Website administrators are always looking for ways to boost the search engine rankings of their websites, and in search engine optimization (SEO), the rules of the game are always changing. Keyword stuffing is out. Authority content is in. There's a brand-new ranking algorithm in town, and its name is Fred. So what about private blog networks (PBNs)? They have existed for a while, but perhaps their longevity is a testament to their usefulness for SEO purposes. Are PBNs worth the considerable investment of time and money that it takes to build them? Are they worth the risk?
What Is a PBN?
PBN stands for private blog network, but the name is somewhat misleading. A PBN is definitely a network of websites that are connected, but they are not necessarily all blogs. Another important characteristic of the PBN is that most of the sites in the network are not related to each other and not linked to each other.
How Does a PBN Work?
The site in the "middle" of the PBN is the money site; it is your site for which you are trying to boost the rankings on Google. It is the site you have decided to monetize. Linking your money site to many other high-quality sites (known as authority sites in the SEO business) is one of the oldest and most enduring SEO techniques. The other sites in the PBN, the ones to which the money site is linked are sites which once had a serious purpose, but the owners of the domains have let their ownership expire; they are abandoned sites. For SEO enthusiasts, these domains are like treasures in a junkyard. The person buying the PBN buys these domains and links them to his money site, but not to each other. This has the effect of making it appear to Google that the money site is the talk of the town, that high-quality websites on a variety of topics want to link to it.
As you can imagine, building a PBN costs time and money. It takes a lot of time to find available domains where the sites still have functional content and links, and it costs money to buy these domains. SEO professionals still find it worthwhile, though, because it does increase the rankings of the money site.
How Does It Boost Search Engine Rankings?
The main way that a PBN boosts search engine rankings is through links. The more links that lead to the money site, the more highly the site ranks. When you build a PBN, you are buying websites specifically for the purpose of linking them to your site. That is the main purpose of a PBN, but a secondary benefit of buying the domains that make up the outer ring of the PBN is that they are still perfectly good sites that happened to be abandoned by their owners; they still rank highly on Google searches and have content that people want to read. People still visit those sites, and when your money site is linked to them, some people might even click through to your site.
Does Using a PBN Qualify as a "Black Hat" Technique?
It depends who you ask. Some people consider it a black hat technique to build and maintain a PBN, and others consider it a gray hat technique. On the one hand, the rankings boost you get from PBN links is not "organic," which is the main criterion for white hat SEO. On the other hand, PBN defenders argue that the other sites belong to you, so it is no worse than actually having several blogs or several business sites that are linked to each other. Even if PBNs do qualify as black hat SEO, or at least dark gray hat, they are so effective at increasing search rankings that many website administrators consider them worth the risk. Besides, if Google does penalize you for running a PBN by lowering your rankings, it is easy enough to remove the offending links and restore the rankings of your site.
Does Using a PBN Break the Rules?
Yes, technically it does. Buying a site just for its links is considered less than honorable in the eyes of Google. If Google catches you running a PBN, it will lower your site's rankings in search results. If it does, you can just unlink your money site from the other site with which it was caught, and the rankings will improve. That said, many people operate PBNs for long periods of time without getting caught. PBNs usually only raise red flags with Google if they are the primary means of boosting a site's rankings. Sites that use PBNs in combination with guest posts and high-quality content usually do not get penalized for their PBN use, and if they do, then they are usually good enough sites that they can recover their rankings even without the PBN.
Can Using a PBN Affect My Search Rankings If I Get Caught?
Yes, if your site gets caught as part of a PBN, Google can penalize you by pushing your site farther down the list of search results. In order to get the penalty removed, you will have to unlink your site from some or all of the other sites in the PBN.
PBNs can be highly effective at increasing the rankings of your site, but do not rely on them exclusively. If the money site's only strength is its PBN links, then it will not be able to recover its rankings if it gets penalized for its PBN connections. The best way to use a PBN is to use it in combination with truly white hat SEO techniques. This way, you will still have a high-quality site even if your PBN gets caught and you have to dismantle it entirely. Likewise, you will still have an authoritative, useful site even while you are investing the time it takes to find domains to build your PBN.