How To Adapt To The Future Of PBN’s

Private blog networks are now getting more publicity than ever.

pbn-news

It reminds me of penguin 2.0, when link building was pronounced dead.

Once again, pure whitehats are diving in for their 2 minutes of happiness while they laugh at PBN owners for getting a small percentage of their PBN sites de-indexed.. before they retreat back to complaining about why these so-called blackhats are outranking them repeatedly.

I’ve got nothing against any type of SEO. I follow the motto that gets results – do what works.

And what works is private blog networks.

Google themselves know it because they are trying to scare people out of building them. They haven’t coded a fancy algorithm to stop people doing it. Just like they hadn’t coded an algorithm to stop link building with the penguin updates. Instead they have tried to make an example out of them, to scare people away from it.

Fortunately for us, there are a few benefits of people quitting:

  • Less competition for rankings
  • Less demand for domains [therefore lower cost]
  • and less reason for Google to target them

SEO is a game of “evolve or die”. And I fucking love it.

So with that said, let’s get into the stuff everyone actually cares about.

How to evolve to the new times

We have been talking about the importance of great looking websites for a while, we went through the PBN Padding Guide earlier this month, and the training on PBN Site Structuring more recently.

While I believe this wave of de-indexing has finished now, you still want to future proof your sites in case this happens again.

To do this, there are 6 more factors you need to be aware of…

1. Site Theming

Batman-themed-room
Theming IRL, source

This wasn’t some algorithmic penalty, it was manually applied (although I believe they used footprinting to build a list to manually review). This is great news for us, it means Google cannot currently algorithmically stop PBN’s. So you should put extra care into making your sites look good.

A starting point for that is with site theming. Many people starting out ask whether to re-theme a domain or not. This is where you take a domain that was previously about one topic, then change it to be about another.

Site theming is a perfectly normal thing to do, and didn’t seem to be a target in the latest de-indexing wave (based on my findings and what I’ve read on other blogs).

Domains are re-registered all of the time, and tons of brands have random names… maybe LionZeal.com used to be a blog about Lions.

So lets cover a few ways of theming a PBN site…

Standard Blog

This is what most people do.

It is where you register a domain that used to be about one topic, then change it to a topic more relevant to your money sites.

If you are willing to put a little extra work in, you can step this up a level.

Take for example, you register the domain ‘thecatowner.com’. It used to be about cats, but you need a blog relevant to travel.

Easy. For maximum relevance for the domain and your money site/client, you could create a blog about travelling with a cat.

You can also keep the links relevant. If you were linking to a hotel client, write an article about finding a cat friendly hotel.

Let’s cover a few more examples of this…

  • LaFerrari.com – used to be news on Ferrari’s, you need it on internet marketing. Make it a blog about doing internet marketing and your goal to own a Ferrari
  • WooDesign.com – used to be a web design agency, you need it on home and garden. Make it a blog by a home design fanatic
  • TheDarkSide.com – used to be a Star Wars fan site, you need it on health and fitness. Make it a blog about the dark side of the health and fitness industry
  • LaptopBagsNow.com – used to be a site selling laptop bags, you need it on style and fashion. Make it a blog on style and fashion that used to be just a laptop bag style review site, explain this in the about page. You could even “sticky” a post on ‘Laptop Bag Styles for Women’ and another ‘Laptop Bag Styles for Men’.
  • SocksAndUnderwear.com – used to sell socks and underwear, you need it on entertainment. Make it a blog on keeping entertained in your socks and underwear aka at home on your own via the internet, TV, etc.

Some times this is really hard to do. In which case, you can use these last resorts:

  • “I am a really big fan of XYZ and wanted to name my blog after it”
  • “I just had this domain lying around from an old XYZ site, and decided to use it for this blog”

Personal names are the absolute easiest to deal with. You can make them an internet marketer, nomad, writer, home designer, car enthusiast, or anything else.

This is the most common way of theming a site. The downside is it’s niche locked, so you can’t link to a money site in a separate niche.

There are a few different strategies you can use to overcome this. The first one we’ll cover, is brought to you by Lion Zeal Mastermind member, Johnny Walters:

Cityscaping

Written by Johnny Walters

city-website

Cityscaping: A word I made up that defines the act of building a website around a real city with semi-fictional content.

One of my favorite PBN sites to build out is one where I can use cityscaping to generate all of my padding. This type of technique lends itself to a generic-themed blog that can have tons of outbound links without looking fishy. It takes much less effort than trying to think of content, what menu links you’ll create, and how you will add outbound links to your money site(s). Best of all, it’s pretty much completely kosher. You’re probably wondering WTF I’m talking about so let’s jump right in to an example.

Say you are setting up a PBN and come across the domain “springfieldmoms.com”. You’re thinking, “that’s stupid, I don’t even have anything going on in springfield, that’ll look fishy on a manual review”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sites like these are truly dynamic. There are over 30 cities named “Springfield” in the US. Pick one that suites your purpose and go check out the official city’s website. Perhaps you are targeting something in Massachusetts. In that case, head over to http://www3.springfield-ma.gov/cos/ and get all your content. Your menu and pages might look something like this:

  • Home
  • About (About Springfield Moms, mission statement whatever)
  • Club Officers (Fake names and roles in the club, great place to put some photos)
  • Springfield News (Page that just pulls in the actual city’s news feed)
  • Event Calendar (Embed the actual city’s event calendar)
  • Contact (contact form + small blurb)

Use some other navigation bar padding tips and you have just created yourself an authentic looking menu. Your newly created pages required little thought and appear legitimate.

Now let’s talk about your home page…

You can literally put multiple niche outbound links on this page! Say whaaaaaaaaaaat???

You can even mix and match niches. This is perfect for swapping links with other PBN owners, linking out to multiple client’s sites, linking to your own money sites, and/or all three.

But how can this be? Won’t this set off red flags? Won’t it look spammy? Well it sure will if all your home page consists of is 300-500 word articles with keyword rich links. That’s why we mix it up a little. He’s an example format of your first 8 posts:

  1. Blog introduction
  2. City event from the official calendar (Festival, Farmer’s Market, etc)
  3. Featured Business of the Month – If your niche is weight loss your featured business of the month might be “Lake View Fitness Center”. The Article could be “5 tips on losing that holiday weight” with your link strategically placed in there.
  4. Fun facts about the city (wikipedia link)
  5. City Event from the official calendar (Festival, Farmers Market, whatever)
  6. Youtube video from that city
  7. Featured Business of the Month (Repeat formula from the last one)
  8. Pictures from the last city event.and so on…

Assuming you already have an article written for your money-site links, those 8 posts could be created in under 10 minutes. I wouldn’t put them up all at once, but you can save each as a draft and publish as appropriate.

This is by no means a definitive guide but I do hope you now see the value in cityscaping.

Niche Matching

Another way of linking to multiple niches is through niche matching. This is where you keep the original niche of your expired domain and find a way to match the niche of your money site, to the niche of your PBN site.

(Credit to NoHatDigital for this idea, they call it link injection but that name sounds blackhat/hacking)

Say you have 5 domains, that were previously used as a:

  1. Personal weight loss journal site
  2. Web designers blog
  3. Legal advice
  4. Financial blog
  5. Construction related site

And your money site is a weight loss affiliate site. You can create an article that is relevant to both topics on all the sites above, like this:

  1. Anything related to weight loss since the site is relevant
  2. Designing a weight loss site or Conveying emotion in web design
  3. Be careful when offering weight loss advice
  4. How to not break the bank when trying to eat more healthy and get in shape
  5. Turn any room into a home gym without spending a fortune

This is matching the niches. Try and find some type of commonality between the two niches and write an article about that.

That is all there is to it. I personally come up with the article titles myself, then have a VA write them. You can try letting them come up with the article ideas themselves, but they were often really bad for me.

2. Domain Sources

Stop purchasing domains from public websites that are either well known or specifically sell expiring/expired domains.

By public, this means websites that are publicly showcasing their inventory, for example:

public-lists

I blurred the domains out of respect for someone purchasing them later, but they will basically always be public with caching services.

Not sure if this was specifically targeted recently, I don’t buy domains from public sources anymore, but it is a logical thing to avoid doing because of how easy it is for anyone to find these domains.

Instead you should focus on building relationships with brokers that can find them through other strategies i.e. scraping.

To find brokers, join masterminds, network with other SEO’s, and just ask around. It’s not difficult to find someone to sell to you.

3. Block bots or not?

There is a lot of talk of bot blockers potentially being a reason for sites being de-indexed.

I don’t believe that would be the sole reason, but it could be an element.

The first thing to make sure is that you are not blocking by robots.txt.

You can check this by visiting yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.

Anyone can open up your robots.txt file and see you are doing it. Granted there are legit reasons for people to block bots, many legit sites do it, but it’s still a footprint on a large scale i.e. across your entire network.

Instead you want to do it on a htaccess level, or you can even do it with PHP.

Now if Google wanted to, they could still check this. All they would have to do is impersonate the user agent of another bot. I wouldn’t put it past them.

This would only be an indicator after checking other footprints, I doubt they impersonate bots and crawl the entire web to find sites that don’t work.

If you are purely targeting local or other non-competitive keywords (aka little SEO competition), you may even want to allow bots.

For affiliate SEO’s competing on things like ClickBank products – that isn’t an option for you.

Remember Google can see your PBNs, they can see every site that links to your money sites. The idea of a PBN is hiding in plain sight.

All bot blockers do is stop competitors finding your network and potentially reporting it. If you implement clustering also, you’ll reduce your risk of losing too many sites to reporting or inspection at once (covered later in this article).

4. Avoid Toxic Hosts

Very little to add here to what we have already covered in the hosting guide.

I just want to clarify that you should try to lean more towards well known shared hosts, rather than cheap ones.

Some very cheap hosts are 80%+ PBN sites. I class these as toxic hosts.

The great thing about shared hosting is hiding in the numbers, if over 80% of the other sites are other PBN sites, you are not doing this.

5. Hide your whois

Use whois protection, purchase domains from separate providers, don’t use the same email address for all domains, etc.

Due to the legalities of this, I don’t want to discuss this in any more detail here. Ask about it in the mastermind group if you are interested.

6. Network Clustering

I believe network clustering is going to become increasingly important, purely for security purposes.

Fortunately the recent de-indexing did not seem to impact money sites at all, but for future proofing, you want to protect yourself.

Here is an extremely professional diagram showing what it looks like without using clusters at all:

no-clusters

You can see that the mixed network just links out to every money site. Not every PBN site will link to every money site, but there will be a linking footprint throughout the network. Example here:

pbn-linking-footprint

PBNS stands for “Private Blog Network Site”.

If Google found out about the Weight Loss Site, or PBNS1, the entire network could be infiltrated. Like so:

pbn-link-footprinting

Here is a quick example of clustering. Usually people do it around niches their PBN sites are in. This allows you to get niche relevant backlinks, but there is a flaw..

multi-linked-clusters

Once again, the risk here is that if a single money site or PBN site is infiltrated, they may be able to pull apart your whole network.

Instead you should ensure that no money site has links from more than a single cluster. For example:

pbn-clusters

Using the example above, if you had 25 sites per cluster. If the weight loss site received a full backlink manual review, the worst case scenario is you lose the health cluster – not the others. Same if the health cluster sites were manually reviewed, you could only lose sites part of that cluster.

You can link to as many sites as you like in a single cluster, and you can have as many PBN sites in a single cluster as you like, but this gives you a security pre-caution of not potentially losing your entire network at once.

Do not worry about this if you have a tiny network. You can just leave all your domains so far in a single cluster, then build separate ones later.

There is no set size for a cluster. If 25 sites will rank you, then use 25, if the sites will all need 50, then use 50. You will have to measure this for the sites you plan on ranking with a single cluster.

Also a cluster does not need to be niche relevant, that’s just convenient. You can mix this in with any of the site theming methods covered above.

So, are PBNs dead?

No.

The de-indexing was aimed at doing little more than scaring us away from this strategy.

What do you think? Still growing your networks, or moving towards other strategies?

Let me know in the comments, and make sure to say whether you like this content or not so I know whether to do more similar stuff in the future.

Daryl

About Daryl Rosser

Daryl runs a six figure SEO business primarily focusing on local clients. He's extremely analytical, and his favourite ranking strategy is using PBN's.

42 Responses to “How To Adapt To The Future Of PBN’s”

  • Tibor  September 29, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Very good stuff Daryl especially about network clustering as you call it. Like always, we cannot put all eggs to the same basket. That’s why I often create completely separate PBN for every money site.

    • Daryl Rosser  September 29, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks Tibor! Network clustering is really cool, I think it’ll become increasingly important. It makes sense for some sites to create a complete separate PBN, keeps it unique from all of your other projects. It’s expensive initially, but if the site makes good money it’s worthwhile.

  • Adam  September 29, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Hey Daryl,

    Thanks for documenting in detail here. it give me better idea now!

    • Daryl Rosser  September 29, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Glad to hear that Adam 🙂

  • Ara  September 29, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Hey Daryl,

    Thanks for this one. Will use the “single cluster” for different niches. Had not thought about network clustering. Thanks man.

    • Daryl Rosser  September 29, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      Awesome, Ara. Should keep your network a bit safer!

  • Danny Causer  September 30, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Loving the work your putting in, long term customer value all the way 😉 Another great article that I’m sure myself and others will put to great use! Looking forward to the next one.

    • Daryl Rosser  September 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Cheers Danny. More cool content coming soon 🙂

  • Rick  October 15, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    brilliant blog post. Love the clustering idea.. What would you class as a small pbn and at what point would you start clustering?

    • Rick  October 15, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Also how do you manage your pbns as my spreadsheet method is even becoming too much.

      • Daryl Rosser  October 16, 2014 at 2:24 am

        I also use spreadsheets but find it relatively easy to manage. Take a look at my systems/management tools here: http://lionzeal.com/pbn-systems/

    • Daryl Rosser  October 16, 2014 at 2:22 am

      Depends how competitive the niche is you are ranking in. If you need 50 PBN sites to rank for a keyword, then your cluster will need to be 50. For local stuff this usually means max 15-20 should work great.

  • Jesse Stafford  January 23, 2015 at 2:20 am

    Daryl,

    First, it’s obvious you work with the public as you are well spoken, speak in simple terms and use punctuation. Unlike so many bloggers in the SEO world. 🙂

    Thanks for this simple write up. While many will see it as over simplified, these simple concepts are critical for newer SEOs and those new to IM.

    Thanks for the write up!

    • Daryl Rosser  January 23, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for your feedback Jesse!

  • Jay  June 28, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for the great article, I am pretty new to SEO and just had a question. So is doing PBNs considered to be blackhat? If so, is that wrong to do, whats your take? I appreciate it.

    Thanks,

    Jay

    • Daryl Rosser  June 28, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Jay, glad you like the article.

      Many people have a difference of opinion when it comes to whether or not it is black hat. There are three hats, derived from hacker terms, white, grey, and black.

      White hat is where you follow the rules.
      Grey hat is where you break the rules.
      Black hat is where you break the rules by doing something illegal i.e. hacking.

      I don’t associate myself with black hat, since the above description is my belief of what that is.

      Building a PBN is a grey hat strategy. And it works. That’s all I can say on it. Your ethics are your decision. But I’m happy to do it, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and it gets myself and my clients results.

  • Mike  July 3, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Brilliant stuff (as always) Daryl , quote of the day (year): “evolve or die”

    • Daryl Rosser  July 10, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Thanks Mike!

  • Benny  July 13, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Hello, greeting from surabaya. Thank you for enlightening article, i have just read about using cloudflare, Incapsula and clustering pbn. This stuff all new to me, thanks to you and lionzeal , i could minimize failure at this business. Thanks again.

    • Daryl Rosser  July 14, 2015 at 8:49 am

      Hey Benny, glad you’re learning a lot from the blog!

  • Ray  September 3, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Daryl, You said that your offer your clients exclusive networks so how do you diversify your link profile?

    • Daryl Rosser  September 4, 2015 at 7:18 am

      I do both usually. Small exclusive network, and also ones from my shared network. But even if I only offered them an exclusive one, I don’t really get what you mean?

      I still do other types of links. Social profiles, web 2.0s, press releases, etc.

  • James Jansen  October 29, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Daryl, Awesome article man! I’m a brand new SEO dude, who just picked up learning about SEO and making money doing it about 2 weeks ago. Your blog is added to my bookmarks as I’ve learned almost everything up to this point from you. Thank you for that. I just bought 4 expired domains from someone in an SEO group on FB and am building my PBN now. I knew Google doesn’t like PBN’;s and am trying to make my first PBN as clean as possible so I dont get de-indexed. Thank you so much man. This shit was incredibly helpful!

    • Daryl Rosser  November 9, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Awesome, glad to hear James!

  • Tony Grant  May 21, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Hey Darren, great stuff, well presented as always. What’s your take on letting a site settle after repurposing or rebuilding before dropping links on it?

    • Daryl Rosser  May 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      I honestly can’t say because I haven’t tested it. I’ve done this before, but mostly it’s because I’m pretty messy with organising everything and have a lot going on. But usually I just build links straight away without problems.

  • Tony Grant  May 21, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Whoops, sorry I meant Daryl lol

  • Jim Coffey II  August 24, 2016 at 12:46 am

    Hey Daryl,

    Great Article. I’m fairly new to SEO also and I’m investigating PBN’s. Basically what I’m learning across the board is that if we set up our PBN’s to convey some real value to the masses then it will be kind of hard for Google or anyone to justify calling us out on a site that has real value. I understand that its easy to short cut and throw some basic info up and just link out but in my opinion it insulates us from even having to worry about being called out on it if we provide value. Just my take on it. Loved the article. I’m a subscriber now. I look forward to learning more.

    • Daryl Rosser  August 25, 2016 at 3:32 am

      Yessir 🙂 Glad to hear.

  • Nicholas  August 30, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Hey Daryl,

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

    I have just 2 questions for you –

    1. Generally how many times do you think it’s safe to link to your money site per blog? Especially if I’m constantly updating the blog with fresh and relevant content.

    2. It is possible/safe to interlink my blogs with one another, to power each other up?

    Thanks again!

    Best regards,
    Nicholas

    • Daryl Rosser  September 1, 2016 at 10:46 am

      1. I’d only do once

      2. No

      Re-read the intro to see why you absolutely should not link the blogs together.

  • Londya  September 30, 2016 at 2:24 am

    Hi Daryl,

    I’m new to this whole SEO thing. I have been researching it, so that I can start an online seo business. I recently signed up with a program that teaches this tactic and after learning it was grey hat, I got a little nervous that I had been duped into paying for a course that would not create long term success for myself or my clients. I also read a blog about white hat seo and how it is doable and “the better option for long term success in your business.” I feel a bit hesitant to use this method but one can’t deny that it obviously works and I’m at a point in which I need to make some money now, so I have decided that I will go ahead and use it. My main concern is, if I am found out by Google, I am not the only who will suffer from the consequences, my clients would also…So my question to you is if this were to happen to you or your clients, how would you fix the problem? Would the problem even be fixable? Do you tell your clients upfront that you use grey hat tactics? What is usually the response and how do you still get them to buy??

    Another reason I’m worried about this is, my other passion is singing and I was most definitely going to apply this tactic to my artist website and music industry blog I was going to put together, and now I’m not even sure if I wanna risk it…Please let me know your answer and tell me what you would do. I know these are a lot of questions, so thanks in advance!

    • Daryl Rosser  October 3, 2016 at 4:13 am

      When you’re doing something Google don’t want you to do, there is inherent risk. It’s possible to get a manual penalty if you mess up really badly, although very unlikely. Algorithm penalties are the more likely type of penalty, though they could occur just as easily with “white hat” SEO – and should only really happen if you mess up.

      I’ve never had a client penalised before. It just hasn’t happened. If it did, I’d fix it. I personally won’t sit and explain what white/grey/black hat SEO means, the differences between them, and all that stuff. I just show them exactly what I’ll do for them, and why it works. If they ask, I’ll tell them, but I personally see very little risk in these methods (when done correctly), so I’m not going to scare them away from it.

  • Lori  November 22, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Hey Daryl, great stuff you are showing us all.
    By clustering the pbn under one host are you suggesting having your money site with 25 pbn with the same ip address linking to them? Would that not be too obvious, or do you think that this is not enough of a footprint for google to check, as long as you say use GoDaddy or similar (one of the big guys with 4000+ websites on one ip)?
    Thanks!

    • Daryl Rosser  November 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      Think there was a misunderstanding about what I meant with clustering. By clustering it would mean every single PBN site linking to your money site is on a completely different host, therefore IP. The reason you can use the same hosting is because you’ll have multiple money sites, so essentially unique networks that never link to the same money sites.

      Thanks for commenting, hope that helps.

      • Lori  November 24, 2016 at 6:17 pm

        Fantastic thought i was going nuts there. I always thought it was a bad sign to have 2 or more sites with same ip linking to your site.
        So just to clear up, when you have this kind of setup with a large host like godaddy/hostgator it would be practically impossible to close down other PBNS’s if one of your PBNS’s is compromised. If there are 4000 websites on that same IP they would have to basically blacklist the whole lump (“good” sites included).
        On the other hand using a cheaper lesser known host it might be easier to check for google just by checking the % of “bad” sites and then decide to blacklist the whole bunch.
        By the way compliments on the great info on your website, really cleared up a lot for me!

  • Terell  February 21, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Hey Daryl,

    Quick question. How long are you seeing it take for backlinks to kick in?

    • Daryl Rosser  February 25, 2017 at 5:08 am

      Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, usually a few days

  • Nick  April 4, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Hello Daryl.
    In theory, this looks good (testing pbn). But in practice it is not so easy to test the PBN. For example my niche.

    Site № 1 – 25, 26, 28, 30, 32
    Site № 2 – 24, 29, 28, 31, 36
    Site № 3 – 22, 26, 23, 31, 33

    Sites very much shakes (even without links), if I put 1 anchor link, it will not give rise to 5-10 + positions, which means that I will not be able to estimate the real impact of the link. Because these requests and without references very much shakes.

    The question is how you can track a positive result, if the position is not permanent. Thank you.

  • Richard Jenkins  April 10, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    Love the content, Daryl. The network clustering was especially helpful–I would have never thought of doing it that way, but it makes so much sense! Thank you! 🙂

  • Vince  September 14, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Hi Darly,

    I have a couple sets of questions:

    1. Let’s assume I have a client, and I use my PBN to rank their website. That client for whatever reason, stops using my services. Can I simply change the links to rank my new client (assuming it’s the same niche) and keep the rest of the content unchanged? Will this cause any unforeseen consequences? Would the link juice just spread to the new client?

    2. Can you provide a link if you’ve already covered this or explain it if you haven’t, but how do some websites have 80,000+ backlinks and how is that not causing them to be penalized? How would you even go about creating that many backlinks? Is it a bad idea to do this? Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated. One of the sites I’m planning on outranking has 88,000 backlinks and it’s not even a subject that would have that level of traffic.

  • Tario  September 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Hey Daryl, i recently found you and your content, absolutely amazing stuff!! pretty much went through every single post, article, video, podcast you made, even your scientific rankings. just wanted to say thank you for putting out so much “juice”..they benefit my knowledge base tremendously..

    so my quick question is:
    if i have 2-3 money sites and i want to get some PBNs point to my $sites, can i use a hostgator unlimited domain account for hosting then combine with easy blog networks’ service to have different IPs in order to minimize the footprint??
    what is a better way to approach? I’d rather learn from someone else mistake than spending tons of time and effort with “trial and error”..
    thank you Daryl!