A private blog network (PBN) is a network of websites that only exist to link to a central website in order to influence that website's authority in search.
A private blog network (PBN) utilizes a network of websites to build links to and influence the authority of a particular or central website. The links created through this singular moving exchange boost the central website’s authority, improving the website’s ranking — that is, until they are caught by Google and penalized for unethical techniques, and all those rankings disappear.
Understanding how a PBN works begins with a basic understanding of the importance of backlinks and authority. In basic terms, a backlink is a link from another site to your site. Backlinks are organically constructed when your site provides foundational or authoritative content— so much so that another site, in essence, “quotes” your site via a link. This link signals to search engines that your site is an authority on the subject matter, which positively influences your site’s ability to rank highly for searches related to that topic. The more links, the greater the signal of authority.
PBNs function by either purchasing a collection of expired domain names that already have established authority, or by purchasing and registering a variety of domains at once, and building their authority. Once the network is established, the domains are then utilized to post basic content that includes links back to the primary website.
In a brief and representational equation, a PBN link campaign might look something like this:
Purchased expired domain #1 + 5 links to primary website.
Purchased expired domain #2 + 5 links to primary website.
Purchased expired domain #3 + 5 links to primary website.
= +15 new authoritative links to primary website that increase rankings and perhaps results in new traffic.
Backlinks greatly influence Google rankings, and organic links often take a long time to earn. Building ethical and high-quality backlinks — real, white hat links — takes the development of not just good, but great content, and usually a fair amount of outreach and relationship building. This takes time, strategy, and work. The primary goal of a link is to offer value to a person or audience, and secondarily, to send a signal of authority to a search engine bot. In essence, a good and evergreen link is always earned.
PBNs bypass the need to earn links, and allow black hats to manipulate their own link acquisition. Since you own multiple domains, you have nearly unlimited opportunity to farm your own backlinks and fool the search engine bots into trusting that you have authority, regardless of whether the target content is worthy of links or not. You also have the ability to control and precisely select the anchor text of your links, ensuring that they are optimized and relevant. So the opportunity of increasing backlinks at a rapid pace can create instant or very swift exploitative authority, resulting in inauthentic, but nevertheless valuable space, in search engine results page (SERP) rankings — at least temporarily.
While PBNs might provide instant gratification, they are considered black hat SEO tactics and a part of link schemes. Black hat SEO attempts to hoodwink search engine bots into perceiving value in a site, with no regard to searcher intent or a human audience. These unethical practices often result in consequences and penalties such as de-indexing, or even banning a website — and banishment is a pretty high price to pay for the quick return that PBNs provide.
As search engines continue developing a more efficient and thorough way to detect inauthentic SEO practices, black hat SEO strategists become more versatile and sophisticated. It is important to do your homework when interacting with other sites and receiving and giving backlinks. Use the following as guidelines to consider if a site is part of a PBN:
It is important to make note that those who manage or operate multiple sites and share links or content are not necessarily participating in a PBN scheme. If each site is operating independently with good authentic content, and shares links that provide value and support — as they are intended to do — these practices should not be considered harmful. It is when links to internal pages are repeated in an inorganic fashion, or there are multiple links present in the footers, that the SEO practices might be questionable.
If you choose to work with an SEO consultant or firm that provides custom link building services make sure to do the due diligence in ensuring that they offer and perform white hat SEO practices. Do not participate in link exchanges or link trades (I will link to you, if you link to me) with other sites. Ensure that you stay aware and educated on Google’s search engine optimization guidelines, and practice the best white hat SEO techniques.
White hat SEO strategies refer to the use of techniques that target and cater to a human audience, and are in line with Google and other search engine guidelines. These strategies are often long-term investments, and may take longer to achieve results, but the results are ethical, and last a long time. Consider deploying the following white hat techniques in your SEO strategy: