Private Blog Networks: A Necessary Evil or Just Plain Evil?

Dec 30, 2014

Private blog networks (PBNs) have taken the SEO community by storm, although they have actually been the preferred “secret ranking weapon” of choice for SEO gurus for a number of years. PBNs’ popularity can be explained by the hope they offer of better search rankings to those digital marketers whose websites have been battered by Google’s relentless assault on link building.

While the search engine giant continues to rely heavily on inbound links to determine the relative importance of a website as it relates to search results ranking, Google has all but eliminated link building as an accepted SEO practice. Google has a history of downplaying and penalizing any SEO practice that it believes is simply too effective, and link building is only the latest victim of this disturbing trend.

how effective are blog networks?

What is a PBN?
A PBN is a group of websites or blogs that are owned or controlled by an individual or company that provide rank-boosting authority links to “money sites” that the PBN also owns or controls. A public blog network is a group of authority blogs that sell links to third-party webmasters.

Google has recently stepped up its attacks on private blog networks, and has been de-indexing PBNs as well as penalizing those sites that it suspects have been using PBNs to improve search engine ranking.

Do PBNs Really Work?
Jon Haver published a case study on authoritywebsiteincome.com that tracked the search ranking results of 13 unrelated websites who received inbound links from PBNs. Haver concluded that PBNs are an effective technique for boosting website rankings, and summarized his findings as follows:

  • Of the 13 websites in the study, 75 percent saw an average 40 percent improvement in ranking after one month.
  • The improved rankings were sustained over time.
  • The use of a PBN cannot compensate for bad on-page SEO. If your on-page SEO is rated B or higher, it is highly likely that a PBN will boost your rankings. A free tool that will rate the effectiveness of your on-page SEO is available at http://www.quicksprout.com/
  • If an unrelated Google penalty is applied to your site, a PBN may not help.
  • The authority of the domains in the PBN appears to be directly tied to the improvement in the search results. The higher the domain authority, the greater the improvement in rankings.

Will Using a PBN Subject My Website to a Google Penalty?
The short answer is yes – Google hates PBNs because they are so effective at improving search rankings. If Google discovers your PBN, you can expect a slap. The key to running a successful PBN is to leave no “footprint” that Google can follow back to your money site.

While the use of PBNs is against Google’s current terms of service, remember that practically anything you do to influence the search results in your website’s favor is technically a violation. In Google’s perfect world, the best websites would rise to the top of the search rankings based solely on their own merits and without any outside help whatsoever.

Back in the real world, many SEO practitioners feel that as long as the sites in a PBN offer relevant and high-quality content that provides genuine value to search users, PBNs are a legitimate means of building authority and improving search engine rankings – and are aligned with the spirit, if not the letter, of Google’s goals.

The bottom line is that every business venture involves some degree of risk, and SEO is no exception. Just ask the webmasters who followed Google’s terms of service as they existed two years ago to the letter and are now being penalized for violations under the “new” guidelines.