Today someone hired me to start writing their content. They already rank very well for one term, but have woken up and discovered that they could rank well for hundreds of terms. I verified this by checking out their competition, and I was not surprised to see that none of them area creating content. Everyone in this particular niche in this particular city are sitting right on a gold mine.
Anyways, I decided to take a look at their backlink profile. Something was odd, several industrial type of websites were linking to this business. I went and visited them and every single one was a basic WordPress theme with no contact information and hidden domain name registration. I immediately recognized these as repurposed, expired domains.
What are expired domains?
In the land of private blog networks (PBNs), these are domains which have expired. The most sought after once belonged to a legitimate company. When the company goes out of business or they forget to renew their domain name it gets scooped up by a PBN operator.
Where do people buy expired domains?
GoDaddy auctions, ExpiredDomains.net, FreshDrop.com just to name a few. People also snipe domains using services such as pool or snapnames, but that is a story for another day.
A PBN is a collection of websites used for the intention of linking to a “money site” or a target site with the intention of manipulating the search engines to rank the target site higher.
How long has this worked?
One fellow I have been monitoring since 2004 has been effectively doing this with very good success. In addition to operating PBNs he also uses redirects on his new domains. I have discovered a plethora of tricks he uses simply by observing him. While I do not practice any of his tactics they do work and they do work very, very well. I do not personally know this person, I just bump into his work on occasion, and the few times we spoke it was completely anonymously on reddit. He did tell me that he is an affiliate marketer, has been practicing black hat, makes well over 100k even on a bad year, and that he supports his entire family using his work. This is a guy with a 401k, health insurance, etc, and he takes his business very seriously.
Should I have a private blog network?
No. I would advise against owning or participating in a PBN. My new client had absolutely no idea that this was taking place. That said, he does rank well. So well, he is at the top of page 1 for the most sought after key phrase in a city with over 1 million people. He has purchased new trucks and hired new employees due to the increase in business. It does work. But, if you are building a business that you would like long term success for, participating in a PBN is a horrible idea. Having owned a small business myself, I have experienced the frustrations and joys that come along with it. You do NOT want to be penalized by Google.
What to do if your SEO Company added you to a PBN.
Initially, I did not want to get any links to this client. Most people would be shocked to see what I accomplish with ZERO links (more on this later).
I suggested to this client that he fire his SEO dude immediately. In fact, I won’t even build content or get involved with a site like this in any way. If he fires the SEO guy, I can begin building content for this site. I suggested that moving forward we get him some legitimate links to his site from other businesses that he works with, his chamber of commerce, and other sites in his area that already want to link to him for what he offers. These would be legitimate, traffic driving links (good links). Then, after a few months, go back and have Mr. SEO Guru remove the spam that he has littered the Internet with. In the niche this guy is in, he only needs a handful of legitimate links; he does NOT need to pay someone to build him links on an ongoing basis, and, natural links will come from the epic content that I would be putting up for him (BTW that is how to organically build links).
What to do if your SEO company has gotten you penalized
I have no problem with PBNs. I do not use them and understand people will always game any system. PBNs are a game of cat and mouse. If you are experimenting in search or using PBNs for yourself, great, you aren’t bothering me. I personally don’t care. But, if you are a business owner and hired a company to build you “high quality backlinks” and they have gotten you penalized they may be responsible for the damages they have caused. I find this very disturbing. And, SEO companies are getting sued for this. Damages would be hard to prove though, so who knows if this will become a trend or not. If you have been penalized the course of action you need to take moving forward varies depending on the severity of the penalty and how easily things can be fixed. If you need assistance with a white hat Internet presence feel free to reach out to me and I may be able to assist you or at least point you in the right direction.
Why some PBNs fail and others are Alive and Well
Good PBNs are set up very well.
- If a human were to go over the site, they would have absolutely no idea that the site was part of a PBN. This could be a legitimate blog built from scratch.
- Savvy PBN owners place their sites on various servers around the web, hide their registration, buy domains on different dates.
- They do not use all of their sites to link to one specific money site.
- They devote a lot of time and effort in to their PBN.
- The keep iadding fresh content to them which is actually valuable and interesting
- May be hosted on the same webserver or use the same C Block
- Are owned by the same person
- Have Analytics installed and linked to the same Google account
- Were purchased on the same date
- All link to the same money site at the same time
- Have thin content, spun content, or add no content of value
Most people are not willing to put the effort in to creating a good PBN. A good PBN is virtually undetictable but is practically a full time job.
Isn’t Google going to crack down on these private blog networks?
There are many well known PBN owners, such as ViperChill who will tell you that you should not keep all of your eggs in once basket. Good PBN owners own multiple PBNs. When one PBN gets taken down, it is expected, not a surprise.
Of course, Google and other search engines want to detect these. Maybe one day they will get better at it but it is not happening any time soon. There are several articles out there that state Google is attacking them. Here is one by Search Engine Roundtable saying Google is “severely” hitting them. This is unconfirmed by Google but even so it is more of a drop in the bucket than a crackdown.
I would expect that PBNs keep getting taken out here and there and that search engines keep working towards the penalization of useless sites. Unless you are a full time black hat SEO, having a PBN is a terrible idea. Never, ever use a PBN on a legitimate business that you wish to grow, expand upon, or that your family and employees depend on. But to say they are going away is just silly; PBNs are alive and well and are more profitable to own than ever before. Welcome to 2015.