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Search engine optimization or SEO is all about the visibility of a website or a webpage in the organic search results of a search engine. Sites need to be search engine optimized for them to appear in the results shown by search engines when users look for a particular set of keywords that is representative of the website. The idea is that the more frequently a website appears on the search engine list, more visitors will come to the site, and the probability of converting those visitors into customers will increase.

There are multiple ways of achieving search engine optimization. The means of SEO that abide by the rules and policies of search engines is called White Hat SEO. That is indicative when good quality and useful content is available on a website. If the content ranked and indexed by search engines is same as the one that users see, then it implies White Hat SEO techniques are in play. The means that do not follow or abide by the policies are Black Hat SEO or Spamdexing. It is the unethical way of achieving SEO. Cloaking techniques, meta tag stuffing, hiding of content text with the aid of HTML codes, Doorway or Gateway pages, keyword stuffing, and page hijacking are some of the Black Hat SEO techniques.

Private Blog Network (PBN)

One of the popular and commonly found techniques of Black Hat SEO is Private Blog Network. It refers to a network of multiple websites created to link to the website that makes money for the site owner. This technique aims at achieving higher search rankings. Clients Website or Money Website is the term for the website that links to multiple websites. And the numerous sites that are linked are called the Private Blog Networks. The PBNs are not linked to each other in any way, and hence they appear to be natural links. The idea is to ensure that it doesn’t seem that other websites are linked to the main site.

Typically, SEO practitioners acquire several expired domains with third-party external links, and they put in fresh content. But this content is not updated, neither do they get any external links and they have zero value unless it links to the money website. The money website, on the other hand, receives a good number of inbound links and is updated and maintained on a regular basis. It keeps receiving external links with time.

Therefore, in simple terms, if you own many microsites that rarely get updated and are not well maintained, and if they are linked to your main website(s), then this implies that they exist only to ‘funnel link juices’ to your website that is making money for you. However, if you have multiple sites that are updated and maintained regularly, then there is nothing to worry. The primary search engine, Google objects to such concepts. But in some instances, say you have a bunch of websites, not based on expired domains, their content is more or less similar to your active websites, and if you are not marketing and promoting those bunch of sites, then Google might not penalize them, but it may devalue them. Hence a thin line exists.

Identifying Private Blog Networks

The key is that much of the technical data on the PBNs are similar. The old-time PBNs used to share the same IP address, have the same servers and related other technical data. But the PBNs of today’s time are much more difficult to identify. The current day PBNs spread across different industries, topics, and technical layouts, hence making them harder to uncover. While determining whether a site is a part of the PBN or not, you can consider the following points:

  • The duplicity of content: Try to copy and paste a paragraph into a search engine and see if the content exists on any other website.
  • Check the site ownership: Check for the WHOIS information of all the sites. WHOIS database gives the contact information on the websites. If all the sites have the same owner, then the sites have a connection.
  • Hosting of the sites: check if all the websites have the same IP hosting. Various tools are available to find this out.
  • Site theme and site design: Check if the sites have similar site design, color scheme, and navigation system. Are they based on similar themes?
  • Check for interlinking: Check the backlink profile of these websites through various tools available. See if there is any interlinking between these sites. Backlink profiles are often, a sure way of assessing the presence of a PBN. If multiple sites have the same backlink profile and if all of them are linking to a particular website, then it is most definitely a case of PBN, and if not, it is potentially a case of link-selling.

Why must you not use PBN?

In addition to the fact that Google can severely penalize your Private Blog Network, there are other disadvantages to owning a PBN. First and foremost, PBN needs a significant monetary investment. Whether you go for domain auctions or whether you go for domain vendors, the cost of buying and maintaining a network of sites can be an expensive affair. Apart from the purchase price, you need to bear the cost of hosting, WHOIS and adding content.

Apart from the monetary investment, there is also a significant time investment, from finding out if the websites are worthy of purchasing, to developing respective content, finding themes, creating essential pages and creating social accounts for each of them to appear normal. PBNs demand a lot of time and energy investment.

There is a risk of getting penalized for unnatural external links and your site might get de-indexed. Therefore, investing the same amount of time, energy and money into more ethical means of search engine optimization such as white hat SEO may be a better and a much safer option.

You never know when your site becomes the part of a PBN

Reputable SEO firms will never recommend black hat SEO or any other unethical means of optimization for your website. However, there might be cases when your site gets involved in a PBN without your knowledge. That is possible when you outsource link building activities to third parties or in instances where you are not educated enough on these matters. Also, link exchange or trading of links is another indication you have come across a PBN. It is recommended to educate yourself about the search engine policies and about unethical SEO practices. If you detect any methods for optimization that search engine guidelines don’t approve of or that aren’t transparent enough, you should be careful.

It’s the best practices that prevail

Even though the competition for ranking on the top of Google is incredibly fierce, and there are SEO companies that guarantee top search ranks, it is crucial for one to remain alert and cautious of involving in a PBN and refrain from any unethical or unfair link-building strategy. Ethical means may be slow in being effective, but they are a worthwhile investment if you are in for the long run.