On a long enough timeline the survival rate for any public blog network drops to zero.
It started like a normal Thursday for me. I woke up pretty early, before 6 AM.
I fed Brodie, my loyal dog, started some coffee, and tried to shrug off the sleepiness. Then, I headed out for the normal morning walk with Brodie, just like any other day.
I didn’t realize it would be a very long & stressful day.
Let’s rewind though…
I started hearing that PBN domains were being deindexed during the first week of September. Not many.
But a few friends had mentioned that they noticed 3 or 4 domains were recently deindexed in their respective networks.
It happens occasionally so it was not alarming. The situation was unusual since it happened to more than one person in a small span of time.
Then, it got worse…much, much worse.
On Thursday, September 18th, I decided to check the rankings for a few of my sites. I don’t check my rankings very often anymore – maybe about once a week.
I get a daily email with the stats but I really don’t pay much attention. I was really curious about one, the Main Money Site, since it was #5 and trending upwards. (Here are the last couple monthly reports – July and August)
I manually entered the search term into the Google search field.
I didn’t see it on the first two pages. I knew something was up.
There was a ripple effect…
I pinged my buddy, Perrin, to see if he heard anything from his vast network. Nothing much at that point…but within an hour Perrin saw the ripple effect from the PBN smackdown on his own sites.
My PBN Domains
Right now my PBN is in good shape. I know Rank Hero (a public network) cited about 40% of their domains are deindexed. Most other networks have mentioned about 5% of their domains being hit.
Only about 5% of my domains were hit…I am pretty sure they are the ones with the most outbound links.
I need to conduct a little deeper analysis to make sure that other domains don’t get hit in the future.
My Money Sites
Well, they are not doing so well. I was hit like Spencer & Perrin at Niche Pursuits…total destruction.
For reference, last month my Amazon earnings were just under $100 and things were on track to be higher in September.
These 4 images should paint a pretty clear picture…
Here is SerpBook Report from 9/17:
And here is the report from 9/18:
You can clearly see the ranking impact.
Now, I won’t bore you with all the analytics graphs but here are some samples from 3 different sites.
That was bad but here is where I totally screwed up.
I had all my money sites in ONE Webmaster Tools (WMT) account. I see how that was a pretty big mistake.
Initially, I only had one of my money sites hit with a “thin content” penalty. I’m pretty sure my WMT account was manually reviewed since that one site was hit.
Then, they manually checked the backlinks for every site on my WMT account and anything with a PBN link was marked with “thin content.”
Lewis Ogden (from Cloud Income) and I have a course teaches how to create a PBN using the best practices from many experts in the SEO field. I obviously have an interest in continuing to sell this course.
So keep that in mind… I can say that Private Blog Networks are risky – riskier than they were. I don’t think PBN will be irrelevant in the foreseeable future though. Backlinks matter and they will continue to matter.
Interested in the PBN Course? Click the image below to check it out… (at your own risk!)
I think this was a specific action around Rank Hero. I only have a small sample of data, of course. It goes without saying that the opinions here are my own. I have no inside information.
Public vs Private
Rank Hero was a public network. That’s a very, very important point. It was before my niche site career started but recall the Build My Rank network. They were shutdown in 2012.
The guys & gals at NoHatDigital knew something was going to happen eventually, too. They have been diversifying and changing direction for a while. I would expect they were planning as soon as they started selling links on Rank Hero.
I honestly wasn’t convinced there was a full-on algorithm update until Google confirmed Panda 4.1 on September 25th. I thought it was all isolated to (mostly) manual reviews for PBN domains that were 1 or 2 hops from a Rank Hero Domain.
Panda 4.1 =
Just a quick note, Panda 4.1 is a “filter designed to penalize ‘thin’ or poor content from ranking well.” So, that’s how we ended up with sites with damn thorough content being notified in Webmaster Tools that they had “thin content”
My Main Money site had 10s of thousands of words – over 6,000 on the front page – that’s hardly thin by any estimation. It did have a LOT of PBN backlinks and it was built on an expired domain.
That’s two strikes…
The Main Money site had a target clearly painted on it.
So, there was an algorithm update to find “thin content” and it seems that means sites with PBN links.
Okay. Fine. But why do I still think it was centered around Rank Hero?
Everyone that I know of that was impacted was 1 or 2 degrees separated from Rank Hero.
I personally didn’t have any backlinks from Rank Hero…it seemed to risky since it was a public network.
However, I did have a couple links from friends that did have Rank Hero links. It’s easier to see in a picture…
It’s easy to see and understand how some of my PBN was impacted. The red lines represent the backlinks that tie the networks together even though I didn’t have any direct connection to the Rank Hero network.
The 5% of my sites that were deindexed were just lumped in with the Rank Hero network…That makes the most sense to me.
All my money sites were decimated.
So now what?
Fasten your seat belts and return your tray table to its full upright and locked position.
Remain calm and don’t freak out.
A quick, hasty reaction from me right now won’t be helpful. We see it takes a few months to get rankings right now so I have time to think things through.
I do have many thousands of words of content that certainly do have some value.
Will there be more?
There could be more networks hit over the next few weeks. Buying a new domain name, moving all the content, and adding PBNs links might not be a very good idea right now.
It’s common for Google to roll out an update on a small scale, then observe the results. If it works out like they expect, Google will apply the update further.
So, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more deindexed public networks in the near future.
I believe that actual private networks that are well built will still be quite valuable. Sure, there may be more risk than there was before but backlinks still matter.
Was This PR Move?
Sure, most definitely. From Google’s perspective, it’s super effective to make a clear example of some of the most vocal proponents of the PBN movement.
I feel really bad for Spencer and Perrin.
Really bad! I got hit pretty hard with my money sites being penalized for “thin content”. But the lost revenue and unrealized profits from investments for Niche Pursuits are significantly more, like a magnitude higher.
No more PBNs!!
The effect was that Spencer very decidedly came out against Private Blog Networks. There is no room for interpretation.
Several other people disagree with Spencer’s conclusion, since most other people didn’t get hit as hard as him.
I’m just speculating here…what if another big network was hit in the next few weeks? That would be another huge win against public networks and would send another wave of fear to would-be PBN builders…
What others have said…
Spencer & Perrin from Niche Pursuits
The overall conclusions can be summarized with 2 statements directly from Spencer:
- “…let me be very clear: Google has beaten me into submission, I’m done with PBNs…forever!”
- “…here’s the deal; using PBNs used to be faster, cheaper, and better. However nowadays when you compare a PBN vs. real marketing (outreach, great content, etc); a PBN is no longer much faster, or cheaper, and certainly not better.”
And, a lot of people have been a little hard on Spencer for ‘flip flopping’ which is not the case. He cited no less the 15 posts & podcasts where he outlined the risks of using a PBN. I’d say he’s been consistent.
Rank Hero wasn’t a PBN – it was Public…
Now, I’d argue that the Rank Hero links cannot be called “private” by any stretch of the imagination…and Spencer is a leader in the space considering his best in class software, Long Tail Pro. Spencer was a key person to impact to have the greatest PR effect to the SEO community.
Perrin’s aPennyShaved.com was doing really well over the last few months so it’s really terrible to see that site lose traffic. Perrin has a plan to get the site back on track so we will see how it works out over the next few months. Good luck, Perrin!
It’s interesting to note that the post referenced above, titled Alright Google, You Win…I’ll Never Use Private Blog Networks Again! has over 430 comments, was mentioned by SERoundtable, SearchEngineLand, Rand Fishkin, and Matt Cutts. Spencer mentioned that it was his highest single traffic day on Niche Pursuits.
Glen from Viperchill & Marketing, Inc
Glen Allsop of ViperChill frame, stated he’ll continue to grow his network with his business partner, Diggy. Glen mentions 2 interesting facts:
- They had about 100 out of 2,000 domains deindexed, or about 5%.
- The websites that get those PBN links did NOT get the signature “thin content” penalty.
I really like a semantic point that Glen talks about…
To be clear, I’ve never actually thought of my network as Private Blog Network. Private is a bit of strange word to use. I’ve always simply thought of it as my own link network (especially since I don’t always use blogs).
I mentioned that it looks like everything centered around Rank Hero and that’s just my opinion… Glen said he thinks this was a manual action taken against PBNs.
I don’t think I agree completely with that otherwise I believe that the entire Rank Hero network would have been deindexed. It does seem like there was something algorithmic with this action – even if it was small.
Then again, deindexing 40% would be enough to shutdown a public network and it would keep us guessing. By intentionally adding randomness to the action makes it harder to deconstruct and understand.
We’ll probably never know…
Needless to say, Glen & Diggy will be pressing on with their link networks. They offer up some great tips at the end of the article for people that will be following suit with PBNs so be sure to check it out.
Greg Nunan from NoHatDigital
Greg stepped up right away on Sept 19th to explain the situation at the NoHat compound and followed up with a podcast. Like I said, they lost about 40% of the domains in their network, and that’s the highest impact that I have seen so far.
It sounds like many of the customers from Rank Hero that I have talked to have received the “thin content” notification.
The information that Greg presented was thorough and NoHatDigital has been very transparent through it all. It’s really interesting because of a few strange facts:
- They have 8 networks made from over 600 domains, and they’re built out differently.
- 1 segregated network was totally deindexed (~60 sites)
- 1 segregated network had some domains deindexed
- 1 segregated network was untouched
- A network that was NOT used yet (i.e. never used to build a link) was hit – 14 out of 24 domains were deindexed. The network was not open to anyone outside of NoHatDigital.
The Data Expert at NHD, Lynn thinks it’s related to registrar/WHOIS information. I can’t argue with her analysis at all.
However, I have to mention that their data set is pretty unique since NHD ran Rank Hero.
Disclaimer: I’m not a data expert by any definition.
Check out the podcast and you can hear Lynn & Greg dive into the specifics.
Matt from Dumb Passive Income
Matt’s network is doing okay right now. He said he hasn’t had any deindexed.
Matt provides a few main take aways:
- Public Networks are bad…He isn’t surprised at all that Rank Hero was targeted.
- Private Networks are good. Keep them truly private.
- Use other sources of links like blog commenting, web 2.0s, and outreach.
Josh from Form Your Future
Josh doesn’t think PBN’s are dead. He clearly points out that Rank Hero was a public network which is now a consistent theme.
Then, Josh showed some specific examples of niche sites that are clearly using PBNs to rank. Yup, even after the update real PBNs provide some serious link juice.
Unfortunately, Josh, had a few sites take a dive in the rankings. He actually had a few Rank Hero links but commended Hayden & the NHD crew for their honesty.
Josh’s main points that we can use are:
- Make sure your PBN is exclusive…Don’t link out to dozens & dozens of money sites.
- Focusing on local clients for SEO services is a very good idea.
- Diversify your traffic sources since Google can change the rules at any time… “Along with SEO, capitalize on social media, online communities, blogs of your peers, ads, forums, etc. By doing this, you’ll set yourself up for long term success regardless of what Google has to say about it.”
Jon from Authority Website Income
Jon was hit pretty hard too. He lost about 30% of Lightning Rank, his public blog network. It’s significant but it sounds like Jon considers that the cost of doing business.
However, it’s interesting that the Done-For-You-Service that Jon offers had a much lower deindexing rate. Over the last full year, only 10% have been deindexed.
That’s pretty good.
I totally agree with Jon when he says, “it is a solid vote of confidence that I am on the right track with my niche relevant, quality site truly private PBN strategy.”
Jon’s theory is this:
My current theory on how this penalty was applied is that Google spent time building a case to determine with a level of certainty what sites were part of PBN’s. Once they had built up a large group of sites they thought were part of PBN’s they attacked them all in one big wave to generate fear/publicity/buzz.
Yeah. Jon, I think you’re right.
That totally makes sense and is probably why Rank Hero and Lightning Rank are the networks that were hit the hardest with 40% & 30% deindexing rates, respectively.
The main take away from Jon is that the safest kind of PBN is:
- Truly private
- Niche relevant
I’m still trying to figure that out.
I poured in 9 months trying to get the main money site to rank again. And, my wife helped out a lot, too! It was a lot of effort and we were getting really close to recovering.
Then, BAM…We’re back right where we started.
The case study websites, all four of them, are toast. I can say that I wouldn’t recommend building a new affiliate site on an expired domain unless it was in the very same niche.
We’ll have some strategy sessions trying to figure out the best course for our next niche site.
I know I’ll definitely keep the new money sites separated in Webmaster Tools if I even have them listed.
Do I still think PBNs are a good idea?
The overwhelming consensus is that truly private networks are still quite useful. Stay out of the public networks and go after some niche relevant domains, then you should be in the clear.
Did you get hit with “thin content” warnings? Was your network impacted by any of the deindexing? Let me know in the comments.