About 5 years ago I bought into the whole private blog network thing, otherwise known as a “PBN”
I guess at the time, I made the mistake of thinking “Well everyone else is doing it, so I guess I should too”.
I spent about a year dicking around buying up sites, expired domains, sorting out hosting and in the process I wasted a lot of time and money. I remember circle jerking with other SEO colleagues about how life was going to be wonderful once I had my own private blog network and how I was going to “dominate Google”. That never happened, and in the end I ditched the whole thing, eventually realising that it was nothing more than a total waste of time.
I’ll share my thoughts more on that in a moment, but for now, I want to touch on a few things about private blog networks, what they are, why people use them and also look at a few pros and cons.
What the fuck is a private blog network?
So for those that don’t know or aren’t up to speed with a lot of this SEO jargon, a private blog network, or “PBN” is essentially a collection of websites owned or controlled by a certain individual or company, built out for the sole purpose of hosting links. In other words, its a shit load of sites, usually full of crappy content that are used specifically for backlinking.
A private blog network can be an effective strategy (when done right) as it’s essentially based upon the core foundation of how Google ranks websites – via links.
Whilst that might seem relatively straight forward, there are some catches.
Let’s look at some of the upsides and downsides to using a PBN.
Advantages of using a private blog network
The advantages of using a private blog network are numerous, here’s just a few.
Getting quality links is hard
Notice I said “quality” there?
Sure, getting shit links is a piece of cake, but who wants that crap? Crap links aren’t going to help you at all. Everybody knows that.
So how do you get good quality links? You either put out a shit load of high quality content and earn those links, or you spend hours and hours performing outreach – OR BOTH.
The problem with that is that it means doing work, and most people are lazy. They’re constantly looking for shortcuts, and if there’s a shortcut, most people will take it. That shortcut is of course a PBN.
Advantage – it makes getting links easier.
Link building takes a lot of time
For anyone that’s ever spent time trying to get links, you’ll already know that it can be incredibly time consuming. Performing outreach, reverse engineering, asking for links….it goes on and on. You can waste an entire day just fucking around with your head buried in a spreadsheet or sending emails and getting nothing else done.
In addition to that, if it’s a large scale digital marketing agency, there’s no time to be fucking around chasing links. It’s a process that needs to happen quickly, otherwise it’s too time intensive and becomes unprofitable.
Advantage – it saves a lot of time.
Unlike natural links, where you have no say over how those links might appear (anchor text and so forth) having your own PBN gives you total control. Control over the how many links are built, the anchor text used, anchor text ratios and of course placement (sites with high DA etc)
Having control is a good thing because if Google decides to move the goal posts, you can quickly jump in and go about changing literally hundreds of backlinks instantly – without having to contact site owners or spend time fucking around with disavows. A sizeable PBN can also act as a great test bed to perform research into what works and what doesn’t.
Advantage – you can change your link profile quickly, at any given time.
Let’s now have a look at some of the disadvantages.
Disadvantages of using a private blog network
Now before you go running off to Sedo to buy up a shit load of expired domains, hear me out.
Building, running and operating a PBN isn’t easy, especially if you intend on building a big one. It also comes with it’s own set of problems and of course, risk.
Most private blog networks aren’t fucking private
It’s a bit ironic isn’t it?
They’re called “private blog networks”, but they’re advertised everywhere. “Buy our PBN links. Safe, guaranteed rankings, DA this, PR that. Just $25”.
The only true private blog networks are the ones you never hear about. They’re run and operated by that weird guy you see at the local library occasionally picking his nose on the public access computers. Not the one you found on the first page of Google where you paid $80 for 3 links with high fucking DA.
If you’re buying links or using a service built around a private blog network where anyone has access, then its not fucking private.
And guess what?
If you have access, then it’s likely that half the web spam team at Google do, too.
Disadvantage – most aren’t private at all which means they’re wide open
There’s risk involved
You might feel clever boasting on some forum about how you built a private blog network and hit the first page of Google for “fluffy bunnies” in one weekend, or how you’re selling a “PBN course on Udemy for $11”, but that shit’s going to come crashing down around you eventually, just like every other loophole that Google closes.
You’re going to find yourself over at Reddit, whinging about how Google is evil and how life isn’t fair.
Disadvantage – your hair will fall out because you’re constantly worrying about shit
You can get slammed at any minute
This might sound a bit dramatic, but all it takes is for someone to reverse engineer your network, (including Google) and it’s game over. All that time, money and effort is gone. Everything.
And not only that, any sites interlinked with that network are gone too.
I recall a few years ago I managed to reverse engineer a huge private blog network where the owner had stupidly added the same Google Analytics tracking code across every single site. I detected 80 odd sites within 10 minutes. What made it worse is that I knew this particular person was selling links and promoting it as “high quality SEO”.
Disadvantage – you can lose everything, and there’s nothing you can do about it
Why I decided to ditch my own private blog network
Having said all of that, I want to share my thoughts on private blog networks and why I ditched mine. I’m also going to share with you what I do now, which I’ve found to be much much easier, cheaper and a lot less stressful.
I realised I didn’t need one
Look, I get it. I understand that if you’re running a massive SEO agency, then performing manual outreach etc in an effort to get links, just isn’t viable. Especially if you have hundreds and hundreds of clients. In that case, a private blog network is probably more of a necessity than anything. But if you’re running a small operation, or if you’re a freelance SEO, you shouldn’t need a PBN at all.
I soon realised that I didn’t need to build out a private blog network, and it wasn’t until I was up to my armpits in alligators doing it that I stopped and thought, “This is ridiculous, there’s got to be an easier way” – and there was.
It was a fucking hassle
Building out and running a private blog network is a total pain in the ass.
I think I got up to about 28 sites before I thought to myself “This sucks balls”. It might seem easy enough – just buy a few expired domains with some authority, build out a few sites, slap up some shitty content and hey presto – PBN.
But it’s not that easy. It takes time, effort and work.
Here’s just a few things that I found myself wasting countless hours on –
- Monitoring expired domains
- Buying domains
- Building out sites
- Maintaining the sites
- Checking SEO metrics
- Creating and uploading content
- Organising hosting, paying for hosting
- Digging through stupid spreadsheets
- and on and on…..
In the end I realised that it was just fucking noise and I didn’t need it.
It was a waste of my time
The amount of time and effort it takes to buy domains, build sites, organise hosting, update sites, add and publish content all adds up. Towards the end, just before I ditched everything I was spending about 90% of my time fucking around with stupid shit. Ironically it ended up being more time consuming than traditional link building and outreach.
It bored me to tears
I don’t know, perhaps its just me, but I never enjoyed building out crappy sites full of rubbish content just for the sake of getting links. It was dull, boring and time consuming and it shit me to tears.
I had stupid costs
I was told to “just use SEO hosting” so I could have all my sites on one server. That way I could save money by having one host, instead of several.
But having a background in IT, I knew that shit was surely trackable. Okay okay, we could argue over various IP classes and all that other nonsense but whatever. I wasn’t interested in spending all that time money and effort only to have my sites slammed by Google. So I split my hosting up all over the place and in the end I was spending a small fortune on hosting.
I got sick of worrying
Every morning I would wake up wondering if my sites had been slammed. I would literally check each site every few days to make sure they were still indexed, and that I hadn’t been hit with some sort of penalty.
A better way
What I do now couldn’t be easier.
I hired a virtual assistant, gave him a list of industries in a notepad file, a blank spreadsheet and said “Here, use these search query operators and go out there and find me as many sites as possible that accept guest posts.”
I paid him a measly $10 an hour to do that, and compile a spreadsheet of what now consists of more than 2,000 sites, split up into dedicated categories, such as travel, sport, food, automotive, health etc of sites that accept guest contributions.
In other words, I’m no longer fucking around trying to build fake sites that look real, but instead, I’m just using real fucking sites.
So now, when it comes to getting links quickly, I refer to my spreadsheet, I pick out several sites, I have content created, I pass it over to my virtual assistant, who then handles all the interaction with the site owner and it gets done, while I’m enjoying a caramel latte down at the local cafe.
No fucking around with websites, no mucking around buying domains or worrying about “getting caught”.
It works, I get great links, and it all happens seamlessly without any fuss.
Private blog networks can and do work. I’m not going to sit here and say they don’t. There have been plenty of case studies that show how PBN’s can work, and they do. At the end of the day, I’m not saying that no one should be using private blog networks. Do whatever the fuck you want. I couldn’t care less. One thing I do know however, is that PBN’s aren’t for me.
Let me know what you think by posting a comment below and we can start an argument on the internet.