement for the majority of these networks, due to the sites having really low-effort content, having a TON of keyword-rich outbound links that were followed-links to unrelated sites, and odd traffic sources. I'm sure there was much more to it, but as Google typically does, they were ambiguous in a sense to not show too much of their hand, as spammers adapt and try to overcome their efforts. So, are PBNs valuable in 2020? I would say, no, and here's why.
If you're looking for new links to your site, there are plenty of different options out there that Google says are OK to perform as an SEO or an SMB. Earned Media via HARO (Help a Reporter Out), local outreach via Facebooking your local media personalities for coverage of events and news, sponsoring local events or organizations, citation vendors that achieve NAPW (name, address, phone, website) consistency across the web, etc. etc. Additionally, thanks to the popularity of the gig economy, you can hire world-class copywriters and content creators for a fraction of the cost as you once had to spend and they can make your site's content gain traction like it hasn't before. Pair all of these with all the other options we have as SMBs, such as social media, podcasts, video marketing focused on education, and so on, you don't need to take that risk with getting in cahoots with PBNs. I'm absolutely sure there are still many that exist (I believe a lot of the backlink vendors and their closed-access affiliate sites fall into this) and I'm sure some of my competitors might be on them, but that doesn't mean it's worthwhile. Picture this, you spend 9-10 years building a brand, employ a dozen team members that rely on your for their livelihood, and for all intent and purposes you have a great thing going - why on earth would you risk that to gain a handful of ranking positions for a keyword or two? It might not happen today, but at some point, Google will make a change, and when they do that it can get crazy. I just don't see it as being a worthwhile endeavor in 2020, but I know they're still around, I think they're just flying under the radar more than they used to. I've not used them and don't plan on starting now.
--Brian Joslyn, Joslyn Law Firm
EDITORS NOTE: While the above comment isn't from a professional SEO, I chose to include it as I believe it makes some very good points and is coming from a logical, grounded perspective.
I was previously involved with an SEO firm that based a large amount of their core strategy on the use of PBN's and basement sites. While it was effective for years of algorithm updates, it's a basket they put many of their eggs in. As Google BERT and continuous algorithmic updates are made, I think what we're seeing is the gradual fall of the PBN. While PBN's could once deliver reliable rankings, creating convincing PBN websites requires an enormous investment in time and energy that could otherwise be spent on focusing in on traditional PR outreach which generates more authority in a shorter amount of time. As algorithms continue to be released, I think what we're seeing is that Google is clearly able to differentiate PBN's based on the amount of custom design, metadata, and quality content, and at that point you're better off focusing on developing tier 1 content for your main site that will truly rank and allow your domain to become an authority within your niche.
--Jared Cohen, Iffel International
As an SEO professional and consultant with more than 8 years of experience, I have seen my fair share of PBN's. My opinion is that in 2020, they are highly effective! But they are not something that I would recommend to just anyone for a lot of reasons.
One of the best resources that I have come across for building a PBN is Matthew Woodward. He even has a whole course and certification program on the topic, but as much as I love and respect his expertise and advice, I don't recommend people go out and build a PBN. Would it work in 2020? In my professional opinion, I would have to say yes, and I will even provide some proof to back up my claim. But the problem with building a PBN is that it takes a lot of time and resources and most people think about it the wrong way.
Let me explain....
When people think of a PBN, they think of buying up a bunch of expired domains, putting them on difference hosting, with different themes etc..to hopefully get a combined, good end result. But what I think people are missing the mark on, is quality vs quantity. Buying a bunch of smaller websites to hopefully get the combined benefits of one larger website can have it's benefits but the cost in hosting, content production, promotion etc.. all go up when you have a lot of sites. And if you are looking for a set it and forget it type of option, then that means that you are doing it purely for SEO purposes and are therefore, more or less just spamming the search engines.
Instead of doing that, this is what I recommend.
Buy only one, nice, and when I say nice, I mean really nice and authoritative blog. But not a dropped domain, or old website, I mean a real, live, active blog with healthy traffic and grow that instead. You might have to do some manual outreach and negotiations but I think that by putting more resources into a real blog instead of some old dropped domain, you will get a lot more benefits in return including:
-Less hosting cost
-Less cost to product content (less articles to write, themes to purchase, extensions)
-Less time to manage
-Not having to look over your shoulder or be stressed out every time that a new update rolls out
Once you grow that site, if you have the funds, you can rinse and repeat. While this process is not as cheap up front, the long term benefits far outweigh the cons. A private blog, does not have to be some kind of spammy tactic used strictly for SEO. It can be a healthy asset that is used to provide value in its own and additional value to your main site. Do they work in 2020?
Here is the proof!
I was working with a client this years called Graylog  who has a pretty expensive CPC on their main keyword log management tools. The Google Keyword Planner is saying the top of page bid is $50+ a click. So when I search for the term on Google, what do I see on the first organic result? A PBN!!! Yes, a PBN site called www.dnsstuff.com The site is owned by a competitor called Solarwinds, a publicly traded company headquarter in Austin, TX with over 800 million dollars in yearly revenue. Yep!
In my opinion, they have some smart SEO's working for them who made the recommendation and purchase of the site, which was most likely a private deal. I think that one of the easiest ways to spot a PBN site is by the huge dips or drop in traffic in the historic traffic of the SEMrush tool. You can see that whoever is managing this particular PBN site , is doing a very good job.
So in conclusion, PBN's are working very well in 2020 but if you are thinking of building one, don't, instead buy a real blog with actual visitors and useful content that can help the web and continue to build upon that instead. It will save you a lot of time and money in the long run and in reality, its not a black hat or every gray hat SEO practices. By purchasing a real blog, you are doing what Google wants and building up a property that provides real value to its users and the search engines, and you will be rewarded for those efforts instead of possibly getting a penalty in the process.
--Ramon Khan, National Air Warehouse
I've ran an SEO company for 5 years & been offering SEO as a service for 10 years. I remember working for a large scale agency when Googles Penguin algorithm hit back in 2011 & seeing the damage being hit by a Google penalty can do to not only a clients business but also to the agency itself. Seeing this early on in my career did leave some scars & my spine tingles when I hear people mention the words SEO Hack. That's mainly because its a hack, specifically designed to fool Googles algorithm for higher SERPS & therefore is not a sustainable long term solution for any website. PBN's are just another hack & Google hates them. If you're caught building or benefiting from a known PBN, expect a slap on the wrist & your rankings to plummet. That doesn't mean though that they don't work, the thinking behind PBN's is solid. Build a network of sites using expired domain names, produce content articles & embed links within your posts. If your goal is to only build links then it does do the job. Personally I like to sleep easy at night, Google's algorithm will only be getting smarter over the years to come & at some point the chickens will come home to roost for PBN fanatics. I follow a simple rule when building backlinks & that is: If someone from Google was watching over your shoulder, would you be building this link. With all of the energy it takes to build a PBN, you could have reached out to legitimate sites in your niche, pitched valuable content & built natural, high quality, sustainable backlinks.
--Adam Collins, adamcollins.uk
PBN's do work, it's just you need to be pretty careful while using it. I worked as SEO specialist for different companies, while working for these companies I don't use PBN rather will go with Guest posting. PBN & guest posting is the same, it's just in case of PBN, we own or control the domain.
So for my personal projects, I am using PBN which are effective, I have seen websites ( the entire network ) being banned last year. So it's two way, you get results & also can get caught up by Google at any time. Just make sure to use them like a regular money site & feed them content, that would look like a legit site rather than PBN & chance of getting caught by Google is relatively less.
--Pranay Anumula, Keka HR
I work with several small businesses and law firms and bump into PBNs all the time. Indeed, it appears that can still be effective. However, PBN is a very broad term. To make broad generalizations I'll break them down into 3 types.
1. The PBNs I personally come across generally consist of 20 - 50 websites which exist for the purpose of linking out to their target site. In nearly all cases, the entire PBN is built from expired domains, meaning they were once legitimate websites which already had links and a certain level of trust from search engines at one point in time. A lot of affiliate marketers also utilize PBNs like this to rank certain items as well. What the most cleverly configured PBNs all have in common is someone took time and care acquiring their domains. All sites were hosted on different servers, with private registration, using different website themes. Other than the PBN pointing at the same target sites, there was no real footprint to be found.
2. The next type of PBN I am aware of consists of thousands of sites; I know very little about these, and while I've spoken to the owners of them before, they are very secretive about their operation. I've heard these show up on Google's radar much more frequently and the people who command these PBNs are used to churning and burning target sites.
3. Some link vendors out there promise backlinks via guest blogging outreach services. In reality, most of these companies have their own PBN. The sites in the PBN are extremely low quality and every article on the sites exists just to link out to target sites. Most of these sites, regardless of Domain Authority or other metrics, are discounted by most search engines and provide no value.
In my case, I work with clients who operate businesses, and those business owners are interested in having healthy websites for many years to come. They're not interested in taking risks or temporary results. Since PBNs are a clear violation of Google's webmaster guidelines, we avoid them entirely and go more of a PR route in an effort to earn links. It's a slower process but I've personally found this to be a more sustainable route and we've never needed to worry about manual actions or other penalties. That said, I've seen plenty of smaller PBNs helping sites rank in fairly competitive niches.
--Leonard Raleigh, Telapost
Personally, yes, have used these before. While any links can be effective these days, I think it's pretty clear that Google is a hell of a lot better at detecting these than they were a few years back.
For tier 2 links: awesome
For tier 1 links: risky, really risky
--Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures
EDITORS NOTE: A tier 2 link is a link to a page that links to your main site. Eg. if your main site is example.com and you have a link to example.com from articles.com/page, a tier 2 link would link to articles.com/page.
Link schemes are dangerous in the fact that Google has gotten better at identifying link patterns, and often, PBNs lose their effectiveness when Google identifies the sites in them as low quality. You can even end up with a manual penalty if the use of PBNs is at scale. Most of the time, Google will just not count those links, meaning, any gains that were made initially by the links in a PBN will deteriorate over time.
However, let’s look at another scenario. What if the sites in the network are valuable, and have value to users, real traffic, and unique usefulness outside of the links they generate? Even Amazon could have a form of a PBN with sites it owns all interlinked. Look at Audible, IMDB, Whole Food Market, Woot! And Zappos to name a few. All owned properties passing links between these sites, boosting their link authority. The difference is, these sites do have value to users, and their sole purpose is not to influence rankings.
So the effectiveness of a PBN or a network of owned sites is based on the value that those sites have in their own usefulness, traffic, and quality. Low quality sites that only exist for their links won’t have a lasting value, and won’t have a lasting impact on search engine ranking ability. Good quality sites that are good for users can likely have a positive and lasting impact. If the question is “should I build a PBN to increase my SEO ranking ability”, then the answer is no. You would have to spend the time to get each site uniquely valuable for those links to help. You would be better suited putting that effort into your own site, improving its content, and creating link opportunities based on your site’s ability to help users, answer questions, and provide insight.
--Matt Brooks, SEOteric
PBNs are one of those areas that can be highly effective but they can also be very risky if found out by Google. This has happened to a client of mine who built up a solid reputation in a health sub-niche. He had very minor variations of the niche as separate sites with good referring domains and authority that linked to one another and were adding great value in addition to the on-page work our agency were doing for them. However, it’s easy to get sloppy with content, allowing guest posts and paid-for backlinks and once it was recognised as a PBN all the sites received a significant drop in traffic. Interestingly, those who had guest posted also saw a knock-on effect which was reversed when they requested the links be removed. This all happened at a time when no other external factors could have accounted for the change, such as an algorithm update, so the evidence was fairly clear.
However I have seen PBNs that are very tightly managed and can be effective. It’s just a case of being cautious.
--Tom Crowe, Definitely Digital
For most people who never dabbled with PBNs before, they're a waste of time and money. The learning curve is just too high and there are a thousand ways you can make a mistake, leave a footprint and waste your work and money.
For experts that have been using PBN's for years, they are worth it and are a great advantage to have for ranking in Google.
So, PBN's still work, and the only difference now is that you can't rank a site in a competitive niche using just PBN's. So these links are mixed with genuine email outreach backlinks.
If someone wanted to start using PBN's to see if they'll impact their business, I suggest they rent their PBN links. It's much cheaper than building your own network and results are much faster because links come as ordered. It's also safer because PBN rental services know how to blend their networks with normal sites.
And if someone wanted to build their network and have never done it before, then I suggest they learn as much as they can before they invest money.
The key is to not leave any footprint and that's why you must educate yourself first.
--Nikola Roza, nikolaroza.com
We have used PBNs in the past and they did work. While there are ways to protect yourself while using PBNs, the risk reward is high. Maintaining multiple websites, through different hosting platforms and different registrars can take time and money to set up and maintain. We reduced the risk by creating a buffer level between the PBN and Money site that we could in essence turn off if the PBN was located.
There are ways to stack content and build inbound links using google or other web 2.0 sites. This does require creating a lot of unique content and managing each account appropriately to prevent the illusion of spamming your money site. This type of social PBN does work to an extent, but could change and become worthless during an algorithm update.
After trying these techniques, we have determined that instead of investing time and money into trying out smart the search engines, we should focus on our website. This means we have poured our resources into creating quality and relevant content that our users are looking for. This has proved to be a very valuable pivot in our marketing since the search engines appear to place high value with onsite content.
--Cristopher Carillo, Allied Payments
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