Private Blog Networks: How they work and how they can get you penalized
If you've looked into affordable ways of boosting your website's ranking, you've probably come across Private Blog Networks (PBNs).
PBNs work by linking to other websites to improve their visibility in organic search results. However, building links on private blog networks is a risky business because Google might hit you with a manual penalty or worse - send your rankings plummeting.
Here, we've shared all the important stuff you should know about Private Blog Networks, including what they are, how to identify them, how they work, and their benefits and setbacks.
- A private blog network is a website that's made specifically for the purpose of linking to other websites in order to improve their page rankings.
- You can pay to place links on PBNs. An average link costs $20 to $100, depending on the website niche and domain authority.
- Building PBN links is a quick and easy way to boost your traffic, but it comes with significant risks. We recommend hiring a reputable link builder to manually build links instead.
What is a Private Blog Network?
A Private Blog Network, or PBN for short, is a website or a group of websites designed purposefully to house links to other websites.
PBNs exist to offer an easy way for website owners to boost their rankings with link building. They're typically owned by SEO experts who have built the websites from scratch or bought old, authoritative domains.
The process of building links on Private Blog Networks usually goes like this:
- The website owner contacts a link builder and pays for an agreed-upon number of links.
- The link builder reaches out to their contacts in various PBNs and arranges for the links to be placed on suitable websites.
- The link builder arranges for guest post content to be produced, which the link can be placed on.
- The guest post, featuring the link to the website, is published on the PBN.
The link builder may arrange for your link to be placed on a series of websites all within the same Private Blog Network, which makes sense from a practical perspective (because all the websites in the PBN are often owned or managed by the same person) and from an SEO perspective (because the different websites often have related niches).
The links on PBNs are considered unnatural links because they're deliberately placed with the sole purpose of improving a website's ranking. Since Google's main goal is to provide value to its users, it penalizes links that are built for SEO purposes and not for providing value.
We've discussed Google's stance on PBNs in the "pros and cons" section of this guide.
How do you identify a Private Blog Network?
Wondering how you could identify a website that's part of a Private Blog Network if you stumbled across one of these websites on Google?
Some of the defining factors of a website within a Private Blog Network are:
- High DA score - Most PBN websites have high DA scores, which is great for your SEO because Google wants to see links from authoritative sources to your website.
- Quality content within a specific niche - The content on PBN websites is quality and user-focused. The articles should be keyword researched and demonstrate effective keyword use.
- Other SEO tactics - A website within a PBN will typically also use other SEO tactics that Google wants to see, including structured markup, titles and meta data, and quality inbound links.
So, you can see that PBN websites are actually disguised to fit in with other high-quality blogs and websites that you'll see online today. You probably won't be able to tell from a quick glance that you're definitely looking at a Private Blog Network.
However, if you dig a bit deeper and look at the actual blog content, this might give you the information you need. Check to see which websites the blog is linking to. If almost every post links to a different website within a specific niche, there's a good chance that the blog is part of a PBN.
Private Blog Networks vs link farms
Some SEO experts refer to Private Blog Networks as an act of link farming, while others say there is a subtle difference between the two.
From our own research, we've found that link farms are poorer quality and often have lower DA scores and a more random selection of content compared to PBNs.
While a PBN typically has high DA and shares high-quality, valuable content within a specific niche, a link farm is less selective with the content it posts and often jumps between numerous topics, providing low value to the reader.
What makes PBNs and link farms similar, however, is that they both exist predominantly to help other websites cheat their way to ranking higher on Google.
Pros and cons of Private Blog Networks
You have full control over link building
The biggest advantage of using PBNs as a link building tactic is that you have full control over this aspect of your SEO strategy.
The completely natural alternative to using PBNs is simply to sit around and wait to start earning links (when other websites find your content and link to it because it adds value to their own content).
This is possible, of course, but it takes months, or even years, before your content starts dominating the SERPs to the point where you become authoritative enough for others to want to link to you. And you might never see much success with earning links if your website content simply isn't unique or valuable enough.
Alternatively, placing links on PBNs is something that anyone with a relatively small budget can do, so you have complete control over how quickly you build links, and which web pages or websites you want to boost.
Many PBN owners will also let you choose the link anchor text and, often, the article content within which the link is placed - so you have control over the context of the link placement and the way that it is presented.
It's quick and easy
There are so many jobs, big and small, involved in website SEO. And most of these can't be neglected if you want to rank higher and compete with similar websites in your niche.
Manual link building is incredibly time-consuming. Buying PBN links, on the other hand, is quick and easy: just pay for your links and let your link builder handle the rest.
The results are fast, too. You can get links to your "money site" placed on PBNs within a matter of days, and, if all goes well, you should see your rankings improve within a few weeks to a few months.
It's relatively cheap
If you're looking for a low-cost method of boosting your organic ranking, building links on PBNs is a good solution.
As we mentioned earlier, a PBN link costs $20 to $100 on average. So, building 10 links per month could cost you as little as $200. This is much cheaper than the cost of the higher-quality manual link-building efforts, which can set you back $1,000+ per link.
It's easy to see why PBN links are so appealing for new websites or any site owners who just want to keep costs low.
May incur a Google penalty
The biggest setback of using placing a link on a PBN is that it puts you at risk of receiving an "unnatural link" manual action in Google Search Console.
PBN links aren't quite considered a black hat SEO technique, but they're still against Google's guidelines because they manipulate the algorithm into ranking a website by kidding it into thinking that the website has value.
If Google finds out that you, the site owner, have paid for PBN links, you might be penalized with a manual action - and in the worst-case scenario, your ranking may plummet as a result.
If you've put so much hard work and effort into reaching your current position on the SERPs, you don't want to lose your (admittedly unfair) advantage over your competitors a result of using PBN links.
What to do if you think your website contains PBN links
Think you might have links pointing to your domain that come from Private Blog Networks?
Don't panic - you're not in trouble and there's no guarantee that Google will ever discover that these links are from PBNs, especially if there are only a couple.
However, if you've received a manual action from Google for unnatural links, you can get rid of the link using the Disavow tool. Keep in mind that this tool will harm your SEO, so use it with extreme caution.
If you strongly suspect - or know - that your website contains PBN links and you want to protect it from Google penalties in the future, and you're okay with the fact that your traffic might drop in the short term as a result, the disavow tool is the easiest way to tell Google to ignore these links.
In our opinion, buying PBN links just isn't worth the risk.
Google's algorithm continues to become more intelligent, and it's likely that sites with a lot of links coming from PBN websites will soon be penalized for their deception - even if they didn't know their link builder was using PBN websites.
That's why it's important to find out exactly how your chosen link building agency builds its links. Avoid SEOs who offer cheap, questionable services and choose a reputable link building agency that offers 100% manual non-spammy backlinking, including blogger outreach, HARO, and skyscraper posts.