What is a Private Blog Network or PBN?
A private blog network (PBN ) is a set of domains that you or another individual owns. It is possible to have a PBN consisting of free blogs, like wordpress.com, tumbr.com, or livejournal.com. Typically, the free blog domains do not have as much power as self hosted blogs.
For this conversation, we will consider non-free blog platforms that are self hosted.
In most cases, a PBN is made up from expired domains. An expired domain is a domain that was owned at one time and had content – the website was lived in and the webmaster cared for the site. In fact, the webmaster probably created a nice website that attracted visitors and even had other websites link to the domain. Great!
For whatever reason, the webmaster decided he or she didn’t want to own the domain anymore, and let the domain registration expire. When a domain is no longer registered, anyone can buy it for the normal registration fee, normally about $10 – $15 US dollars.
In contrast, there used to be a few public blog networks (like BuildMyRank and Linkvana) in the pre-Peguin and pre-Panda world. The public networks allowed anyone to buy links or guest posts. In early 2012, Google decided to deindex links from some public blog networks. Deindexing the networks removed any value provided by the backlinks to websites. These public blog networks, were easy to identify and deindex since they were accessible to everyone (hence, the importance of a private blog network).
Why would someone create a PBN?
You control the content and backlinks
A PBN is powerful because you control the content and you control the links within the domain. This means that you can create or alter the content so it relates specifically to your niche. Even more important is that you can create and alter the anchor text that links to your website. (Anchor text is the text that appears as a hyperlink – it’s what you click on to go to another site.)
In addition, an expired domain is likely to pass along a good amount of link juice to any website with a link from it. Link juice can be thought of as ranking power (moz.com reference) – so an expired domain can pass more ranking power than a brand new domain. Why does an expired domain pass more link juice than a brand new domain? Because an expired domain carries more authority.
Why do expired domains have more authority?
There are two main reasons why expired domains pass more link juice. The first and less important reason is that Google places some value on the age of the domain. If you can find an expired domain that has been around since 2008, that domain is generally more authoritative and passes more link juice than a domain created in 2014.
The second and more important reason an expired domain has more link juice is the backlink profile. The backlink profile is the general make up of the backlinks to a domain. Here, we are talking about the backlinks for an expired domain.
It’s worth noting that the backlink profile takes things into account like:
- The total number of backlinks.
- The total number of linking domains.
- The total number of linking IP addresses.
- The link location on a post or page.
- The anchor text of the link.
- The title tag of the link.
- If the link is from an image.
- If the link is in the comments.
- If the link is do-follow or no-follow.
Ideally, we would want to see a number (more than 10) of natural links from related websites. For example, if the domain was about home improvements, we hope to see many links from home improvement blogs with varying anchor text. It is ideal to see high authority and quality websites linking to the expired domains. Jon Haver, from Authority Website Income, published an excellent guide on analyzing backlinks for an expired domain.
How do you find expired domains?
Finding a high quality expired domain is a long, fairly complicated process. It is not easy. I personally have two sources that I turn to: expireddomains.net. The research is time consuming but free.
Expireddomains.net provides lists of dropped domains each day. There are many thousands of domains dropped everyday, however, only a small fraction of the dropped domains are valuable to us as part of a PBN. The problem is that there are many domains with high authority statistics, but they were used for spamming the internet for pharmaceuticals, gambling, or porn. Those domains are of no value to us. Most likely they are not valuable for the spammers, otherwise they would have kept the domain.
Sign up for a free account with expireddomains.net to get access to the drop lists. There are filters that can help you sort through the large volume. The filters work very well and you can customize your column headings to exactly what you want to see. As a starting point, I look at domains with a Page Authority (PA) over 25 and Domain Authority (DA) over 20, and I may raise those numbers based on the results. A couple other criteria I might use is at least 20 backlinks and 10 referring domains (called min SEOkicks Domain Pop in the filter).
If I find a potential domain, I will check out its history. I review the backlink profile and the archived pages on the Wayback Machine. For the backlink profile, I use free accounts at Majestic SEO and ahefs. Normally, a quick glance at the top 10 backlinks gives me a pretty good idea about the history of the domain. If the backlinks look okay, I head over to archive.org’s Wayback Machine to investigate the archive pages. I typically look at the last instance of the site first – just the home page. If there is not anything suspicious, I will spot check the archived pages over the last several years.
Expireddomains.net is very good for a free service.
- An account is free.
- The lists are comprehensive.
- It’s possible to find a great domain with high authority.
- Slight learning curve dealing with filters.
- Difficult to review the quality of domains.
- The process is time consuming.
- It’s possible to find a domain that looks great but is really a dud.
- You could waste hours and not find any domains.
Another Option – Done for You Private Blog Network Service:
Tips and Tricks
Here are a few things to keep in mind with Private Blog Networks.
IP Addresses and Hosting
Make sure the domains in your PBN have different IP addresses. Why? If domains are on the same IP address, there is a chance that the same person owns the domains. To Google, this might indicate some level of collusion for backlinks. The most important role of the IP addresses is to reduce the footprint of the network. Basically, you want to set up your IP addresses to minimize the possibility that Google (or anyone else) will discover your PBN .
Each of your domains on a PBN need to be on separate C Block IP Addresses. What does that mean? IP addresses have 4 “blocks” – A, B, C, and D.
You want your PBN domains to have different numbers for the “CCC” set of the IP address. (Reference: This is a nice explanation about C Blocks by AJ Kohn.)
These IP addresses are on the same C Block and this is NOT good for a PBN:
These IP addresses are on different C Blocks and this is good for a PBN:
Why are separate C Block IP addresses important? The IP address reveals a footprint or evidence of the network. Imagine that someone is manually reviewing your money site and its backlink profile. It will be very easy to identify a PBN if there are 15 valuable links to your money site from 15 domains all on the same C Block. That many links from one C Block is a little strange and not very likely naturally. However, if you have 15 valuable links to your money from 15 domains on 14 different C Block IP Addresses, that is far more believable and will not raise any red flags during a manual review.
Separate C Block IP Addresses are Essential
Obtaining separate C Block IP addresses was the most challenging part of creating my own PBN and I still struggle with this issue. There are SEO hosting services that happily provide separate C Block IP addresses. But guess what – those are not the best idea because most, if not all, of the people with domains hosted with an SEO hosting company have PBN domains there. That means that Google could detect a large number of questionable backlinks from a variety of domains all in sets of C Blocks, one of which may be yours. It may be unlikely, but Google does have the resources to figure out the network of an SEO hosting company.
What should you do for hosting?
The Content and Theme
Post Unique Content & Use a Unique Theme
The content needs to stand up on its own to a manual review. The content needs to be original and not published anywhere else. It is unlikely to have a manual review on your website by someone at Google but it is possible. Ideally, the new content is well written and fits in with the previous topic of the website. The articles should look natural. That means it is probably good to have posts published over a period of time – don’t publish all the articles on the same day. That’s an easy fix in WordPress since you can edit the publish date.
Do not use the previous content from the site. You could technically see the content from the old webmaster on archive.org. However, respect the copyrights of the previous owner and create unique content. Copyright infringement is a whole different topic so I’ll leave it at that.
I recommend 5 articles at a minimum for each domain. Again, the goal is to have a natural looking website that appears to be updated regularly. If you can get 10 articles posted, even better. I like to use free, royalty free images from morguefile.com or find related youtube videos to post. If the video owner allows sharing the video then you can post it on your site since it links back to the youtube page.
There should be a unique “About” page that discusses the purpose of the website or an “About Me” page that discusses the publisher. Feel free to come up with an alter ego for each site.
Speaking of varied and normal – the themes should also be unique across your domains. I never use a paid theme and my method is to search for a theme in the WordPress theme dashboard. It’s best to find simple themes that allow the full text of posts to display on the home page. Stay away from complicated themes that have a bunch of options to set up – your time is better spent elsewhere. Keep the theme simple, clean, and free.
Outbound links are the reason that you even started this PBN, so let’s discuss them. You want to have links from an authoritative expired domain pointing to your money site. However, you have to use the links judiciously and exercise caution throughout the process.
You should not link out to your money sites in all the articles.
There should only be one article pointing to a money site. You don’t want to have a domain with five articles that all point to your money site because it doesn’t look natural. If you are a gambler, then you could link from one more article, for a total of two articles linking to your money site. There are diminishing returns on backlinks from one domain so it really isn’t that advantageous to link from more than one article and could potentially expose your PBN.
Each of your articles should also have 2 – 3 other outbound links to authoritative, non-competitive web pages. This is really important, because these links provide context about the article and Google takes note that your money site is linked alongside authoritative web pages. A few examples for the non-competitive outbound links would be wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, or NPR. Other links on the page will also help the website look normal to a manual reviewer. I also occasionally link to a random blog related to the article’s topic. Just make sure that the random blog is not a direct competitor to your site.
As you can see, a PBN, when set up properly, is a valuable tool for your niche site. Setting up a PBN takes time, money and effort, but the trade-off is it allows you to control the content and links to your niche site.
- High Authority Backlinks to Your Money Site
- Control the Content Around Backlinks
- Control the Anchor Text of the Backlinks
- Can Alter the Content or Anchor Text at Anytime
- Difficult To Find Expired Domains
- Must Host On Separate C Block IP Addresses
- Must Have Original, Unique Content
- Must Manage Several Other Websites
- Must Pay For More Hosting Accounts
Setting up a PBN should be your main priorities these days!