Note: This article does not promote the use of PBN’s, just like teachers in sex ed class do not promote having sex – However just like having sex – if you are going to do it, you should know how to do it safe!
Private Blog Networks (PBN’s) – Some love them, some hate them and a lot of people don’t know what the hell they are.
I made this PBN guide to help beginners understand what they are, but also to give in-depth advice on how to use them PROPERLY so that you don’t get burned.
Most PBN guides will tell you what they are, but won’t tell you how to use them properly so that they do what they are supposed to do: boost your website’s ranking.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
What Is A Private Blog Network (PBN)?
PBN is short for Private Blog Network, which can essentially be one, or a group, of websites that serve as a source of backlinks for a specific money site to improve search engine rankings. We call it a “Private” blog network because the site(s) is usually owned by the same individual who owns the money site.
The domains that we use were once a legitimate business or website that has links pointing to them. But they have gone out of business or just moved on and their domains can be utilized by you to boost your websites.
Are PBNs legal?
PBNs fall under the category of what we call ‘black hat SEO’, implying there’s a tactic meant to game the system. No, owning network sites like these won’t land you in trouble with the law – being penalized by Google is the main risk.
If you’re not careful, you jeopardize the chance of having your site deindexed, but that is the worst case scenario. There’s no need to worry because the purpose of this guide is to teach you how to minimize risks and gain an advantage over your competitors.
I heard PBNs don’t work in 2020. Is that true?
Private blog networks are alive and well so far. People calling PBN’s dead without evidence may have ulterior motives. But that doesn’t mean that they will work forever. It just means that if chosen and set up properly they are an effective form of SEO.
“But Google claims that it is against their guidelines. Are they lying?” Well, Google also says any form of link building is against their guidelines. Does that mean people have stopped building links? No! Top grey hat and black hat SEOs continue to flourish using these tactics.
What are the pros and cons of PBNs?
There are both positive and negative aspects to running a Private Blog Network. It’s good to be aware of both the risks and also the possible benefits:
Look, you can probably tell that having your own private blog network is not an easy task. So, before we move ahead, let me say that you should only get into PBNs if you are truly dedicated.
Should Beginners Use PBN’s?
Now I know this is an article about PBN’s – but that doesn’t mean I necessarily think it is the best way to build links.
Some see using PBN’s as a shortcut to get good rankings, but in reality, it involves quite a bit of work and money to get started.
So I recommend beginners start off as small and as cheap as possible.
How to Find Cheap and Powerful PBN Domains
The first step to building a successful Private Blog Network is finding quality domains.
This section of our guide will take you through the process of finding domains that are cheap but give you good value.
What To Look For?
The value of an expired or auction domain depends on the number and quality of the backlinks pointed towards it. The higher the number of backlinks from authority websites equals a strong domain. This in turn, gives a website a better chance of appearing higher in search engine rankings.
Think of it like votes that vary in their importance. The more votes from an authority source, the more valuable the domain.
But, what’s the difference between a freshly registered domain and the ones that are used for PBNs?
Well, unlike a new domain, an expired or auction domain comes with link juice ready to be transferred to your money site.
To find quality domains, we have to judge them based on certain metrics that we will discuss later. But first, we have to discuss the difference between auction and expired domains.
What Are Auction and Expired Domains?
We’ve used the term “expired” and “auctioned” domains a lot in this guide, but, do you know what their differences are?
Expired domain: This is the type of domain that is no longer under anyone’s ownership (dropped entirely) and available from any registrar. Domains expire when the subscription is not renewed by the owners before the expiration date.
Auctioned domain: There are two types of auctioned domains: dropped and non-dropped. A dropped auction domain is one that’s been immediately registered after the name expired.
Non-dropped is a domain that has reached its expiration date, but the registrar keeps it for auction. These domains age naturally (as if they never expired), and carry along all the benefits that are associated with an aged domain. While these domains are more expensive, they can be more powerful because they keep their age.
Which one is better? Auction domains tend to be much more powerful because other SEO’s will recognize powerful domains and pick them up before they are left to expire.
Where To Find PBN Domains
There are a few ways you can get PBN Domains, what works best really depends on your budget and the amount of time that you have.
Oct 8, 2018 Update: I am no longer using scrapped expired domains as I have found them to not be worth my while.
You can find free domains to register using scraping software like Scrapebox. Scraping takes a lot of time because not only do you have to find expired domains, but then you have to evaluate each one to make sure they are good.
This can be the cheapest way to build your PBN as the domains you find are free, and you just have to pay for the cost of registration.
However, for beginners, I would stay away from this because this can be a real drain on your time and you can easily pick up domains that give you negative SEO if you’re new.
The easiest way to find the best quality expired and auction domains are to buy them directly from brokers. Sure this might initially cost more money than scraping domains yourself, but you’ll be saving yourself from wasting time during the process of trial and error.
A good domain broker will do all the hard work for you.
I am constantly looking for good domain brokers and here are the best brokers I used:
TB Solutions has a wide variety of quality domains ranging from as low as $20 to $1000’s. They check each one of the site they have in their database to make sure that they are good. There some real gems in there for not a lot of money, and constantly add to their collection every week. But you still have to test these domains before linking them to your money site.
You can bypass brokers by going to sites like Godaddy auctions and Namejet and bid on auction domains. You will be able to get better prices than from auction domain brokers, but then you also need to spend more time on finding the right domains and stay on top of bidding.
How To Judge Domains
The methods of judging expired domains have changed greatly in the last few years. Before we would look at DA, PA, TF, CF, etc. And while these metrics do have some value, it’s not wise to look at any metric just by itself.
Here are some metrics that can be useful, but are a little outdated:
DA (Domain Authority): A theoretical measure of domain strength used by Moz that calculates the overall authority of a domain by looking at a variety of factors. DA is generally a good measure to determine how powerful a domain is. A big factor in what makes it not as accurate is that the Moz database is not large compared to its competitors, so it misses out on lots of links.
TF (Trust Flow): Another industry standard for measuring a domain’s “trust” made by a company called Majestic. Years ago they figured that Google trust’s some sites more than others, so they tried to calculate this trust by using Trust Flow. So that the more trust a site has, the more powerful it is. While this can be a useful metric in general, many SEO’s have seen sites with really low “TF” rank highly. So not many SEO’s see this is a reliable metric to judge a domain’s power by itself.
Best Metrics To Use
Just checking the aforementioned metrics, while important, is not enough (we wish it was). There are a few other details to consider before purchasing an expired domain:
Referring Domain (RD): This metric shows the number of websites that point back to a specific domain. This metric can be found using any backlink software such as Moz, Majestic and Ahrefs. Ideally, the higher number of referring domains an expired domain has, the more powerful it should be. I recommend that you buy an expired domain that has a minimum of 30 RDs.
Domain Rating (DR): Domain Rating is a metric used by Ahref’s that is very similar to DA, but it is much more accurate due to Ahref’s gigantic database of backlinks.
Backlinks: As the term implies, backlinks are the links pointing towards a website from another domain. Ideally, more backlinks mean more domain power, however, that’s not always the case. Spammy backlinks from suspicious sites with no real value pass along no link juice, so you’re better off searching for quality rather than quantity.
Low amounts of quality backlinks, coming from trusted sources such as Forbes, Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, etc., are infinitely more valuable than the immense number of random links from Fiverr.
Anchor text: The ideal expired domain should have the highest number of branded anchor texts. “Wait! What is an anchor text?” Anchor text is the word or phrase people use to describe a hyperlink to a website. For example, Pro Plumbers or proplumbers.com are two branded anchor texts for the site ProPlumbers.com.
Avoid domains that contain an abundance of targeted keywords, such as anchor texts, because it likely means the site is over optimized (which isn’t desirable).
Link profile: A good expired domain is one that contains a mix of ‘dofollow’ and ‘nofollow’ backlinks as it denotes the website has acquired the links naturally. Despite no-follow links not passing any juice, they are good for anchor text optimization and maintaining a natural link profile.
Organic Traffic: If an expired or auction domain is ranking for search terms or is getting actual organic traffic – this is a great sign that the domain will give you positive link juice when turned into a PBN. You can view this metric by using either Ahref or SEMRush.
Tools You Need (paid and free)
To determine the value of a domain you need a few different tools. Ask 10 different people and you might get 10 different answers. But, I like to keep things simple and use a combination of Ahrefs and Archive.org.
Ahrefs: Ahrefs is one of my favourite all-in-one SEO tools. I use it for all the metrics I mentioned above. Ahrefs currently has the largest database of backlinks in the industry, so it will show you information other tools might miss.
SEMRush: SEMRush is an excellent alternative to Ahrefs. It has many of the same features that I like about Ahrefs but is more affordable and does a lot of things even Ahrefs can’t do.
Archive.org: This is the place where all the digital content of websites that no longer exist are archived, including their articles and blog contents. After you’ve run a juicy domain through Ahrefs, double check it’s history on archive.org to make sure it wasn’t used as a PBN site before.
Ahrefs and SEMRush can be expensive so if you on a budget, you can other SEO backlink tools such as OpenSiteExplorer.
How to Register Your PBNs
What was the first rule of the Fight Club? Oh yeah, right! “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” The first rule of PBNs is not much different – try to “talk” about them as little as possible. And by that, I mean cover your tracks whenever possible.
No, you cannot hide your private blog networks from Google, because after all, you are going to use the Big G to pass link juice.
But, do try to make these sites look as real as possible by making sure they look good, and maintaining the appearance that they are independently owned and operated.
Here is a quick checklist of things you SHOULDN’T do when registering a PBN domain:
- Don’t use one registrar for all of your domains. Instead, use a mixture of reliable registrars such as GoDaddy, BigRock, NameCheap, etc. to register them.
- Don’t register all your domains in quick succession. Instead, spread it out over a few days to minimize suspicion from Google.
- Don’t use the same TLD (Top Level Domain) for all your sites, use a good mix of .com, .net, .org, .io, .info, .co, .ca, etc.
- Don’t put your real information and address on Whois if you’re going to use it for PBNs. You should be using FakeWhois for this task.
- Don’t use your real name for registration information. You should use one of the fake name generators
- Try not to use Gmail, instead head over to Mail.com. You can get 10 “alias” emails and have them all come to your one inbox. Saves a ton of time from having to constantly change email accounts.
How To Create Multiple Whois Profiles
After setting up your email account, you can now register your domains using fake whois info:
- Use fakenamegenerator.com to generate fake Whois details, such as name, address, etc.
- Replace the fake address with a real one by looking Google Maps. Some registrars require you to give a real address, but most do not.
- Copy-paste all the relevant Whois data and keep track of it just in case
And you’re all set!
PBN Hosting – Simplified
Okay, now that we’ve got the complexities of registration out of the way, let’s move to the next step – finding the right private blog network hosting. The ideal PBN hosting service should have these three features:
- Fast enough to host your sites
- Cheap (or at least economical)
You must have guessed by now, finding a hosting service provider that has all three qualities is wishful thinking. It’s true, to some extent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can find an acceptable compromise. Good hosting is crucial, which is why in this section, we’re going to discuss how to best utilize your budget.
Things to Keep In Mind For PBN Hosting
Buying hosting for a PBN isn’t much different from buying hosting for a money site. So, the same principles of research and testing apply here, but too avoid getting deindexed, here are the basic PBN safety measures you must follow:
Have Unique C-class IP addresses
It’s crucial to ensure that your PBN sites have different A, B, or C class IP addresses. If we denote an IP address as 188.8.131.52 in the form of A.B.C.D, then a change in only the last number(the D-class), will alert Google there’s something suspicious taking place, increasing the chances of getting your site deindexed.
So, it’s always better to have a different C-class in addition to a different D-class.
Simply having a unique IP address for every domain is not sufficient – the nameservers must also be unique. Otherwise, your domains will leave a significant footprint that Google can easily track. This results in de-indexations because Google has discovered the association between domains.
It’s okay if a few domains share the same nameserver from bigshot hosting companies like HostGator, Siteground, etc, but too many create an impending disaster.
Spammy or questionable IP addresses and hosts
Back in 2014, Google made a massive crackdown on PBNs, causing an abundance of people to lose their businesses overnight. PBNs was declared dead by many independent SEOs, agency owners, and influencers, with few knowing that it would soon become popular again.
Experts found Google targeted hosts and IP addresses that have a large number of PBNs or spammy sites that bring no real value to the user. Matt Diggity published an article in 2016 in which he revealed “shared hosting plans” that cost $1-3 usually had a large number of deindexed domains.
This is a prime example of what happens when an IP address passes a specific algorithmic threshold, getting marked as a “bad neighborhood,” a home where bad domains reside. Google will then flag all of those domains for manual review, where most of them will eventually become deindexed.
How do you overcome this problem? Get premium hosting so that you site blends in with real sites and doesn’t stand out and get lumped into a bad IP neighborhood. The problem with getting premium hosting is that it takes a lot of time to set up.
That’s why I recommend using a PBN hosting service, and not cost much more than buying individual hosting accounts.
Easy Blog Networks: EBN is my preferred PBN hosting company. They just make everything so easy to use, that it is hard to go to any other service because so much is done for you that it literally takes a minute to have a domain ready to go. They are also constantly launching new features, like adding HTTPS option to all of your domains.
However EBN is not perfect. They don’t give you access to your site’s cpanel, so certain plugins can’t be installed. Also, migrating domains away from their service is a pain.
Also see: Easy Blog Networks Review
Bulk Buy Hosting: BBH is the recommended hosting for many of the hardcore PBN builders. They are purely a hosting service and don’t have many of the automated features that makes EBN my favourite choice.
It is always good to diversify your blog network and BBH is a good service to do that. Setting up blogs takes a lot more time than it does with EBN because it is not as automated, but spending a couple more minutes isn’t a big deal.
The Most Important Step: Testing
All the time and effort you put into finding good domains, setting up the domains, and hosting them would be meaningless if a PBN gives you negative results.
Testing domains are the part most PBN guides don’t mention, but it’s also the most important step to take. Google has many filters that are meant to discourage people from using PBN’s, so it’s important to understand them and make sure your domains aren’t toxic to your rankings.
This part of the guide is based on Hatred’s excellent Link-based toxicity testing article, so I want to thank him and encourage you to check out his site and services.
So how do you set up the test? Buckle up, because this is going to be a lengthy read.
Step 1: Preparing for the test
Get your domain set up for testing, by installing a basic WordPress theme and post one homepage of content. You do not need to get fancy here. Don’t waste time and money by making your site look pretty before you test it first.
Also consider adding inner pages to juice up the site even further to give your PBN the best chance at passing the test (we will talk about this later on).
Our goal is to find out if the site is toxic; not focus on the aesthetic.
Once the site is set up, I let it marinate for about 30 days even if it is an auctioned domain.
Step 2: Check the Juice!
Once your domain site is ready, you need to find out if it will pass positive link juice. We do this by sending an exact match anchor text to a test website to see if our domain has a positive or negative effect.
Since our only goal here is to see if the site will go up in rankings, we’re going to focus on finding local businesses as our target.
Why are we doing this? Local small businesses are easier to rank than affiliate or e-commerce sites. So for this step, we target niches like ‘pool cleaners in Atlanta, Georgia’, ‘pest removal service in Maine’, ‘maid cleaners in St. Cloud’, etc.
Step 3: Choosing a Niche
Once that is done, filter the results by Keyword Difficulty of less than 5.
Why less than 5? Because that means the keyword is relatively easy to rank for, so if your domain has any power at all, you should see results.
Once you do that, sort the search results by Cost Per Click. This will show you which keywords real businesses are targetting.
Finally, we select a keyword that has between 50 and 200 monthly searches. Again, we want a niche that is competitive, but not too competitive.
You also want to make sure that there will be enough competition around, which is why you want to avoid smaller niches like “internet providers” and stick to larger niches like attorneys, chiropractors and roofing.
Step 4: Pick the site
Ideally, you want to select a site with your desired keyword hovering on pages 5 – 6. You want to choose a site that has not been touched by an SEO, and does not have many links pointing to it. That’s why it’s better to choose a site that is on the 5th or 6th page, than the 2nd page.
Sometimes sites on the 2nd page can be stuck there for a variety of unknown reasons and can be hard to determine without a proper diagnosis.
For the term “roofing las cruces” we found a great target site on page 5:
Other things to look for:
- The site should not have links for the last 3 months or the so.
- The site’s anchor text should consist of mainly branded anchors i.e “Tim’s Garage” – avoid sites that already links with your target keyword.
- Sites should have the location of the city and your target keyword somewhere in Title or Meta. I.e “Tim’s Garage is your local mechanic in Greenville”
Note: Do not select sites that have pages ranking in the search results, i.e. mybusiness.com/greenville-mechanic – only select sites that are ranking for their homepage
Good target sites look like they haven’t been touched in years and the owner’s possibly forgot about them, sorry Lucas & Godfrey Roofing!
Step 5: Making The Article
Once you have your site selected, it’s time to get an article written. You can order cheap content from iWriter – order a standard 500-word article for less than $4. Just make sure it isn’t spun garbage, and your good to go.
For my articles, I like to have it somewhat related to the city and service I am ranking for, so for Tim’s Garage in Greenville, I will order an article like “Best Small Businesses in Greenville, NC”. I also try to keep the theme of the PBN in mind as well.
So if the domain used to be a restaurant, I will get an article “Local Mechanic in Greensville Votes His Favourite Resturant”.
Once the article is made, upload it to the WordPress site and format it like a regular article with Youtube videos and pictures. Also, make sure to link out to at least one authority site. In this case, I would choose a local newspaper or city website.
Step 6: The struggle of waiting
After the post is published its time to keep track of the rankings. I personally use PBN Tester Pro because it shows you when your article gets indexed into Google, and therefore when the article will start having an effect.
This is important because articles can take days or even weeks to get indexed by Google. So keeping track of indexation is important when trying to measure if a PBN passes positive or negative link juice. PBN Tester Pro also has a beautiful graph to show you the fluctuations in rankings.
But there are also free rank trackers out there such as Serplab.co.uk. It doesn’t have all the features of PBN Tester Pro, but it will get the job done if your on a budget.
PBN’s can take a long time to show their effect these days, which makes this stage boring and frustrating. PBN’s can start showing their effect as quickly as 24 hours after posting to 3 or 4 months. I usually wait at least 35 days to determine if a PBN is toxic or not.
Waiting can be painful, so if you aren’t a patient person then managing PBN’s may not for you.
But what if the test fails?
You simply have to run a retest. Try rebuilding your inner pages by recovering content from the Wayback Machine and adding 8 – 9 more pages. Hatred has found that sites with 10 or more indexed pages have an increased chance of passing positive link juice. Make sure to also include outbound links.
The next step? Just let the pages sit for 1 or 2 weeks and see if your content has been indexed.
Re-testing sites have been a game changer for me. I’ve gone from having 60% of my PBN’s passing testing, to now over 85%.
Word of caution: some network sites will always fail so if you have a test that fails twice, it’s best just to move on.
In conclusion, proper testing is the cheapest, most effective way you can build a powerful private blog network.
Juicing Up Your PBNs
To get the most out of your PBN’s it’s important to make sure every link pointing to it is put to use. Rebuilding inner pages is a cost-effective way to get the most out of your domain, without having to spend money.
To find the best inner pages, you can use a combination of Ahrefs and Wayback Machine.
Here’s how to do it:
- Use Ahrefs to uncover those juicy inner pages with lots of links
- Use Wayback Machine to get the content from those pages and put it into a post with a link to your homepage
- And if there is no content, simply make a page saying something like “Error not found” and add a link to your homepage.
Rebuilding your inner pages are pointless if the URL’s aren’t exactly the same. That’s why having the Custom Permalinks Plugin is a required for most inner page rebuilds.
How to Build a Private Blog Network That Looks Legit
The days of using free WordPress themes on PBN sites and posting garbage content have passed. It might have worked well in 2012 – 2013, but now you need to put in genuine efforts to make the network sites look and feel like true a money site. Now, it smart to have sites that look and feel good enough to pass a manual review by the Big G.
Here are a few basic things your PBN sites must have in 2019:
- A good logo that goes with your site identity
- Either a good looking free theme like GeneratePress or a premium theme.
- A proper mix of handwritten and spun content made using a premium spinner like Article Forge
- Other trust signals such as social sharing buttons, author box, featured images, etc.
The entire process of design a PBN is beyond the scope of this article, but you can read this a detailed process over at PBN Fox.
If you are just starting out with building PBN and are tight for cash, I recommend reading this guide and building the first site on your own. If you have the money, you can outsource the entire process. In the next section, I will go over my recommended PBN builders and thing you need to keep in mind.
Outsourcing PBN Design: A Buyer’s Guide
Building and designing a PBN can easily take you a few hours if done properly. So it can be well worth it to have someone else build it for you. So if you’re going to the outsource route, make sure to look for the following before buying:
- Do they revive inner pages of the domain? If yes, then how many?
- Do their sites look good enough to pass for a money site?
- How many articles do you get?
- Are the articles correctly formatted and have proper SEO optimization?
- Do their websites contain the usual money site features like Opt-in forms, Banner Ads, etc?
- Do the PBN sites have their own social profiles? If yes, then how many?
Recommended PBN Site Builders
Depending on your budget and needs, I have broken down PBN Builders into 3 sections: low-cost, moderate, and high-cost.
This PBN creation service on Konker.io has excellent user ratings and gives VERY affordable PBN creation in three days or less. As of this writing they offering builds for $15, which includes 3 unique articles. A very good deal!
Costa PBN is a renowned vendor that offers both Standard level and Premium quality PBN creation services. Currently, their standard site cost $48 per site while their premium set up is $120.
Freedom Links Premium PBN Construction
Freedom Links gives you PBN creation services for as low as $39 for 1 PBN build in niches like Tech, Real Estate, Casino, Health, or Finance. You can also customize your order and buy inner page builds, handwritten content, full homepage builds, content scheduling, etc.
Update 29 April, 2020: Freedom Links is not longer offering a PBN building service.
PBNFox is expensive but can definitely worth it if you have an expensive domain and really want to pass a manual review. Their current PBN setup service comes in three packages:
a) Basic: $99
You get: web design + 2000+ words of handwritten content + basic on page SEO + up to 5 pages of archive.org relevance optimization.
b) Advanced: $139
You get: web design + 3000+ words of handwritten content + basic on page SEO + up to 7 pages of archive.org relevance optimization + email and Skype support.
c) Professional: $199
You get: web design + 5000+ words of handwritten content + advanced on-page SEO + up to 10 pages of archive.org relevance optimization + email and Skype support.
What To Buy?
So, which service should you choose? Well, it depends on what you need and what you can afford. The service on Konker is good for lower quality scrapped domains that you don’t want to spend a lot of money on.
But if you purchased a $1000 domain, then spending $200 to make it look like a money site can be worth the investment.
And that’s a wrap for now! I hope you enjoyed reading this guide and didn’t mind my curb your enthusiasm gifs. Maybe you even learned something that will help you decide if building PBN’s are right for you!
If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comment section below.