Are Private Blog Networks (PBNs) Truly Black Hat SEO?

private blog networks - black hat SEO or not

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No matter what people tell you, PBNs (private blog networks) are not black hat SEO. However, they are also not white hat SEO. This can be confusing at first glance but in reality, everything is very easy to understand.

Based on who wrote the article you read online, you will be told many different things. However, most SEO specialists do not recommend the use of PBNs. This is an important thing to keep in the back of your head. I will explain why but first, let’s understand exactly what we are talking about.

What Is A Private Blog Network (PBN)?

Just as the name implies, a private blog network is a network of blogs owned by one individual/company that was created with the purpose of helping other sites rank higher in search engines.

Related: Why Does Google Hate Guest Posting/Blogging?

PBNs started because someone, sometime figured out that he/she can build a really large number of backlinks from really high authority domains without much of a hassle. This was done by buying expired domain names with an established authority. After many domains were bought, some content was added on them and a backlink was inserted to the main site.

PBNs are practically databases of numerous websites. You make a payment, and your web page gets a backlink.

If Google catches you using a PBN, your site(s) will be penalized.

Yes, Google really hates PBNs because they can be a very effective shortcut to achieve higher rankings. It is this hate that led many to say PBNs are black hat SEO. But, this is just a very lazy way of looking at things. Technically speaking, this is not black hat. However, we cannot say we are looking at white hat.

The PBN is a prime example of a grey hat search engine optimization strategy from my point of view, but you can disagree.

How To Identify A PBN

You might wonder how Google can figure out that you are using a private blog network. Well, in the past this was very easy because they were almost always all placed on the same shared server hosting packages and had the same information in the WHOIS database. Hey, some even had the exact same content on them.

Nowadays, private blog networks are much more difficult to identify. In fact, if you build one right, it is close to impossible for this to happen because you can literally hide all the information that will lead back to you. Even so, there are some signs that you can look at to identify a PBN:

  • Hosting – When multiple sites use the same IP address, it is a warning sign.
  • Design – Are themes very similar? Most PBNs use WordPress and when you use the same themes installed, it is a warning sign.
  • Ownership – Check the WHOIS database for the contact information. When the WHOIS data is hidden, it is seen as a red flag but not a certainty that something weird is happening.
  • Duplicate content – You wouldn’t want a link from a site with a lot of duplicate content anyway.
  • Backlinking profile – This is a little tricky because you need to know how to do it. More precisely, you need to know what to look at when analyzing a linking profile. Red Flag signs include interlinking between sites, numerous unrelated outbound links, and links pointing towards the same sites from many seemingly unrelated sources.

Can’t I Own Many Blogs?

This is where we move to the grey part of PBNs and SEO. When you own many sites, it does not mean that they are a PBN. They can even be hosted on the same hosting and have the same IP address.

A great example of owning many sites is given by media companies. The large ones own many websites and they use aggressive interlinking in the footer area and more. They do not get penalized or end up flagged as being a PBN.

The fact that you can own several sites and have a legit operation is what makes it very difficult for Google to identify a well-built PBN.

How To Build A Private Blog Network

For obvious reasons, I will not tell you how to build a private blog network. However, I can highlight the most important parts of how they are created these days to highlight how advanced they are when compared to the old networks that were all hosted in the same place and owned by the same entity.

Building a PBN practically involves:

  • Getting the domain names – You want expired domains with a high authority. Then, all of the ones you would use for a private blog network need to hide the identity of the owner. There is simply no way around this or it would be way too easy to trace everything.
  • Setting up hosting – This is where things get really tricky. Every single website needs its own IP address. Then, hosting packages have to be different. This means that the great networks out there even use hosting packages from multiple providers. As you can imagine, managing large networks is extremely difficult and time-consuming.
  • Creating content – Content has to be created for the sites. Again, this involves a lot of management and is a crucial part of a good network.

To put it at simple as possible, building a good PBN is all about creating them as you were creating sites. This is, IF YOU WANT THEM TO WORK.

When you only build blogs to sell links, eventually you get caught. You have to build sites for quality. The more advanced things should not be mentioned because:

I cannot recommend the use of PBNs to rank websites and no SEO specialist will ever recommend them!

So Why Aren’t Private Blog Networks Recommended?

Here’s the deal. Up until now, I NEVER saw a PBN network that was well-built, a network that was flawless and that would not have some problems in the future.

Related: Why Do Most SEO Agencies Out There Suck?

The real problem with PBNs is that you build them in order to sell links. It is as simple as that. Owners do not have the time, money, and will to do them right. If they were to do them right, they would become legitimate websites that would generate income in many ways, but this is not as easy as taking advantage of the authority someone else built and selling links.

If you absolutely want to use private blog networks to rank your sites higher, you have to be EXTREMELY careful. This means you have to:

  • Keep detailed records of all the links that are generated. If a Google Penalty is issued, you need to use the disavow tool to remove all of them.
  • Analyze every single website where you get a link and remove that link as soon as you see warning signs.
  • Only get links from sites in the network that have related content.
  • Analyze the backlinks the network site has. If something is bad, do not accept the link.

Obviously, many other things can be said but this is the bare minimum.

Again, it is better to pay more if you want to pay for links. A high authority advertorial coming from a very good website is always better than using PBNs. Most blog networks offer really cheap links.

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