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For over a decade Public Blog Networks (PBNs) have been utilised by businesses and SEO agencies as a link building ‘shortcut’.

Setting up a PBN is not without its difficulties though. The process can be costly and time consuming – as well as risky. The art of preparing PBNs is in disguising the sites within your network as genuine and unrelated.

We believe that the future of the Internet is all about quality content and positive user experiences through great design (UX design).

Whilst PBNs may have a chequered past, they aren’t entirely black hat – many argue that they sit on the boundary lines in a ‘gray hat’ zone. As such it is important to make sure you don’t cross over the line.

Find out how to navigate the tricky world of PBNs below.

 

What is a PBN?

A Private Blog Network (PBN) is a collection of high quality sites you have control over that link directly back to your primary website.

These websites typically have quality backlinks and therefore provide high levels of link equity to your primary website.

Your PBN may consist of several tiers of back linking sites. Below is an example of a mapped out PBN.

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New to SEO? Here’s A Rundown!

SEO helps your page rank over others on search engines. This can be valuable, especially for businesses that generate income through their website. SEO can be either internal or external.

You can improve your internal SEO by creating a positive user experience (UX) on your site. By adding internal links and creating relevant content, improving download times and metadata (metadata is the data that describes images, page titles and content) etc. you make the site easier to navigate and to find.

Your external SEO depends on how often you are talked about by others on the Internet. Backlinks are where others have linked to your website. Search engines see this as good indication of your domain’s authority and reward you for it.

Where do PBNs fit into this? PBNs are an external SEO tactic. They are a way of making it seem like your site is more popular than it actually is, by creating fake pages that talk about your primary page.

We could go into a lot more depth, but hopefully that is enough to help you navigate the rest of the article.

Black Hat or White Hat?

The wild west days of the Internet are winding down; as such a lot of practices which may have been common are increasingly being targeted by search engines like Google.

Recent updates to the way Google crawls pages for site search information have made it harder for black hat practices to continue.

Some question whether PBNs are worth it. Certainly pre-Penguin and Panda they were unstoppable. Nowadays you are running a risk.

 

Spying On Your Competitor’s Private Blog Network

Knowing your competitor is important for many reasons. You can copy their strategy, negate their own PBN activities, or even report them to Google.

More often than not it does not hurt to determine to see if your competitors are employing black hat tactics. You have nothing to lose and could potentially call out your competitor’s bad practices.

 

Step 1: Identify

Identify your competitors and find them online!

 

Step 2: Research

The second step is to use Ahrefs to evaluate their backlinks, to see if they have what might be a PBN.

When you’re looking through their backlinks look for targeted anchor text, poor quality copy, scalable/common CMS, and shady domain names. Any of these may be a sign that you should move on to step three.

 

Step 3: Dig deeper

Take your research a step further; use a reverse IP domain check to check on domains you found linking to the primary website.

Although the technology available is rudimentary you may try matching different post sites linguistic fingerprints (http://nlpdotnet.com/Services/Fingerprinter.aspx).

You may also try using the Internet Archive to find out when a domain was picked and compare with other sites.

You can use Whois to infer who the domain is owned by – this is paid tool but is very powerful – if the owner of the site took more than two weeks to set privacy settings on their domain, this tool will pick it up.

Most, possibly 80%, of PBN owners don’t go to a great level of detail; however some can be fairly sophisticated, some PBNs can be up to 500 sites wide with excellent copy and one link per page.

 

What to do if your competitor is employing black hat SEO?

If you compile enough evidence you may be able to alert search engines like Google of the behavior. The sooner you do this the better. Not only are your competitors playing dirty, they are potentially drawing customers away from you online with these tactics.

Other things to look out for are sudden spikes search engine ranking from your competitors. By regularly monitoring your competitors you can make sure that everyone is on a level playing field. Google’s suite of online web monitoring tools are very handy for this kind of research.

 

Summary

We hope that this helped open your eyes to the potential damage that Private Blog Networks can wreak on your business when used by competitors to dive their rankings.

If you would like to explore SEO tactics for your business then why not get in contact with a local SEO expert? Find out what competitive SEO techniques can guide you in setting up a strategy that will deliver for your website.

Do you employ SEO tactics already? What type of strategy do you employ? Do you have any recommendations for best or worse practice? We’d love to hear more about what your experiences have been.

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