In the world of off-page SEO, there are numerous strategies that promise to enhance your website’s visibility and climb up the rankings in a short space of time. However, it’s crucial to note that not all these methods stand on equal footing, and not all are seen as ethical or respectable practices by search engines like Google or Bing. One such strategy that has stirred up considerable controversy and disapproval over the last decade or so is PBN link building.
A PBN, or a Private Blog Network, is a black-hat SEO technique that has triggered extensive discussion and criticism within the global SEO community. But what exactly is PBN link building? Why does it ignite such debate, and why is it considered a generally risky practice in the SEO world?
In this article, we will dive deep into the shady waters of PBNs, exploring what they are, how they work, and revealing the reasons behind their infamous reputation. Buckle up as we unravel the hidden truths about this divisive SEO tactic.
Understanding Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) operate on a somewhat deceptive methodology, seeking to exploit the way search engines rank websites. To understand how PBNs work, it’s essential first to recognise the importance search engines place on backlinks.
Backlinks are hyperlinks that connect one website to another. These are crucial indicators used by search engines to assess the prominence, worthiness, and credibility of a website. Search engines perceive a website that manages to acquire numerous backlinks (especially those that come from other sites in relevant niches) as a trustworthy and valuable site. Such a positive interpretation from a search engine about your website as a result of the links pointing towards it can consequently improve its rankings.
A PBN is a group of sites or blogs, usually built on expired domains that have been purchased because of their high domain authority. They operate on the principle that search engines index websites higher if they have more backlinks.
By creating a network of sites that all link to the target site, PBNs aim to boost the target site’s ranking in search engine results. Essentially, the PBNs serve as a source of high-value backlinks that can manipulate search engine algorithms.
How PBNs are Built
Building a PBN is a process that usually involves the following steps:
1. Domain Acquisition
The process of building PBNs starts with acquiring expired or auctioned domains with high domain authority, page authority, and other SEO metrics. These domains ideally have a clean profile (i.e., not previously used for spam) and be related to the topic of your main website.
2. Hosting Setup
Next, each domain in the PBN needs to be hosted separately to avoid detection by search engines. This is typically done using different hosting providers, unique IP addresses, and even different registrars to make the network appear disparate, unrelated websites.
3. Website Creation
Each domain is then used to create a separate blog or website. These sites contain content that is related to the topic of the main website. Each site is created in a way to sound legitimate, a standalone website.
4. Link Building
After the sites are created, the link-building procedure starts. This is usually done gradually and carefully to avoid detection. Links are naturally integrated within the content, and not all websites in the PBN link back to the main site at once.
5. Maintenance and Monitoring
PBNs require ongoing maintenance to stay effective and avoid detection. This involves regularly adding new content, monitoring the SEO metrics of each site, and occasionally replacing domains that have lost their SEO value or have been flagged by search engines.
Why are PBN Links Bad for Your Site?
While PBNS may sound like a great idea, they can be harmful in the long run. Here is why:
Questionable Ethical Standing
The PBN practice is widely considered a “black hat” SEO tactic, which violates search engine guidelines. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines explicitly state that any tactics used to manipulate a site’s ranking may result in a website being withdrawn completely from the Google index. Hence, using PBNs for link building is risky and could have bad consequences for your website.
Risk of Penalty
Search engines, notably Google, have penalised websites they believe are part of a PBN. They do this because they consider PBNs an attempt to manipulate search results, which goes against their policy. If a site gets caught using a PBN and is given a penalty, it could be de-indexed from Google, meaning it would virtually disappear from search results.
PBNs are not a sustainable approach for enhancing your website’s SEO. This tactic requires constant maintenance, updates, and monitoring to prevent being caught by search engine algorithms. As search engines continually improve their algorithms to spot such tactics, the longevity and effectiveness of PBNs are unpredictable. A sudden algorithm update can wipe out all the SEO benefits gained through PBN links overnight.
PBNs are notoriously known for poor-quality links. Since the primary goal of a PBN is to boost rankings rather than provide helpful content, the emphasis on quality is often lacking. This results in low-quality content and spammy links that could do more harm than good to your site’s SEO. Users and search engines alike prefer high-quality, organic, and relevant links.
Creating and maintaining a PBN is an expensive endeavour. From registering multiple domains, hosting, and creating unique content for each site to ongoing maintenance, the cost can quickly add up with no assurance of any benefit. When you compare this to white hat link-building techniques such as content marketing, influencer outreach, or guest blogging, the ROI for PBNs are often inferior.
How to Spot PBN Backlinks
PBN backlinks can be spotted by looking out for several indicative signs:
- Similar Web Design and Layout: Websites in a PBN usually have identical designs, themes, or layouts. This is because the same entity controls them, making uniformity a common feature.
- Similar Content Sites: If you detect that several different sites are publishing very identical content, it’s likely they are part of a PBN.
- High Number of Outbound Links: Sites that are part of a PBN typically have many outbound links, typically to the same group of sites.
- Low-Quality Content: PBN sites typically use low-grade or spun content that doesn’t provide much value to readers.
- Private Domain Registration: Many PBN sites keep their domain registration information confidential to avoid detection.
- No Social Media Presence: PBN sites generally don’t invest time and effort in maintaining a solid social media presence.
Tools to Analyse Backlink Profiles and Identify PBNs
Several tools can be used to analyse your backlinks and potentially identify PBNs:
- Google Search Console: This free tool from Google can provide a list of websites linking to your site, which you can then analyse for signs of being part of a PBN.
- Ahrefs: This tool offers a comprehensive look at your site’s backlink profile and can help identify potential PBNs by showing sites with an unusual number of outbound links or similar linking patterns.
- Semrush: Similar to Ahrefs, Semrush also allows you to look closely at your website’s backlinks portfolio and assess what sites are linking to yours, alongside providing a set of stats so you can consider how genuine and important these 3rd party websites are.
- Majestic SEO: This tool allows you to check the Trust Flow and Citation Flow of a website. If a site has a high Citation Flow (which indicates the number of links pointing to a site) but a low Trust Flow (which indicates the quality of those links), it might be part of a PBN.
Steps to Take When You Find PBN Links to Your Website
If you discover that PBN sites are linking to your website, there are several steps you should consider taking:
- Confirm It’s a PBN: Ensure that the linking site is indeed part of a PBN by checking for the indicators mentioned above.
- Document Your Findings: Note all the suspicious sites and links you find. This can be useful if you decide to report the links to Google or if your site is penalised and you must submit a reconsideration request.
- Request Removal: Reach out to the owners of the PBN sites and request them to terminate the links to your site. However, because the sites are part of a PBN, it can be difficult to find contact information or get a response.
- Disavow the Links: If you can’t get the links withdrawn, or if there are too many to handle, you can use Google’s Disavow tool in Google Search Console. This tool lets you inform Google to disregard particular links when evaluating your site.
The Right Approaches to Acquire Quality Backlinks
Acquiring quality backlinks takes effort, but the advantages are worth it. Not only will it enhance your website’s SEO, but it will also boost your site’s visibility and credibility. Here are some of the best methods to obtain high-calibre appropriate backlinks ethically:
Creating High-Quality Content
The foundation for securing high-quality backlinks is creating quality content that others will feel compelled to refer to and link back to. The most significant aspect is that the content must offer value to the viewers. By crafting content that is informative, illuminating, and captivating, there’s a higher likelihood that other websites will link back to your content, thereby enhancing your website’s visibility and trustworthiness.
Guest blogging is another effective strategy to earn quality backlinks. By composing a blog post for another website in your industry, not only do you set yourself as a specialist in your field, but you also gain the opportunity to link back to your own website. This approach has to be ethical and mutually beneficial – you provide valuable content for the host blog, and in return, you gain exposure and quality backlinks.
Building Relationships and Networking
Building strong relationships with other businesses, bloggers, and influencers in your industry can significantly aid your backlinking efforts. This involves networking at industry events, participating in online communities, and actively engaging with others on social media platforms. By establishing genuine relationships, you can open doors to collaborations, guest blogging opportunities, and organic backlinks.
This process entails contacting key figures in your field and requesting them to disseminate your content amongst their followers. Nonetheless, your content must be extremely pertinent and beneficial to both the influencer and their followers. When an influencer consents to share your content, it results in a precious backlink and provides exposure to a larger audience.
Digital PR (Public Relations) Strategies
Digital PR can play a crucial role in acquiring quality backlinks. This could involve writing press releases about important company news or achievements, participating in interviews, or submitting articles or linking opportunities to industry-wide publications. Each time a news outlet or industry journal picks up your story, there’s a high chance they will link back to your website, resulting in high-quality backlinks.
Activity on Social Media
Maintaining a strong presence on social media and disseminating your content can indirectly aid in creating backlinks. This raises the probability of your content being discovered and potentially linked by other websites. Although social media links don’t directly contribute as SEO backlinks, they do expand your content’s audience, which could result in increased opportunities for backlinking.
Using Professional Services
Professional SEO and link-building services, like the service we offer at ACERO, can be another viable strategy for acquiring quality backlinks. At our SEO agency, we have the expertise and resources to conduct a comprehensive backlink strategy tailored to your business needs. We can help with various aspects, such as content creation, influencer outreach, and guest blogging, among others.
We can also audit your current backlink profile, identify gaps, formulate a robust strategy to garner quality backlinks and also help you avoid potentially harmful tactics like PBNs and ensure that your SEO efforts comply with the most up-to-date search engine guidelines.
We do not promise to use any quick hacks or claim that we can fast-track your website to the top of page 1 in a matter of weeks. Our strategies are based on implementing safe and robust link building strategies to create genuine and lasting results. What we do promise is steady, sustainable growth attributed to our skills and expertise rather than quick, risky shortcuts.
As we’ve explored, PBN link building, despite its potential short-term gains, is a risky strategy fraught with potential pitfalls and penalties. Instead of employing such controversial techniques, it’s far more profitable and sustainable to focus on creating high-quality, value-adding content, engaging in authentic outreach, and building solid and organic relationships within your industry.
In the ever-evolving landscape of SEO, genuine quality, relevancy, and user-focused content remain the golden standards that stand the test of time. We hope this blog has been useful for you.If you are genuinely interested in building high quality links to your website you should consider ACERO Link Building. If you want to explore how e can help you, do not hesitate to contact us by filling out our form below.
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Armen is an On-Page SEO and Content Marketing expert who is the CEO of ACERO. He frequently delves into subjects such as SEO, Link Building, Digital Marketing, UK Law, Finance, Music, Blockchain, Technology, and Lifestyle. His passion for research and his ability to articulate complex ideas in a clear and engaging way have earned him a reputation as a highly skilled and versatile author and digital marketing expert.