What Is a PBN Site and Are They Risky to Use for Link Building?

What is a PBN site and how do they work

There has been many arguments for and against the SEO value of using or even building PBN sites, and much confusion on what they actually are. In this article, I break it all down for you.

What is a PBN site?

PBN is short for Private Blog Network, which is a fancy way of saying a collection of blogs whose only real purpose is to build page rank and then sell or trade links.

These PBN sites ownership is normally hidden, and each site is made to look entirely independent from one another, to trick Google into thinking they are not related.

What are the ethics of PBN sites?

A lot of people believe private blog networks are super bad, and unethical, and a lot of people believe they are entirely fair game. It’s a tricky decision for your to make, personally.

On one hand, the site ownership is kept hidden, or indeed faked using fictional people or companies. On the other hand, all they are doing is trying to game Google, which is just like the many SEO experts and site owners who research and use target keywords in multiple places per page to try and improve SEO.

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I don’t feel it is my responsibility nor my right, to tell you if they are ethical or not. I can only share the facts and links to other articles that take one side or the other.

How can you spot a PBN site?

There are a number of different elements that are often spotted on a PBN site. Seeing one of these elements on a website does not necessarily mean it is a PBN site, however when there are a number of these factors, it sure seems more likely.

Just like some real sites may display some of these elements, there are also plenty of PBN that won’t show any of these elements, and are extremely hard to spot. All I can do is point out some things to look for, when searching for sites to pitch your guest posting.

Fake advertising

This is something I have noticed on a number of PBN sites. This is typically because the banner ads (like the example below) were included with the blog template, and have never been changed.

Advertising on PBN site

Advertising on PBN site

If you are creating say dozens of website in mass, to publish effectively links to other websites, it makes sense that you don’t care too much about customising the templates you get for these blogs. However, it does mean that you give your game away to nay human visitors to these sites.

A number of ‘How to create a PBN’ articles and guides suggest that you always have a unique template for each of these sites. That’s a lot of work to go through and change design elements, etc if you have more than say 10 sites.

Blank content

This lack of any customisation of blog templates continues, when you see homepage content areas set aside for video, which don’t actually contain any video.

Fake video on PBN site

Fake video on PBN site

This lack of content or design changes often go through any other generic pages that come standard in most WordPress themes or templates. These include pages such as contact, about, etc,

Fake or missing contact details

Because these private blog network websites are often hiding the true ownership behind throwaway gmail addresses and domain name privacy services, they also often do not include any contact details on the sites, or if they do, they are purposefully fake.

There are plenty of examples out there, such as contact forms that don’t work, or phone numbers at the top of every page that read (123) 456 789, etc.

The below example is from a PBN site, that has a contact menu item that goes to a page with lorem ipsum text. The ‘Google Maps’ buttons also just head to the maps.google.com Home page, and no particular map.

Fake contact details on a website

Fake contact details on a website

You may also find sites that display social media links, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, however they aren’t actually linked to any account, but rather just point to the main pages of Facebook and the like.

‘Spun’ content

There are a number of services and software packages out there, that allow a user to input any existing content and the system will create a new version, which will pass any plagiarism checks, yet be terrible grammatically.

The following paragraph is the two paragraphs under ‘What is PBN? sub heading above, passed through one of these article spinner tools;

PBN is short for Private Blog Network, that’s a fancy manner of saying a group of blogs whose most effective real cause is to build page rank and then sell or exchange links. These PBN web sites ownership is typically hidden, and each site is made to look entirely impartial from one another, to trick Google into thinking they are now not related.

See how obviously terrible this reads? Even at this very average level, these spinners are considered a great cost effective solution for someone who doesn’t care if any humans actually read their pages, but would rather just have words so Google considers the website real.

Illegal or unethical content

Sometimes, PBN owners will publish articles of a very dubious nature. These dodgy articles are sometimes sold as article publishing, or the PBN owner gets a commission for any resulting sales or downloads.

Dodgy article on PBN site

Dodgy article on PBN site

The example above shows an article for getting a Microsoft Office 365 license for free, which obviously wouldn’t happen, along with five terabytes of cloud storage, which seems very unlikely to be legitimate.

How big are these private blog networks?

There are some people who have a handful of 4-5 blogs, and call them a PBN, and yet there are others with hundreds, if not thousands, of sites all runnings as huge private blog networks.

What are PBN links?

A PBN link is literally an outbound link from a PBN site as described above to another site, such as yours. They are often referred to as PBN links or PBN backlinks on marketplaces.

For example, this image shows what search results display when searching for PBN links on Fiverr.

Buying backlinks on marketplace

Buying backlinks on marketplace

Are PBNs worth the risk?

This is where the debate rages. Some people are adamant that without using PBN, you will never get great rankings. Other people state that PBN are the biggest risk to your website ranking, ever.

So rather than add noise to the debate by giving my opinion (which is more in the middle than these two extreme examples), let’s look at what other experts are saying.

YES

PBNs are a shortcut method to get high-quality backlinks in large quantities without having to perform the tedious tasks typically done for link building. states this article on DomCop.

Niche Site Project are also fans of quality PBN’s. In this article, they state ”

If you’re wondering “Do PBNs work?” The answer is YES. They definitely work and they work really damn well, too. “

NO

This article on Monitor Backlinks, says don’t use them “While all those reasons for building PBN backlinks might sound pretty good, it’s highly advised to not build backlinks from private blog networks. PBN backlinks are a kiss of death to your website”.

Over on Search Engine Watch, the writer of this article is also firmly in the No camp; “Buying links on sites like Fiverr or through other services may put your site in grave danger. And if anyone tries to convince you to participate in a link exchange (i.e., trade links with them), run.”

MAYBE

Well known SEO expert, Neil Patel, says in this article on the subject, that “I can’t just answer it with a “yes” or “no.” The answer requires a bit of explaining, a listing of the pros and cons, and then an understanding of the alternatives.”

Summary

At the end of the day, the decision on using PBN sites for your link building efforts is up to you. I’ve helped explain what is a PBN site, and how they work, as well as the pros and cons.

Just like there are varying views on the topic, there is varying quality between different private blog networks. Choosing one that uses high quality content and doesn’t have the faults I have listed earlier in this article will mean at least your post or links are in the same neighborhood as quality and not spammy, content.

Credit: Feature image from Unsplash.

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