Are Private Blog Networks Still SEO Effective?

Travis Bliffen
by Travis Bliffen 19 May, 2015

Private blog networks (PBNs) have been influencing the search engine result pages (SERPs) in one way or another for several years. In the past all you needed was a network with strong Page Rank and you could boost most sites.


After several updates from Google to include Hummingbird, its ability to determine the topical relevance of a website has increased dramatically. With that, the effectiveness of links from unrelated websites has decreased considerably. Couple that with the fact the Page Rank is no longer updated and you are left looking for a new way to determine the quality of potential PBN sites. Today we are going to look at why PBNs are used and how they are created. 


What is a PBN and why are they Used?


A private blog network is a collection of websites owned by one person or company, which is used to place links for clients to increase organic search rankings. Large blog networks are targeted by Google because they are very effective at manipulating the search results. You may have heard about one of the many large networks being taken down by Google in the past few years but there are numerous small networks that slide under the radar. 


A few years ago it became clear that the best way to rank a website was by creating contextual backlinks on authority pages. As I mentioned, in the beginning, the Page Rank of a website was really the most important factor. If you were to get enough high Page Ranl links, you could rank for nearly anything. Webmasters and SEOs alike realized that building a blog network could give them an advantage, especially for competitive organic searches. Even better, since the topic of the sites was not very important, you could rank sites in several verticals with a single network.


How Is a PBN Set Up?


Domain Selection & Registration

The first and one of the most important steps in creating a PBN is domain selection. PBN builders find domains in a variety of ways including domain auctions, scraping expired domains and buying them from domain vendors. Once the domains are selected, they are registered privately to avoid leaving a footprint pointing to one person or company as that would reduce the effectiveness of the sites and increase the likelihood of the PBN getting penalized or de-indexed.


Unique Hosting

For a long time Google has been able to see where a site is hosted (IP Addresses) and as such, they give reduced value to multiple links coming from the same location. To avoid this with PBN sites, builders set up hosting accounts with different hosting services for each site. Some people use SEO hosting but in many cases this has been shown to be less effective than using unique hosting for each website.


Content Population

PBN builders get content in one of two ways, new blog posts or restoring the old site. Adding several blog posts to a website related to your topic is the more common way of populating a PBN site. Alternately, many people have starting using the Wayback Machine which archives websites. Here is a snapshot of in 2007:



As you can see, the archive contains images and text from past versions of the website. PBN builders look for websites that were already relevant to the topic of the new site they are trying to rank and use the Wayback Archive to rebuild the old site. This method is also pretty common but if you are not careful, you may run into copyright issues, especially if a new version of the old site exists on a new domain.


Creating Social Signals

Smart PBN builders came to the realization that it looks suspicious for a bunch of high authority sites to suddenly be created and link to a new site that nobody is talking about. In order to avoid this suspicion, social signals are being used as part of the PBN building process. Creating social signals for the PBN sites has correlated to increased rankings for the money site being linked to by the PBN. Creating signals for the money site has been further correlated with improved rankings and reduced penalty risks. 


Link Placement

Once a PBN is fully built, it is a common practice to limit the number of outbound links places. Imagine that a PBN starts with 100 ranking points. Each new link added divides that power (e.g. 2 links = 50 points per link). The total power of the PBN is used to determine how many outbound links should be placed. In addition to limiting the total links placed, the speed at which links to any particular site are added should also be regulated. Getting numerous high power links all in one day would look suspicious for a website that hasn't been linked to in years. 


Over to you


While a PBN runs the risk of getting de-indexed or penalized, the ranking power of this strategy cannot be denied. I hope the brief overview will help you better understand what PBNs are and the basics of how they are built.


What do you think about using Private Blog Networks for SEO initiatives?