updated: April 10, 2016
I heard about Private Blog Networks, or PBNs for short, last year around the
PBNs can also be confusing and slightly complicated to set up for a novice, or even an experienced internet marketer.
There are many moving parts to a PBN and several failure points.
This post will cover the basics of Private Blog Networks.
Think of it as PBN 101.
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We will cover the following:
- Definition of a PBN
- Why create a PBN
- Why expired domains are authoritative
- Finding expired domains
- Hosting considerations
- Content considerations
- Outbound linking from PBNs
- Infographic – NEW – I just published this recently.
Be sure to check out the free Ultimate PBN Course if you’re serious about learning about building your own network.
Update September 24, 2014
There was a fairly significant smackdown on PBNs in September, 2014. Many networks were impacted and owners are citing up to 40% of their PBNs domains as impacted.
The reactions range from merely adjusting their strategies to totally writing off PBNs forever.
Only 5% of my PBN domains were impacted…and that's a pretty good record.
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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 a few sources that I turn to:
- Bluechip Backlinks (affiliate link)
- Domain Re-Animator (affiliate link)
- PBN HQ (affiliate link)
- Hammerhead Domains (affiliate link)
The first is time consuming but free, while the latter outsources the work (meaning minimal effort by you) but comes at a cost.
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).
Use the Wayback Machine & Check the Backlinks
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 ahrefs. 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.
This is a newer service, at least on my radar. I’ve heard excellent things about BB so I decided to check out Bluechip Backlinks.
This is a full service suite of functionality so it’s sorta in another realm than say a broker where they just sell you a domain. And, it’s really a service that helps you build domains after you find them so you have a way to build out PBNs faster. That’s because you don’t have to worry about the content.
What? You don’t have to worry about the content??
Here’s the deal – It’s risky in a way, but Bluechip Backlinks has a way to rebuild sites using the content on Archive.org. It’s brilliant in a way since all the old content is right there for the taking.
The downside is that you are potentially violating some copyrights by doing that…However, the risk is probably low that you will ever be called on that.
The service is owned by Terry Kyle, a veteran in the internet marketing space. He also runs one of the best and fastest hosting companies out there called Traffic Planet. If you’ve looked for fast hosting before, then you probably saw Traffic Planet.
Here is a look on the inside…
So, they want you to be successful with your PBN so there is training available to help you learn about the best way to use your domains. I haven’t gone through all the training, but I may be partial to the Ultimate PBN course since I created it!
The domains are listed on your dashboard and you’ll be able to buy them for the cost of registration.
I’m normally thinking about the SEO aspect of PBNs, but there is a big opportunity in domain brokering.
If you can get these domains for the cost of registration, then resell them later…Well, that’s a great business model. That’s not my thing, but it’s working great for some people.
There are thousands of domains that have already been scrapped and you get access to them right away. They are over a Trust Flow of 10 so that’s good enough to be a meaningful backlink.
The Archive.org re-building functionality is the differentiator here. You will be able to get your new PBN domain up and running in no time. Typically, I would spend about $50 – $100 to get original content written for a brand new PBN domain. With just a couple of domains, you’ll be able to pay for your Bluechip Backlinks costs in the form of free content.
- You can find domains that no one owns so you only have to pay for the registration (about $10)
- There is a way to rebuild a site with the original content so that saves you $100s in content costs.
- It runs on the web so it won’t slow down your computer like local scrapping tools. You will have 4 scrapers running at the same time so it’s fast.
- Excellent Support
- Free PBN Training
- You can find a bunch of great domains with high authority.
- Slight learning curve.
- It’s fairly expensive, but is way more scaleable if you use it to sell domains.
Domain Re-Animator is a super slick domain crawling and re-buiding suite of tools. It comes at a premium price, but it’s simply the best when it comes to:
- Ease of Use
- Spam detection
Just like Bluechip Backlinks, Domain Re-Animator is cloud hosted so your local machine won’t run slow when you’re crawling domains. It’s really an intuitive interface and you’ll be able find domains fast.
Unlimited Crawl Time
One of the major benefits is that you get unlimited crawling time – 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. They don’t put any kind of limit on how much you can crawl. And, if you in the domain brokering business, then Domain Re-Animator will pay for itself fast.
Way Back Machine Snapshots
You can get unlimited snapshots of the Archive.org’s Way Back Machine to re-animate your new domains. Again, you will save on your content costs rather than paying a writer to create unique content.
Your dashboard has the metrics you care about from Moz and Majestic. You will also be able to see the Majestic anchor text to get a quick handle if the site was ever abused by a spammer. And, you can also tell what niche the site is in judging by the anchor text.
Here are a few other points directly from the Domain Re-Animator site:
- There is a way to rebuild a site with the original content so that saves you $100s in content costs.
- It’s cloud based so it won’t slow down your computer like local scrapping tools
- Excellent Support
- Excellent Spam checking built in.
- It’s fairly expensive, but is way more scaleable if you use it to sell domains.
PBN HQ removes all of the issues of finding an expired domain.
I currently use PBN HQ for expired domains as my preferred broker, not expireddomains.net. This is Steve Rendell’s and Doug Stewart’s service and they have developed a great process to find expired domains that are of high authority.
Finding these kinds of domains isn’t easy. It takes a long time even if you know that you are doing.
The service removes all of the issues of finding an expired domain.
- Ahrefs back-links
- Majestic linking root domains
- The languages of the links
- Archived titles
- Ensure common spammed words are not used ANYWHERE.
- The time investment is minimal.
- You have no risk – there is a 100% money-back guarantee.
- The domain should have great authority.
- The service eliminates the need for you to review the backlinks and the Wayback Machine Archives.
- It costs more than if you find the domain on your own. Please note that the cost is WAY cheaper than if you tried to buy a domain at an auction. This is the only drawback and it really is a bargain at this price.
(I am an affiliate for this service.) Hammerhead Domains crawls the web for high-authority expired domains and provides filtered lists of these unregistered domains for free. This is your best option if you can’t afford to purchase 10 or 20 domains from a broker, but don’t want to spend the time it would take to find them on expireddomains.net.
The domains are not all spam-free so you will have to check domains for spam, but they’ve developed some special filters so you don’t waste much time looking through the lists of obviously spammed domains. Josh, the creator of Hammerhead Domains, did a free in-depth tutorial on spam checking, called How to Get Cheap PBN Domains that Actually Help You Rank.
Sign up for a free account and you’ll get access to a list of 10 domains/day. The free account is the perfect way to get started on PBNs on the cheap.
You can absolutely build your entire PBN from their free list, and never pay a dime except for registering the domain names. But the free list limits you to maximum DA19 domains, which aren’t particularly powerful. It isn’t a deal breaker, but depending on your niche you may need stronger domains.
Just like the old google PageRank metric, DA is calculated on a logarithmic scale, which is a fancy way of saying that DA30 is not just 33% more powerful than DA20, but 1000% more powerful, or 10 times as powerful. Don’t get too caught up in the details of this calculation, because all of this is just an estimation of whatever metrics google uses internally. The point is that your time is much better spent building a smaller number of high DA backlinks rather than a larger number of low DA backlinks.
Hammerhead Domains offers a Pro membership for $19/month that gets you access to a lot more domains each day, including DA20+ domains. A big perk of the Pro membership is that from the day you subscribe any domains which aren’t registered on the day they’re released, get added to your Vault, and after a while you’ll build up thousands of domains in your Vault.
As it’s not a very expensive membership – I just let it go, and then whenever I want to expand my PBN, I’ll search the Vault for domains in my Niche.
Niche relevancy matters
As Google continues to find new ways to understand how natural link patterns work, having PBN domains that are relevant to your niche can be a huge advantage.
One more product that Hammerhead Domains offers is Topical Domain Lists. As a free or a Pro member, you can get a list of 50 domains with Majestic Topical Trust in your niche for $97. Just like the daily lists, not all these domains are spam-free, but they will replace your list if you can’t register at least 3. And most of the time people are registering 5-15 domains from the list.
(Topical Lists were on sale at the time of taking this screenshot. Usually $97)
This is the best option if you need niche domains right now, and don’t want to spend time patrolling the daily lists or waiting for your Vault to build up. It also gives you access to domains that haven’t been released yet on the daily lists.
Like I said, I am an affiliate with Hammerhead Domains so I get a commission if you make a purchase there. It won’t cost you any extra! And, I certainly appreciate the support. Sign up for a free account here.
- An account is free. And an upgraded account is very cheap, especially when you consider the price of buying just one domain from a broker or at auction.
- Lists are significantly filtered, which will save you a ton of time compared to expireddomains.net or running your own crawling software.
- Relatively easy to find great domains with high authority, as well as domains in your niche.
- You can build up a large list of domains in your vault, and have access to a big list of unregistered high-authority domains any time.
- Perfect for agencies since you can build out a HUGE network.
- You still have to spam check the domains yourself
- The monthly fee can add up if you are not generating revenue on your money site.
Another Option – Done for You Private Blog Network Service:
(Just getting started making money online? Read up on how to build Affiliate Sites using the Amazon Associate program.)
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?
Some legitimate, non-SEO hosting companies offer up reseller hosting accounts that allow you to use separate C Block IP addresses.
The best one that I’ve seen out there is HostNine using the reseller account <affiliate link>. Use the Level 1 Reseller account that allows up to 100 Resold Accounts (that’s 100 separate cPanels) for under $20 a month.
HostNine works very well because they have several data centers in different locations. You need to set up reseller sub accounts and assign them to a location. Each domain will have its own sub account.
Right now, HostNine is the way to go for PBN hosting…
This is a newer service that does a great job making hosting PBNs easier. CloudBoss takes advantage of cloud hosting options on dozens of platforms.
The result is a platform that allows you to “Get UNIQUE IPs With NON-Shared Accounts On The Largest Cloud Platforms In The World, ALREADY hosting MILLIONS of REAL Websites”. Terry Kyle was doing such a great job that I became an affiliate for CloudBoss. If you buy through my link, I really appreciate it.
CloudBoss uses platforms such as, Amazon EC2 and S3, RedHat OpenShift (uses Amazon servers), IBM Softlayer, Microsoft Azure, Digital Ocean, Joyent & Linode to host the websites of your PBN. Most people don’t use those platforms to host websites since it’s damn complex and technical. It’s more likely that you’ll see an application run on those platforms.
Using CloudBoss, you can set up very cheap PBN hosting for about $0.15 per month for a very low traffic SEO/PBN site. That’s on Amazon S3 – used by many large companies. The set up can be fairly complex, but if you’re planning an a bigger network CloudBoss can save you a chunk of cash.
Super Cheap Hosting
Another solution is to find small hosting companies that are cheap, like $1-2 per month. A potential downside to using a small hosting company is having to install WordPress manually. Yeah, that’s right…some hosting companies do not have 1-click install for WordPress in 2014. I recommend you do your homework on these smaller hosting companies before signing up.
I do NOT recommend IX Hosting. They offer the ability to get 15 unique IP addresses with an Unlimited Pro account at a very reasonable price. However, I have 2 main issues with IX:
- First – It is really hard to get unique C Block IP Addresses. They seem to have a small number of C Block available and they assign them sequentially. This means that if you have five expired domains ready to go and try to add them to your hosting account at IX, you could end up with all five domains on the same C Block. In addition, the IP addresses would probably be in order, like 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11 … 18.104.22.168. This defeats the purpose of having “unique” IP addresses and could expose your PBN.
- Second – 1-click WordPress installation is very hard to find. (It’s in the hosting admin panel under EasyApps Collection.) Once you find the script to install it, the WordPress instance is placed in http://yourdomainhere.com/wordpress. This is frustrating and not ideal because you want to have the domain at http://yourdomainhere.com/. This is not easy to fix for most people, and is only a “fairly easy” thing to fix if you have experience moving WordPress from another folder, installing WordPress, or you know your way around phpMyAdmin. I’ve spent a few hours trying to figure out how to do this thanks to the poor implementation of 1-click install at IX 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.
Check out the PBN course for FREE. 9 Modules & 3 Hours of Video. Create an account for free.
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
“Are PBNs still effective?”
I get emails all the time about whether Private Blog Networks are still effective. Since the fall of 2014 when PBNs were hit hard, there has been a great deal of fear about the risk involved in a PBN.
The answer is yes, PBNs are still effective.
But you can’t ignore the inherent risk involved. It is against the Google terms of service (TOS) so Google has the right to remove your site from their index if you don’t play by the rules.
Check out this post for more detailed information in a long format – PBNs 101.
Keep these ideas in mind when planning a network, building out a network, using a network, and so on.
- Don’t use a domain that was used for spam or any obvious link building in the past.
- Make sure the website has the look and feel of a real website…
- Use a nice looking theme.
- You should have an About Page.
- You should have a Privacy Page.
- You should have five or more posts, and more posts are better. It is ideal to have new post published regularly, like weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
- Don’t register the domain on Google Tools, like Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics. If you find that you must for some reason, then make sure you use a unique account. Do not use the same account as your money site. Refer back to the deindexing post if you need a reminder.
Check out the PBN course for FREE. 9 Modules & 3 Hours of Video. Create an account for free.
Reduce Your Risk
These are the gotchas that may cause issues, and they are less obvious than the points above.
- Limit the number of money sites that you link to. The ideal situation is to link to one – yes, only ONE – money site. If your goal is to reduce risk, this will keep you far out of harm’s way. I don’t know the algorithm that led to the deindexing (and I doubt anyone does outside of Google) but I will speculate that it was related to this point. The major issues in September of 2014 centered around public networks where each domain had a LOT of outbound links to money sites.
- Do not share your network. It is tempting to leverage your network with a friend or two, but the risk is great. The draw is that you can double, triple, or more the number of links you can get by working together. However, it conflicts directly with the previous point, limit the number of money sites that you link to.
- Limit the number of PBN domains linking to your money site. The illustration should make this clear. You want to limit the entry points from your network to your money site. A great way to do this is to set up a tiered network. If there are issues, then you can disavow a small number of links. It generally looks less suspicious, too. The downside is that your money site will have fewer backlinks. However, when you set up the tiered network you can recapture the link juice.
Example of a Tiered Network
I will try not to over explain this since a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
The keys are:
- The number of PBN domains linking to your site are limited
- If you have to disavow links, you know exactly which 3 domains are in question.
- You can funnel the link juice from all of you domains to the exact post the you are targeting.
- You can build relevancy by using a HOTH package on the lower tiered domains.
Setting up a PBN is one of my main priorities these days. What about you? Do you have a PBN already?
If you read this whole article, you must be interested in PBNs! That’s awesome and I want you to do two things:
- Leave a comment below telling me about your PBN goals.
- Do you have a friend that you think would be interested in learning about PBNs? Share this post with them.
Infographic – Maps out PBNs in an easy to follow diagram.
Cloud Income – By Lewis Ogden. Great post for reference material on PBNs.
No Hat SEO – By Hayden Miyamoto. This is a link to a list of posts that talk about expired domains and PBNs.
Authority Website Income – Jon Haver’s epic guide…Ultimate Expired Domain Guide.
Niche Pursuits – By Spencer Haws. This is a link to a webinar recording of building an PBN with expired domains.
Majestic SEO Blog – This is a blog post from Barrie Smith discussing how to identify a bad backlink profile.
From Nauf at AffPayDay.
HostNine <affiliate link> – Use the reseller account for separate C Block IPs.
NoHatDigital: PBN Domains De-Indexed
Jon Haver: Update on Google PBN Deindexation
Niche Pursuits: Alright Google, You Win…