Last Updated: 18th January 2020
In this guide we are going deep inside the world of private blog networks.
Starting from the absolute basics, we’ll be guiding you through how to setup, manage, and use a PBN in 2020.
With 7,000 words of step-by-step training, even intermediate to advanced SEOs will learn something new.
Want the short version of how to build a PBN in 2020? Download the checklist.
- 1 What is a PBN?
- 2 Is it against Google’s guidelines?
- 3 Does it work?
- 4 Why does it work?
- 5 An Introduction to Metrics
- 6 Where To Find Domains
- 7 Finding Hosting For The Domain
- 8 Setting Up The Website
- 9 Creating Content For Your Website
- 10 Site Structuring
- 11 Linking To Your Money Site
- 12 Advanced Strategies
- 13 Alternative Solutions
What is a PBN?
A Private Blog Network (PBN) is a network of authoritative websites used to build links to your money website(s) for the purpose of ranking higher in the Google search engine.
A money website is the website you intend on ranking i.e. the one that actually makes money. This can also refer to a clients website.
In its most basic structure, the finished result appears like this:
PBNS stands for ‘PBN Site’, referring to a website that is part of your private blog network.
One very important detail here is that each of the individual PBN sites are not linked to each other in any way. The idea of a private blog network is that the websites appear unrelated to each other, therefore natural links, as opposed to someone linking to their own website from their other websites.
Is it against Google’s guidelines?
The only time Google are going to tell you exactly how to rank is when they are advising you to use AdWords. But for ranking within the organic results, they are the worst source for information.
And I would do the exact same if I were in their position. Why tell you how to rank for free, when you make over $40 billion per year from ad revenue.
Does it work?
Take a look at these headlines from September, 2014:
If it didn’t work, I’m sure Google wouldn’t be attempting to target them and scare people away from the strategy.
And yes, this was little more than a scare tactic, people are still building networks and ranking as easily as ever.
Why does it work?
Links are the most important ranking factor.
It turns out that backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality of search results.
That is a quote from Matt Cutts, when asked about excluding backlink relevancy from the algorithm.
What makes this strategy effective is the websites that form a PBN are regarded by Google as authoritative. You are not receiving links from some brand new website, nor a spammy untrustworthy one, you are receiving links from a popular website Google’s algorithm loves.
To understand how this works, here is a figurative example…
An initiative was launched in 2011 to help clean up the streets in Chicago. They had a website setup under cleanchicagostreets.com.
The initiative received a lot of publicity, they were featured on their local governments website and local news websites.
They raised enough publicity and money to follow through their plan. And they did, all within a year.
Now their website is no longer needed, and has become a pointless cost to renew the hosting and domain. So they leave it to expire.
This is a domain that has links from local government websites and local news websites. And because it has links from these highly trustworthy sites, Google also presumes this website is trustworthy.
Fast forward to today, an SEO finds this domain, can look up the metrics to see how trustworthy and authoritative it is regarded, then purchase it from any domain registrar to use for their PBN.
That is in essence, how domains are found.
Between 30,000 – 50,000 domains expire every day, many of which will have good ‘metrics’ for a PBN.
An Introduction to Metrics
In older versions of this article, I’d introduce metrics like DA/PA (Moz), TF/CF (Majestic), DR/UR (Ahrefs) – but frankly, that isn’t the best way of analysing domains.
These metrics simply represent the power of the domain you are looking at, the real things you need to understand are:
- Referring Domains – A metric that shows the number of websites that link to the domain you are looking up. Anything above 30 is good enough here.
- Backlinks – This is the number of links the website has. If a single website links to the domain 3 times, then it’s 3 backlinks but only 1 referring domain. Make sure you check these before purchasing a domain.
- How To Spam Check – Presuming there’s a good number of referring domains and they’re decent backlinks, all you need to know is that the domain has never been used for spam
Let’s start with a simple qualification metric:
Don’t buy domains with less than 30 referring domains
(Sidenote: I recommend using Ahrefs to check the number of referring domains and analyse the backlinks. It’s got the largest index of all the competitors – which include Moz, SEMRush, and Majestic.)
Links will naturally drop off over time, so you want as many as possible to avoid that becoming detrimental. Less than 30 and that becomes risky.
But feel free to bend the rules if there’s a great exception, maybe this domain has 28 extraordinary links.
Now we’ve qualified our interest, here’s what you’ll want to analyse:
1. How difficult are the links to replicate
Are they on popular sites? Within content? Or are they only directory links? The more difficult to replicate, the better the link.
You check these within Ahrefs by searching the domain, then clicking onto the Backlinks tab:
These will be ranked from best to worst (using Ahrefs’ URL Rating Score), click through each referring page and look to see if the links are high quality.
Again, the easier to replicate, the worse the link. For example:
- Blog comments
- Forum posts
- Free website builders / blogs / web 2.0s
All of the above links can be easily replicated so amount to little power.
Presuming the domain has 30+ referring domains and a decent number of those are quality (difficult to replicate) links, then you’ll move on.
2. Do the anchor text seem natural?
Anchor text is the text used when linking to a page or website.
If there’s fake goods, viagra, or adult themed anchors, it was probably used for spam.
Switch to the Anchors page in Ahrefs to see the full breakdown:
You can see in the above examples that they’re mostly my website name or my own name, with some topically relevant links to my content. So everything is highly natural.
3. Was it ever used for a spam site?
Check it on the WayBackMachine and see if it was ever used for spam or a PBN, if it was, skip it.
My site has been captured 80 times, but none of them were spam. Your potential PBN domains may be though, so take a good look through here.
These three simple steps will save you buying weak and/or spammy sites, and the more you do this, the better you’ll get at recognising them fast.
Where To Find Domains
Knowing what to look for in domains is only part of the game, next you need to know where to find the domains.
Before we cover that, you need to understand the types of domains to find.
Expired VS Expiring Domains
Expired Domain – A domain that fully dropped and is available to register from any registrar at standard domain registration costs. These tend to be weaker and take months to age before being worth linking.
Expiring Domain – A domain that reached its expiration date but was held onto by the registrar for auctioning / selling. These domains retain their age i.e. if they previous owner registered it 5 years ago, it remains a domain registered for 5 years.
My advice today is to purchase expiring domains only, unless you have a strategy for easily finding expired domains and purchasing them cheap.
The downsides of expired domains are:
- They tend to be weaker (i.e. there’s a reason it’s expired and nobody else has attempted to purchase it)
- They need aged – our testing showed, to get the power from these domains, you’ll need to setup a site and wait at least two months before adding links to get the full power from them
For this reason, I recommend exclusively purchasing domains from auctions or a broker that utilises auctions.
Option 1 – Finding a Broker
Here are some brokers you can buy from one at a time or in bulk.
Please note that I have not used all of these brokers, but I have at least heard good things from others about all of them.
Option 2 – Using Auction Websites
Before scraping was popular, most people would buy domains from auctions. These are expiring domains, they keep their age because the registrar is selling it off after they owner failed to renew it.
You can usually find more powerful domains on auctions than from scraping because the dropped (expired) ones are picked up fast by your competition – if not already bought in the auction stages. The downside to auctions is that you pay extra to get first pick.
Some auction sites you can look at are:
- NameJet – Potential to find high quality options
- GoDaddy Auctions – Used to be THE place to buy PBN domains
- NameCheap Auctions – Thousands available in the marketplace
Important Things To Note About When Purchasing Domains
Private is the first word in PBN.
You can’t hide from Google, you need them on your websites to see the links and pass on the power. But you do need to make sure there is no association between these websites. They need to look independently owned.
When buying domains, this means mixing up your domain registrars and registration dates. Do not always buy from the same one. And do not have your name and information in the whois for every domain.
Here are a few domain registrars to try:
- Dynadot (quick heads up, these guys show your name even if you purchase whois protection)
- GoDaddy (watch out for their expensive renewal fees)
Finding Hosting For The Domain
Now that you have the domain(s) in your possession, you need to setup hosting so you can get your website(s) live.
To avoid Google (or anyone else) knowing you own all the websites, you need to put each of them on different hosting accounts.
If they were all hosted on the exact same server, it would be clear they are all associated with each other.
This need for separating hosting providers sparked the popularity of SEO hosting services.
The problem with “SEO hosts” though, is that most of them have footprints which show they are all the same provider. You can read about hosting footprints here.
The best thing you can do then is to hide in plain sight.
You do that by using popular hosts that real websites would use.
Here are some examples:
- Premium Shared Hosts
- DigitalOcean (technical)
- Amazon Web Services (technical)
- CloudFlare (read my guide)
- Incapsula (read my guide)
Most of these are expensive in comparison to SEO hosts or cheap shared hosts, but it’s worth it for the reduced risk of losing your network.
Thankfully, there is a cheaper option.
My friend Kevin decided to purchase reseller accounts from all the popular shared hosting companies recommended here, and will host your PBN sites on them for a significantly lower rate (starting at only $1.82/m per site).
There is a cost associated with setting this all up, and it can be scary for beginners, but the overall ROI from ranking top with multiple sites should easily justify it.
Later in the guide we’ll cover an advanced strategy named clustering. This will allow you to host multiple PBN sites on the same hosting account with zero risk – but only if your hosting plan allows it. So make sure the packages you purchase allow multiple domains and MySQL databases.
For now, just know that the safest way is to only host 1 website per host, and to use high quality hosts.
Setting Up The Website
You have a domain and hosting, now you need to setup the website.
Don’t worry about being a HTML whizz, we are simply going to use WordPress and free WordPress themes.
Most web hosts will make this extremely easy for you by offering the Softaculous auto installer, here is a quick example of how it works…
Login to cPanel (the host should provide you with login details for this) and locate the Softaculous auto installer, it usually looks like this:
Then hit the blue install:
Next you need to choose the protocol, which will be ‘http://www.’ in 90% of cases, and also set the ‘In Directory’ field to blank.
To determine what to look for ‘Choose Protocol’, have a quick look on Majestic.com. Enter the root domain, and then the domain with ‘www.’ in front, to see which one has the highest TF and CF. Quick example…
The reason there is a difference is, most websites were setup with either one or the other, which is what will receive most of the links – therefore have higher metrics.
Back to the setup… Select the protocol and make sure the ‘In Directory’ field is blank:
Next fill out the site information, I’m sure you don’t need to know how to do this:
That’s about all there is to it, then you simply scroll down and click the ‘Install’ button.
Building websites and installing WordPress has never been easier.
Before you do that though, you need to know what the website will be about. That is called Theming.
This has already been covered in the Future of PBNs post, I’ve just pasted it here to make it easier for you…
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 re-theming is a perfectly normal thing to do, and seems to be unaffected throughout Google’s many shots at PBN users so far.
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…
Option 1. Re-themed Blog
2020 Thoughts: This still works but it’s less effective, I recommend going for option three
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.
Sometimes 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”
This is the most common way of theming a site. The downside is you’re locking it down to one niche, so it becomes difficult to link to others.
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:
Option 2. Cityscaping
Cityscaping: The act of building a website around a real city with semi-fictional content.
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:
- 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)
And here is an example format of your first 8 posts:
- Blog introduction
- City event from the official calendar (Festival, Farmer’s Market, etc)
- 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.
- Fun facts about the city (wikipedia link)
- City Event from the official calendar (Festival, Farmers Market, whatever)
- Youtube video from that city
- Featured Business of the Month (Repeat formula from the last one)
- Pictures from the last city event
- and so on…
Option 3. Keep the old niche
If the domain you purchased is relevant to your money sites, then perfect, just keep the same niche. But even if it wasn’t, you can still follow this option (content relevancy is more important than overall site relevancy).
Start by figuring out the niche of the domain.
You can often guess the old niche based on the domain, but there are two other ways of finding it very easily.
The first is the Wayback Machine, a website/tool that saves regular copies of websites, allowing you to “jump back in time” to see what a website used to look like.
You can then look back in time and select any date that comes up, for this example I just picked Jan 1st 2014.
You will now be shown what the website used to look like on that date.
Some times there are issues loading it completely, maybe some images are missing, or the style is messed up, but it shows you exactly what the website used to be about.
The other way is to use Majestic or Ahrefs and look at the websites that link to it. Majestic also has a very useful “Topical Trust Flow” feature:
This tries to figure out the topic or niche of the website, based on the websites that link to it. In this example, we can see it is fairly accurate for the website goodreads.com, with the top 2 topics being libraries and literature.
Some times this isn’t that accurate, and you can look at the top links near the bottom of the page:
You can see that it has links from Amazon, which is relevant, and it even shows the anchor text used to link to the website “goodreads book reviews & recommendations”. Very easy to see what this website is about.
Most of the time it will be quite easy to figure out, if the top links are from travel blogs, it’s most likely a travel relevant site, etc.
Option 4. Local Business site
The 4th option is completely different to traditional PBNs, but why it works so well. This is an easy way to fly under the radar of what most people think of as a PBN site.
What you do is set it up to look like a real local business.
- Have a business logo
- Add a list of products/services, preferably with images
- Have a contact page for people to get in touch
- Have a local address and phone number for people to contact (make it up)
Do everything a real local business would do.
Then you just “sneak” the links in later from your homepage. Relatively easy to do if you have 500-2,000 words on your homepage.
The downside of this approach is the PBN sites niche needs to be fairly relevant to your money site, since you won’t be able to create a new 500+ word post dedicated to the topic.
Moving on, now you’ve decided on the site theme, and installed WordPress, here is what you need to do next…
There are a LOT of free themes available for WP, they’ll be more than sufficient.
The only important thing for this is that they show the full posts on the homepage, not an excerpt. With the exception of the local business site type, since they won’t be showing blog posts on the homepage.
We need the full length post to show on the homepage, so our money site links also display on the homepage. This is most often the most powerful page on the website.
Make sure you’re constantly using different themes for each of the websites. Using the same one is another clear footprint that the websites are probably owned by the same person.
Want the short version of how to build a PBN in 2020? Download the checklist.
It’s recommended that you install a few different plugins on your website just to make it seem natural. Again, make sure these are not the exact same ones every time.
Part of retaining the linkjuice on the website is by capturing any linkjuice sent to old pages from the previous website.
So if the domain you purchased used to have a page like “example.com/cat-food.html”, and that page has links pointing to it, then you can rebuild it to capture the power of those links.
The safest way of doing this is to manually replace or redirect the pages from the old website.
Use a tool like Majestic to find the top pages for a domain, like so:
At this point you can either re-create the pages, or use a plugin such as Simple 301 Redirects to manually redirect the page to a similar topic page.
For rebuilding the pages, you can either manually write the content as a “Page” in WordPress, or even directly copy it from the WayBackMachine (as mentioned earlier).
If the URL is “/something/” then use that as the permalink, but if it’s something you can’t normally create with WordPress, such as a “.html” file, then you can use the Custom Permalinks plugin to let you create that.
It’s advised that you turn off notifications to websites you link to, this will only annoy you or your clients with the notifications.
This setting is under Settings -> Discussion:
Creating Content For Your Website
This is where most people get lazy and make big mistakes.
The initial content you add will make a huge difference to how legit your website looks and how likely it is to pass manual reviews in the future.
I personally recommend you have a minimum of 2-3 pages and 2-3 posts. The more the better.
This process is called PBN Padding, you are effectively adding content to the website to hide the fact that it’s only setup for link building.
The first step to creating the content is deciding on an author persona. Who is behind this blog?
This gives you consistency in the writing style on a single blog, but mixes them up across all the blogs.
One blog may be written by a backpacker sharing their experiences and travels, another by an association sharing industry news and best practices.
You’ll want to introduce these authors on some type of about page, share their photograph, and tell their story of why they started this blog. Basically what anyone would do if this was a legit site.
Be careful with YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) niches. These include:
- Pages soliciting personal information, such as personal identification numbers, bank account numbers, driver’s license numbers, etc., which could be used for identify theft.
- Pages used for monetary transactions, on which users might give their credit account or bank account information; for example any page that allows you to buy something.
- Pages offering medical or health information that could impact your physical well being.
- Pages offering advice on major life decisions, such as pages on parenting, purchasing a home, a vehicle, etc.
- Pages offering advice on major life issues that could impact your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal or financial advice.
- If you have a blog about parenting, or finances for example, make sure you do NOT pretend to be an expert. Otherwise they will start judging your websites credibility, if it has a real address and contact information, if it’s a real author, how reputable the site is, etc.
Instead of pretending you’re an expert in these niches, you want to create these authors/personas as personal experience bloggers, for example:
Kim Jones is a ‘stay at home’ mom of two, Alex & Jessica, living in North Carolina. She loves kids, and created this blog to share her personal experiences with taking care of kids, to hopefully help some newer mom’s that may be struggling.
With this example, Kim isn’t pretending to be highly qualified, an expert at teaching kids, or any of that. She is just a mom sharing what she learnt from bringing up her kids.
In the past, the method was to quickly write 300 words, include an image, and you’re done.
These days we take it to the next level while actually making it even easier on ourselves. There are now five types of blog posts…
- Infographic Posts
Where you share an infographic, add an introduction, and write a conclusion or summary of what you learned from this
- Video Reviews
Where you share a video (or multiple) and summarise / review the videos
- Image Gallery
Where you share an image gallery and explain the images
- Standard article
500-700 words with image or video
- Introduction post
Having that mix of videos, image galleries, and infographics make it much more visually appealing.
Plus they make it even easier to write content, all you need to do is recap an infographic or add your own thoughts to it, much easier than researching and writing a whole new article.
Bonus Tip: Research some long-tail keywords and create SEO optimised content so it ranks well and brings in additional traffic and links. Our testing showed this increase the effectiveness of PBN links.
There are numerous types of pages you can create, niche relevant ones are a good idea, but here are some absolute standard go-to ones if you need:
- About – Write about the website, team, author, or all
- Contact us – Explain why people should contact them and include contact form
- Events / Workshops – For dates put “in 2 weeks” or “this sunday”, explain what the event is about
- Advertising – Have information about advertising on the site and a contact form
- Why we created XYZ – Explain the backstory of why the blog was created
- FAQ – Answer frequently asked questions about the topic / website
- Tips – Have a contact form with information about how to send an article tip in
- Resources – Useful advice, links to useful authority sites/videos, book recommendations
Make sure to mix up how you are naming these though across all your different websites, for example:
Rather than “about” it could be.. About us, About this website, About [sitename], What is this, Who are we.
How To Steal Free Content
As we’re already breaking rules, here’s an unethical (and illegal?) method people are using to get free content for their sites. Use this at your own discretion.
Remember the Wayback Machine we referenced earlier? It’s a great way for determining what the website used to be about.
Well, as well as doing this, you can also completely copy the contents of the previous website [of your domain]. You can do this by completely copying the website, which can be outsourced for a measly $5. Or you can simply copy and paste the content into your blog.
The reason this works is that the content is that the content is no longer being used, therefore not indexed by search engines. This can even pass manual reviews.
Anyway, once you have the content down, you need to do the final touches before it is ready to start linking, this part is called…
Even with the addition of content, your blog will look very “default”. You need to make it look like a real website someone setup to use.
This breaks down into 3 parts:
- Navigation Bar
You can read how to do all of these step-by-step, in this PBN structuring post.
Linking To Your Money Site
Recap – A money site is the website you intend on ranking i.e. the one that actually makes money. This can also refer to a clients website.
Once your PBN sites are up and running, you can start linking them to your money sites.
First, make sure you test them. I’ve got bad news:
Sometimes your domains will be toxic, meaning, they’ll not only provide no improvements, they’ll also cause your rankings to drop.
This shouldn’t happen often if you’re buying quality auction domains, but either way, make sure to test every site before fully adding it to your network.
Here’s an interesting guide on how to do this on Diggity Marketing.
Now let’s talk about creating the links…
There are multiple types of links based on the position they’re located:
- Footer = Links from the footer of a website
- Sidebar = Links from the sidebar of a website
- Image = Links from an image (ideally with optimised alt text)
- Contextual = Links from within content
With PBNs we’re focused exclusively on contextual links, meaning we’ll need to publish new content (i.e. blog post) on the website every time we want to create a link.
Ideally, this content should be relevant to your money site, and bonus points for including long-tail keywords to rank the content.
This isn’t always obvious, having a PBN site related to plumbing means you can easily link to a plumbing website. But what if you have a PBN site about web design for that plumbing website?
Then you’ll want to use “Niche Matching”.
Simply match the content to both niches, for example, let’s say you have five domains that were previously used as:
- Personal weight loss journal site
- Web designers blog
- Legal advice site
- Financial blog
- 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:
- Anything related to weight loss since the site is relevant
- Designing a weight loss site
- Be careful when offering weight loss advice
- How to not break the bank when trying to eat more healthy and get in shape
- Turn any room into a home gym without spending a fortune
Best of all, this strategy is still highly effective, your whole site doesn’t need to be relevant as long as the content is.
Note: The downside of publishing new content is it moves old content onto the second page. For this reason, along with the fact that it looks less spammy, you’ll be restricted to a limit of around 8 links.
You’ll also want to throw in links to super trusted sites (not Wikipedia) that are relevant to your niche, this helps your site look like it links to trustworthy sources and appears more natural.
Within this new piece of content, you’re going to have ONE link to your money site.
One is enough, any extra gives diminishing returns.
The first element you’ll want to consider is the target URL. Where will this link be pointing to?
Generally, the best practice is to link to the specific page you’d like to rank. That’s the advantage of PBNs, we have control over this.
But remember a couple factors:
- Most websites have more links to their homepage than any other page
- It’s highly unnatural if only one page on your website has lots of links
Therefore you’ll want to mix up the links sometimes, even using other link types or PBNs themselves to point links at other pages on your money site.
Once you’ve determined which page to link to, you need to choose what anchor text to use. This is where most people go wrong.
Anchor text is the text that will be linked to your target URL. This is a very important ranking factor.
Unfortunately, most people over-optimise at this stage and cause real issues for themselves. So let’s cover how to avoid this.
First, you need to understand the 5 types of anchor text:
Let me give you an example if we’re linking to joesplumbing.com who’s attempting to rank for “Plumbing London”:
- Target: Plumbing London
- Brand: Joe’s Plumbing
- Topic: leaking pipes
- URL: joesplumbing.com
- Misc: visit his website here
Every website with enough links for statistical relevance, will have a natural mix of each of these types of anchor text.
How this mix is divided is different for every keyword, you’ll want to analyse your competitors and use your best judgement here.
But the basic philosophy with private blog networks is that you should be using Target Anchors only. Simply because they’re the most powerful links you can get, so you’re saving your most optimised anchors for your best links.
The “catch” with this is that you need to be building other types of links. If you’re not, then you’ll need to diversify anchor texts with your PBNs.
Tip: Match up the type of anchor text with the link type/location, it’s not very common to see someone using a URL anchor text in an article.
Presuming you’ll use 100% target anchors from your PBN sites (and diversify with other link types), there’s three rules you should be aware of:
- Never repeat anchor text (this is a good rule in general for all link building)
- Write in a natural way i.e. plumbers in London (note the capitalisation, another good practice for all link building)
- Heavily diversify anchors
Let me expand on these rules…
Rule number one comes down to what is natural, how many websites have 20 links all with the anchor text “plumbers london”? It’s highly unnatural.
Rule number two is common sense, anyone that cares about their article isn’t going to miss out the word “in” or capitalisation because it fits a keyword better. And don’t worry, Google are smart enough to see the keyword relevance.
Finally, rule number three is where I see, even more experienced SEOs screwing up.
To overcome this, let’s expand on our definition of target anchor text.
Target anchor text is where the keyword or any word of the keyword is included in the link.
Notice in this description, we’re not saying the anchor text is the keyword, only that it includes it OR one word of the keyword.
This opens up a whole new subcategory of anchors:
- Longtail Target
- Brand + Target
- Misc + Target
Let’s compare these two approaches with the keyword “Gaming Chair Reviews”.
- Gaming Chair Reviews
- Best Gaming Chair Reviews
- Reviews of Gaming Chairs
- Gaming Chairs review
- Top Gaming Chair Reviews
Notice how every single anchor text is extremely similar and includes the full keyword?
Natural Target Anchors:
- gaming chair reviews
- Daryl’s review of the best gaming chairs
- top ten gaming chairs
- should you use specific chairs for gaming
- review of the new DXRacer chair
In the above examples, we’re still including the keywords, but mixing up the style and usually including it as part of a sentence.
We even managed to include another keyword by mentioning a brand of gaming chair.
The point here is to consider how someone would naturally link to your webpage if they were writing a topically relevant piece of content, then do the same with a sly bit of keyword insertion.
- Create one new blog post to link to each money site
- No more than 1 link per money site
- Keep all links permanently on the homepage (usually restricts you to about 8 links, if every post on your site doesn’t include a link)
- Try to include around 4 links in total to authority sites
Earlier in this guide, we covered hosting and I briefly mentioned that you could host multiple websites on a single hosting plan with zero risk. This is done with clustering.
This is very professional diagram showing what the opposite of clustering looks like…
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:
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:
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..
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:
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.
It also saves you a small fortune. It also allows you to host PBN sites from different clusters on the same hosting account, as they will never link to the same websites.
To put this into perspective, if your average hosting bill is $8 per blog for reputable hosts, but you own 10 different clusters, that brings your bill down to only $0.8 per blog.
If you are just starting out, now is the perfect time to learn about network clusters. Once your network is big enough to rank the money site(s) you are currently working on, you can separate that as one cluster and start building the next.
Remember you can rank up to 8 money sites off of a single PBN site, therefore off of a single cluster, it’s just about eliminating your risk as much as possible.
If you work with high end clients, you can even go as far as creating separate clusters for each individual client. Same goes for if you have affiliate sites that make 4 figures plus per month.
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.
A private blog network does not mean private to Google. We need Google on our sites to see the links we create. Instead, the idea of a private network is that it is private to the rest of the world, especially your competition.
The padding and structuring parts of this guide will go a long way with masking your strategy to your competitors, but blocking bots takes this to a whole new level.
If you want to see how your competitor is ranking, you need to look at their links. To do this you will probably use the same tools we covered earlier in this guide (for domain analysis):
Majestic.com, OpenSiteExplorer.org, or Ahrefs.com
But with bot blocking, you can completely hide your PBN sites from showing up in these tools. That means your competitors would have no idea how you are ranking, and never see your PBN sites.
This can be achieved by adding the following code to your htaccess file:
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*rogerbot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*exabot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*mj12bot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*dotbot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*gigabot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*ahrefsbot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*sitebot.* bad_bot
SetEnvIfNoCase User-Agent .*spbot.* bad_bot
Allow from all
Deny from env=bad_bot
Here is how to do that…
Login to cPanel and click to open the File Manager:
If there is more than one domain on this cPanel account, make sure the correct domain is showing in the dropdown box (I removed it in this screenshot).
Tick ‘Show Hidden Files’. Click Go.
Locate the ‘.htaccess’ file, right click and then ‘Edit’.
Click Edit again to open the editor.
Now above the #BEGIN WordPress line, paste in the whole code from above. Save Changes, and you’re finished 🙂
If Google wanted to, they could still check this. All they would have to do is impersonate the user agent of the bots you block to see if they are blocked. 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.
Outsourcing and Creating Systems
If you have not realised already, there is a heck of a lot of work involved with building a private blog network. It is however, a long term investment in your business.
One of the big differences from the newbies with less than 50 sites, and the experts with hundreds or even thousands, is the use of tools and systems to leverage their time better.
I’ve already given away the exact tools and systems (inc. Excel sheets) I use in an earlier post, you can access all of them here. I highly recommend reading that post before starting.
To wrap up this guide, I’d like to give two separate viewpoints worth considering. Should you be using PBNs altogether, and if so, is it viable to build and manage your own?
Private Blog Networks in 2020 – Yay or Nay?
There is zero dispute from anyone testing it themselves, that PBNs are still effective. I’d even go as far as saying they’re still the most effective type of backlink – with the level of power and control they provide.
However, is it worth building and maintaining one today?
For most people, I’d say no.
- Building and managing a network is a LOT of work
- Websites without PBN links are more valuable (i.e. if you flip the site, it’ll be valued at a lower multiple)
- It’s quite expensive to set one up today with auction domains, shared hosting accounts, rank-able content, etc
The alternatives are outreach link building (i.e. creating great content and developing relationships to have it shared) or renting PBN links (we’ll get into this).
The only time I’d advise building your own PBN in-house are when you hit this criteria:
- The most important aspect of your business is the ability to rank in Google then bring in organic traffic
- You’ll be using it for multiple sites
- You’ve got the time and resources to build then manage it
- You have a high budget to invest
Take the first point above as an example, a student of mine operated a ~$200k per year SEO agency, yet spent a quarter of his work hours dealing with the hassles of his PBN. By eliminating it, he free’d up time which has resulted in over doubling his revenue.
The downside of not building your own is the lack of control and therefore risk, which can be high when purchasing links on other people’s networks.
Also guest posts and other outreach links are rarely as strong, nor offer the same level of control. So you’ll need to build more. But they’re cheaper, easier, and quicker to build.
However, from a building perspective, for most people, I’d still say no.
The time and financial costs of finding domains, setting up sites, testing domains, and maintaining everything is too high.
But what if you’re buying or renting links from small private vendors?
You still get all the power and control, without the costs and time. However, there’s added risk, especially if the vendor doesn’t know what they’re doing, or attracts the attention of Google.
(Though, in my own private blog network experience, having PBN sites de-indexed has never caused money sites to be penalised or de-indexed)
If that risk is acceptable for you, I’d say do it.
This is a great option for:
- Affiliate sites
- Small local business sites
- Bigger authority sites for quicker rankings, then slowly remove links later and replace with outreach links
Buying or Renting Links
If building a network sounds like too much work, there’s always the solution of buying or renting links from other people’s networks.
Usually this will be a monthly rental fee, if you’d like to keep the links on the homepage (most powerful). Or a one-time fee, if the link will be kept on inner pages.
Sometimes people use cheap one-time payment PBN links for powering up their guest posts, whereas rentals are almost always pointed directly at the money site.
For rentals, I run a small private service named Links82, which opens up every 2-3 months for new partners to join. You can join the waiting list here.
There’s several other vendors also offering this service if you look around SEO communities.
Please be careful to do your due diligence before renting links from someone. It’s impossible to hide from Google, but they should be smart about footprint protection.
As for one-time payment links, Relentless Network is a popular solution. But again, I wouldn’t advise pointing these at your money site.
Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got for you in this guide. If you enjoyed it and would like more posts like this in the future, leave a comment and let me know, I try to respond to them all.
Want the short version of how to build a PBN in 2020? Download the checklist.