What is a PBN?
A PBN (Private Blog Network) is a group of websites that are created and controlled by an individual or entity for the purpose of manipulating the search engine rankings of a website.
The main goal of a PBN is to increase the visibility and authority of a particular website by building links from the network's sites to the target site.
Each website within a PBN is typically set up with the intention of appearing as an independent and legitimate website.
How does Google define it?
The commonly known definition of PBN is more like an SEO-generated definition as Google doesn't define a Private Blog Network. Therefore, you cannot apply a single specified concept to any group of sites or blogs.
As John Mueller confirms this:
How does it work?
To understand PBN’s working let’s be clear about backlinks. Backlinks are typically generated when other websites find your content valuable or authoritative enough to reference or quote by linking to it.
This linking behaviour serves as a signal to search engines that your website possesses expertise and credibility on the specific subject matter being discussed.
Consequently, search engines view your site as more authoritative and are more likely to rank it higher in search results for relevant queries.
Essentially, the more backlinks you have from reputable sources, the stronger the signal of authority your website conveys.
Private blog networks (PBNs) operate by either acquiring a group of expired domain names that already have established authority or by purchasing and registering multiple domain names simultaneously, with the intention of building their authority over time.
Once the PBN network is established, the domains within the network are utilized to publish basic content such as articles or blog posts.
These pieces of content include links that direct back to the primary website that the PBN is aiming to promote.
The purpose behind including these backlinks from PBN sites to the target website is to manipulate search engines into perceiving the target website as more authoritative and valuable than it actually is.
By presenting search engines with multiple backlinks from seemingly independent and authoritative websites, the PBN owner hopes to increase the target website's rankings in search results.
Does it violate Google’s guidelines?
Private Blog Networks violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines, and it is strongly recommended to avoid using them as a link-building tactic.
According to Google's link spam guidelines, any links that are intended to manipulate search rankings are considered link spam. This includes behaviour that manipulates both inbound and outbound links.
PBNs precisely fall into the “link spam” category as they aim to manipulate search results.
These links are not earned naturally but are instead strategically placed by someone on behalf of a website.
The websites within a PBN typically lack real value and are solely created to deceive search engines and "beat the system."
They are not the result of editorially placed links obtained through the merit of great content. Instead, they are a means to artificially influence search rankings.
In contrast, genuine websites that offer valuable content are generally authoritative and trustworthy.
Why do people use it?
People use PBNs despite the risks, costs, and time involved because of two main reasons:
Difficulty in link building
Building backlinks through organic and white-hat tactics, such as blogger outreach, can be challenging.
Even if you create exceptional content, there is no guarantee that other website owners will link back to it.
It requires time and effort to conduct outreach campaigns and secure backlinks. However, these efforts may not always yield the desired results.
PBNs offer a way to have more control over the backlinking process by creating a network of websites that can be used to link to target sites.
Anchor text manipulation
Anchor text is the clickable text within a hyperlink. It provides contextual information to search engines about the linked page.
People using PBNs can control the anchor texts of their backlinks, which can influence search engine rankings.
By using keyword-rich anchor texts, they aim to signal to search engines the relevance of the linked page to specific keywords.
For instance, suppose a website is focused on providing travel tips and wants to rank higher for the keyword "best beach destinations."
By using PBNs, the website owner can strategically create backlinks with anchor texts such as "Top beach destinations for a perfect vacation" or "Explore the best beaches worldwide."
These anchor texts convey the topic and relevance of the linked page to search engines, potentially improving its visibility and ranking for the target keyword.
How to identify PBNs?
To identify private blog networks (PBNs), it is important to understand that while older PBNs were relatively easier to spot due to shared characteristics such as the same IP address, shared servers, WHOIS information, or duplicate content, modern PBNs have become more sophisticated and harder to detect.
Here are several factors to consider when trying to identify a site as part of a PBN:
Hosting: Check if the sites are hosted on the same IP address. Tools like SpyOnWeb.com or Host.io can help identify what sites are hosted together, potentially indicating a PBN relationship.
Site design: Look for similarities in design, navigation, and colour scheme across different sites. PBNs may use similar templates or design elements.
Similar themes: Some WordPress themes include the theme name in the code. Checking the source code of the websites may reveal if they share a common theme.
Site ownership: Investigate the WHOIS database for the contact information of the site owners. Hidden or masked WHOIS data can be a red flag. If all the site owners are the same, it suggests a connection between the blogs.
Duplicate content: Copy a paragraph of content from a suspicious site and search for it on Google. If the same content appears on other sites, it indicates the presence of duplicate content, which can be a characteristic of PBNs.
Backlink profile: Analyze the backlink profile of the sites using tools i.e. Semrush. Look for excessive interlinking between sites within the network, as this can indicate a PBN. You can also use ahrefs to manually review the backlinks profile.
Images and videos: Duplicate images and videos across multiple sites within a network can be a sign of a PBN. Conduct reverse image or video searches using Google to identify similar pieces of visual content.
However, as mentioned earlier, owning multiple websites doesn't necessarily mean operating a PBN.
Media companies, for example, may have multiple related sites and naturally link to each other without raising suspicion.
But if unrelated sites have dozens of links in footers or repeatedly link to similar internal pages, it can be a cause for concern.
Risks associated with using PBNs
Like every illegitimate practice, there are risks associated with Private Blog Networks.
They can be ignored
Google has a sophisticated algorithm that aims to provide users with high-quality and relevant search results.
When Google detects unnatural or manipulative linking practices, such as PBNs, it may choose to ignore those links entirely.
In other words, the algorithm will discount the value of PBN links, considering them irrelevant for determining a website's ranking.
This means that even if you invest time, money, and effort into building PBN links, they won't have any positive impact on your website's rankings.
Essentially, it renders the whole process of creating PBNs a waste of resources since Google does not consider those links when determining search rankings.
As John Mueller replied to a tweet:
PBN links can trigger a penalty
While Google usually ignores PBN links, it can take further action if it detects deliberate manipulation of search rankings.
Google aims to provide fair and trustworthy search results, and attempts to manipulate rankings are against its guidelines.
Google can respond to such manipulative practices in two ways:
a) Manual Penalty: Google has a team of human reviewers who manually review websites and their backlink profiles. If they determine that a website is engaging in manipulative tactics like using PBNs, they can issue a Manual Penalty. This penalty will be communicated to the website owner through a warning message in Google Search Console, informing them about "unnatural links to your site."
b) Ignoring PBN links: As mentioned earlier, Google typically ignores PBN links altogether.
As a result of the penalty, the website can be demoted or deindexed completely.
Exploding the common myths around PBNs
While PBN links are not considered legitimate, there are some ideas, common among SEOs, people have about PBN一that are myths.
They don’t work
One common myth is that Private Blog Network links do not have any effect on a website's ranking.
However, SEOs believe that PBN links can actually help improve rankings, despite violating Google's guidelines.
Therefore, there is a good chance that PBN links will provide a temporary boost to a site's rankings on Google's search engine results pages.
These links can contribute to increasing a website's visibility and authority, at least in the short term by influencing search engine algorithms.
They are easily identifiable
The notion that Google can easily identify PBNs is a common misconception among some SEO professionals and website owners.
While it is true that Google has implemented measures to detect manipulative link-building strategies, the idea that they can effortlessly identify PBNs is not entirely accurate.
Let's delve into why this myth needs to be debunked.
Evolving nature of PBNs: Private blog networks are constantly adapting and evolving to avoid detection. SEO practitioners who engage in building PBNs are well aware of Google's algorithms and actively work to minimize the footprints that may expose their networks.
Overlapping footprints: While shared IP addresses, web hosting providers, and domains purchased from auction sites are considered potential footprints, they are not definitive proof of a PBN. Many legitimate websites may share the same IP address or hosting provider due to various reasons, such as shared hosting plans or geographical proximity. Similarly, domains acquired from auction sites can be legitimately repurposed for different purposes.
Complex link patterns: Google's algorithms analyze a multitude of factors when evaluating links. While they may scrutinize the patterns of linking between websites, it is challenging for them to definitively attribute links to a PBN. SEO professionals who operate PBNs often take measures to make the link patterns appear more organic and diverse.
Having said that, it is important to know that while PBNs have made significant strides in combating the search engine’s ability to detect them, success in gaining a reputation through manipulative means is always temporary.
All paid links come from a private blog network
It is a common misconception that all paid links originate from private blog networks. While it is true that PBNs are one source of paid links, it is incorrect to assume that every website selling links or sponsored posts is part of a PBN.
It is essential for website owners, marketers, and SEO professionals to abide by Google's guidelines and focus on building organic, high-quality backlinks.
All groups of sites that link to each other are PBNs
It is incorrect to assume that all groups of sites that link to each other are PBNs. While it is true that some PBNs exist, where the primary purpose is to manipulate search results by building links, not all interconnected websites fall into this category.
Many businesses operate multiple websites for legitimate reasons, such as targeting different markets, offering diverse products or services, or catering to specific customer segments.
In such cases, linking these websites together is a natural practice and serves the purpose of providing valuable information to visitors.
What to do to avoid PBN links?
No reputable SEO consultant will recommend using PBNs for link building or increasing website traffic.
To protect your site from Private Blog Networks and the associated risks they pose, it is important to take certain measures.
It is crucial to avoid involvement with PBNs, especially if you outsource your link-building activities to a third party. These spammy practices can put your site in serious danger.
Avoid buying links from platforms like Fiverr or other similar services. While the low cost might be tempting, these links often come from low-quality and spammy sources. Search engines can detect such unnatural links and penalize your site accordingly. Instead, focus on organic and authentic link-building methods.
Maintain strong oversight of your link-building activities. Educate yourself about Google's guidelines on link schemes to understand what practices to avoid. Make sure that anyone responsible for building links to your site adheres strictly to these guidelines. Reputable link builders should be transparent about the links they are pursuing for your site.
Make an active role in monitoring and auditing your site's backlink profile. Regularly check for any suspicious or low-quality links that may harm your site's reputation. Utilize tools like Google Search Console to keep track of your backlink profile and address any issues promptly.
It is essential to recognize these links as you are ultimately responsible for your site’s link-building practices.
Ignorance of any PBN-related activities happening behind the scenes does not absolve you from potential consequences.
By being proactive and well-informed, you can protect your site's reputation and ensure its long-term success in search engine rankings.
Best practices for getting legitimate links
To achieve ethical and long-lasting results in SEO, consider the following white hat techniques:
Do the due diligence
When partnering with a link-building agency, conducting due diligence is crucial. Some agencies may deceptively present PBN links as legitimate white-hat links.
To safeguard your site, it's essential to request and thoroughly evaluate samples of their previous work.
Look for indicators that may suggest the presence of a PBN, such as low organic traffic to the linked sites, the use of unnatural link placement with exact-match anchor texts, and poor overall site quality.
By scrutinizing these samples, you can assess the agency's credibility and avoid falling victim to PBN-related practices.
Create quality content
Create authoritative and relevant content that caters to your target audience. Optimize it with well-researched keywords and publish regularly to increase your website's value and attract authoritative links.
Get real backlinks
Earn high-quality backlinks through valuable content instead of purchasing them. Genuine backlinks from reputable sources significantly contribute to your site's authority.
Private Blog Networks involve low-quality and unnatural link-building practices.
Engaging with PBNs can pose significant risks to your site's reputation and search engine visibility.
To protect your site from PBN-related risks, it is important to understand the difference between legitimate groups of interconnected sites and PBNs.