Private blog networks are now getting more publicity than ever.
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
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
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…
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:
Written by Johnny Walters
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:
- 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:
- 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…
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.
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:
- Personal weight loss journal site
- Web designers blog
- Legal advice
- 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 or Conveying emotion in web design
- 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
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.