PBN’s Are Not Dead and Powerful Links Still Matter

PBNs are not deadI am not living under a rock. Unless you are, I’m sure you are aware of the recent shake-up that Google has caused with their mass de-indexing of PBN sites and manual “thin content” penalties that they’ve been handing out to sites that are linked to from certain PBN’s. I’ve been following several different threads online and via email and also reading a few of the popular SEO blogs that have posted recently on this topic. And now I am writing my own post and offering my own take and opinion on the matter. I’m sure some of you are wondering how my sites fared throughout this whole debacle.

I find it to be somewhat humorous that Google thinks they own the internet. It’s even funnier to me that so many webmasters and SEO’s apparently think the same thing. Google does, in fact, own the largest and second largest share of the internet search market (Google and YouTube) – but they don’t own the entire internet. They just control a large portion of the internet because so many people want to stay in Google’s good graces so that they will send free traffic to their websites. Perhaps the U.S. Post Office better watch their backs – Google might try to own them pretty soon too!

Did My Sites Survive the De-Indexing?

Yes. All of my money sites are holding their rankings and are doing just fine. Do I consider myself lucky? Partially. I am lucky that I never jumped on the Rank Hero bandwagon. As far as I can tell from everything that I’ve read – Rank Hero is the biggest network that got hit and Google handed out manual penalties to almost all sites associated with Rank Hero. But they didn’t stop there. They even penalized sites that didn’t have Rank Hero links that happened to be in the same Webmaster Tools account as sites that did. In other words – they went above and beyond to punish anybody who they thought used PBN’s to link to their sites and increase rankings on the SERP’s.

I did have only 2 of my expired domains de-indexed. Both of these were weaker sites that linked to a couple of my money sites. Having them de-indexed has not affected my rankings much at all. And yes – they would be considered to be a part of my own personal and private blog network. The key word there being “private.” I’m not sure why only those 2 sites got de-indexed when the rest of my PBN sites are very similar and have not been affected.

What Others Are Saying About the De-Indexing and Manual Penalties

I first heard of this big shake-up last Thursday (Sept. 18th) via an email thread between myself and a few other niche site builders who I network with. Some of them got hit pretty hard and others did not. I followed that conversation up with this thread in the Niche Site Community on Google+, where Perrin (from Niche Pursuits) decided to drop in and spill everything about what happened to his and Spencer’s sites. Everybody else in that thread had some really interesting insights too.

NoHatDigital.com

The first real blog post I read came from the guys over at NoHatDigital. They explained in detail what happened exactly and how it affected them and their vast network of sites. My biggest takeaway from their post came from this quote near the end of the post…

Links Still Matter:

There is no doubt in my mind that links are still very important to SEO and that SEO still works. Google can de-index as many PBN sites as they like, but they can’t flick the switch on an algorithm that is built on links as the foundation right now. You just can’t make that kind of massive change and not have it totally obliterate the rankings of legitimate sites. Read the original post on NoHatDigital here.

NichePursuits.com

As expected, Spencer from Niche Pursuits came out with his opinion on Monday. He and Perrin got hit really hard. His frustration shows throughout the post, but he masks it by making a strong point that he saw this coming. In an “I told you so,” sort of way – he lays out exactly what happened and how it affected him. Spencer claims that he is completely done with PBN’s for good and warns his readers that they should be too.

AuthorityWebsiteIncome.com

One day later, Jon from Authority Website Income came out with his analysis. Jon has a massive portfolio of websites that he and his team manage. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of PBN type sites that are built on expired domains. Some of his sites were hit, but the damage was minimal as compared to others. It’s obvious and apparent that Jon still knows what he is doing and his strategies still prove to be effective – although this recent PBN shake-up has caused him to make some minor changes in some of his service offerings. Make sure you check out Jon’s post here, which includes some very nice graphs in classic AWI style.

My Thoughts and Opinions

There were two different types of PBN’s. There were the ones that people kept completely private and never told anybody else about or gave anybody else access to. And there were the ones that were set up as service offerings and sold links to the public.

The Public PBN’s

The public ones would be pretty easy for Google to detect and take down. It’s debatable whether or not they would actually send in a “spy” to act as a customer in order to take down a network. If they did, they would only have to start following link patterns to uncover niche sites and other PBN sites. I salute the guy who somehow programmed that into Google’s algorithm if that’s in fact what happened. But I don’t know.

As stated above, I’m glad I never bought Rank Hero links – as they seem to be the culprit for most of the sites that have been hit the hardest. I did, however, purchase some Lightning Rank links. I was a subscriber of the service for a couple of months – but got out mostly because I didn’t like my own sites being revealed to anybody else who bought links from the service and happened to have them placed on the same PBN sites as mine. The links were powerful and they absolutely helped boost my rankings – but I thought my money would be better spent building out my own network.

Private PBN’s

Others have stated that private PBN’s have been hit too and many sites have been de-indexed. Makes me wonder if these private PBN’s were discovered only because they were linking to the same money sites that got links from public PBN’s (like Rank Hero). I have my suspicions as to why only 2 of my PBN sites got de-indexed – and that would be because I traded a few links to an acquaintance and his money sites got the manual “thin content” penalty. In other words, part of my network was exposed – but because I built it the right way, most of it is still intact and doing just fine.

When I say I built my private PBN the right way – I mean I studied up and read everything I could about how to build an undetectable network of sites. I covered all my tracks and made sure my sites were unique, had awesome content (use the same writer that I do for my money sites), added value for visitors and linked out to several authoritative sources in each article as well as to my money sites. If all sites in a PBN are built this way and placed on different hosts with WhoIs info set to private – it is nearly impossible for Google to even know that these types of sites are even part of a PBN.

Building Links that are Virtually Undetectable by Google

I currently have 4 niche websites (and a whole bunch of failed ones in the past that I let expire) that are ranking. 2 of them are currently earning and the other 2 are climbing in the rankings and getting really close to earning. I don’t like building links and I wish I didn’t have to – but it is absolutely necessary if you hope to rank in Google. Outreach and building relationships is the best way to get relevant and powerful links – but that takes a TON of time. Listed below are the things that I have done with my 4 current sites – and apparently this stuff still works!

Getting Social Shares and Weak Bookmarking Links

I know these links aren’t very strong and probably do very little for my rankings – but I continue to use SocialADR to get automated social bookmarking type links and social shares. I think it adds nice diversity to my backlink profile and helps add that natural flavor to my sites by getting some social shares. I know it’s not very popular in SEO circles. I rarely hear anybody else talking about SocialADR – but I’ve been using it for well over a year and have seen no ill effects from it. The guys over at SocialADR even hooked me up with my own custom discount code to give out to my audience here on Dumb Passive Income!

[ois skin=”SocialADR 20% Below posts”]

Blog Commenting

This is something I do very little of – but I have done minimal blog commenting for each of my sites. Again, most of the links are NoFollow and are very weak and add very little value. But they might help with relevancy. Here is a really cool resource that I found that helps you find relevant sites to comment on for different types of platforms – http://dropmylink.com/

Weaker Web 2.0 Type Links

These links are free to build, but take a ton of time and a little bit of know-how. I attempted to train my VA (from the Phillipines) to build these for me, but there was too much confusion and it just wasn’t working out. Links from these types of sites can actually help quite a bit. They usually won’t bring your money sites to the top of the SERP’s by themselves. But they certainly help some, and again, they add even more diversity to your backlink profile.

After building out a few of these by myself, and then failing to train my VA to do it for me – I decided to buy time and outsource this task. The Hoth is a fabulous service that not only builds out these types of sites for you, but they also add tiers to those sites that add power and value and make them look real. They also deliver a report, that is unmatched by anybody else who offers this type of service, which lists out every single link that they build. And to top it off – they give you the login credentials for all of the sites so that you can go in and make changes if you wish.


The Hoth even came out with their own thoughts and opinions on this whole PBN De-Indexing matter and how it hasn’t affected their services at all. They sent out an email to all of their customers just today. I’ve copy & pasted the entire thing and posted it here if you’re interested in what they had to say.

Stronger High Authority Links from Outreach or PBN’s

As I stated above, outreach is the best way to get real and natural links – but it takes dedication and time. For somebody like me who is managing several niche sites and a blog – all as just a side hustle – there simply isn’t time to do proper outreach to try to obtain links for my niche sites. PBN’s were the next best bet – and they worked beautifully! I’m just really glad I didn’t get super sloppy or lazy with my PBN sites and most of them remained undetected.

It took an unbelievable amount of time and research to develop my PBN. Makes me wonder if that time would have been better spent doing outreach. But my PBN sites are totally reusable. As long as I am careful, I can link to multiple money sites from some of my PBN sites.

Building a PBN the Right Way

I am still a strong believer that these things will continue to work and should be virtually undetectable if done right. Doug Cunnington and Lewis Ogden actually created an entire course on exactly how to build out PBN’s the right way. I’ve gone over the course material myself and can tell you that these guys know what they are talking about and they created a pretty awesome step-by-step course for anybody who wants to learn how to build a PBN. They even put together a pretty sweet infographic that you can view right here (I published it on a separate page because this post is long enough already!).

Conclusion – Links Still Matter

My conclusion, which is the same as others, is that we still need links to rank in Google. That part of Google’s algorithm is going to be really hard to change without destroying way too many legitimate sites. Google is always going to try to keep their SERP’s as clean and as good as possible by trying to take down what they feel are low quality sites. If low quality sites are still able to get to the top of the SERP’s with link building tactics, then Google will constantly adjust and punish those who use these tactics.

Google doesn’t want us to get links manually and they do everything they can to catch us if we do. So what’s left for us to legitimately do? We must get actual natural links or at least make our built links look as natural as possible.

I realize that this latest scare has probably caused a whole ton of people to completely write off using PBN’s to rank websites. This is good news for those of us who aren’t scared off! Now that so many people will be jumping off the bandwagon – high powered sites and expired domains will be easier to find and cheaper to obtain. Silver lining – that’s the way I see it.

How were you affected by this latest scare by Google? What do you think of my take?

Image Credit: Mark Rain via Flickr

38 thoughts on “PBN’s Are Not Dead and Powerful Links Still Matter”

  1. matt –
    Great to hear your thoughts on this issue. My money site with rank hero links got nailed, as well as 2 other sites in my WMT that had 0 links to them. I’m de-indexing my old sites, adding building new domains and will just sit out the sandbox. On the up side, next spring I should have a pretty solid group of sites earning 🙂

    • Sucks Jeff that you’ll miss the holiday buying season though. At least you’re looking towards the up side. To be honest, even though my sites didn’t get hit, this recent shake up has me thinking about diversifying more and more away from SEO…. But that search engine traffic is so profitable!

  2. Hey Matt, all my niche sites are doing fine too. I’m using only few PBN. Mostly I’m using many kind of links to rank my site, not just PBN. I’ve read a lot about this issue and I might not use more PBN links in my authority website that I’ll build it next year. Well, see you next post. 🙂

    • If you’re building a longer term authority site Raweewan, you’re probably smart to find ways to get links more naturally anyway by building relationships and networking with others in the niche. PBN links could still work, but in the case of an authority site – they shouldn’t be necessary.

  3. My PBN is fine as well (touch wood). I actually did the Lewis and Doug course and it is a great starting point. I did, however, lose a new niche site built on an expired domain. I was wondering what the hell was going on when it was deindexed and felt a bit better when I realised it wasn’t just me! I still don’t completely get it though. It was actually an accidental purchase of an expired domain. I didn’t realise until I was building the site but it only had two links to it that looked fine and all looked good in archive.org. It was fine for 2 months and then bam – pure spam penalty. i had only built a few links from my PBN and I wrote all the content myself, so it was certainly not scraped like the penalty describes. All I can think of for why it was targeted was that for some weird reason I put it on cheap hosting. Not sure why i did that as I know better. The other things is that I did get a HOTH package and made the mistake of ticking the box for them to link build on it for me and the links were terribly spammy. I removed them as soon as I got them but they were showing up on webmaster tools.

    • And I meant to say that statements like PBNs are dead are a bit melodramatic. The only way they will be dead is if links stop mattering. As someone with a successful blog, this recent pillaging by google had me far more worried as a blog owner than a PBN/niche site owner. It seems like sites were deindexed that had not done anything wrong (yet anyway!), and I would hate to have my long term blog deindexed.

      • I wondered the same thing Sharon. What if one or more of my niche sites did get hit? I have some of them on the same WMT as this blog – and what if Dumb Passive Income got taken down by association? I would be really pissed if that happened!

    • Touch wood Sharon? Aren’t you supposed to knock on wood? Lol. Interesting case here Sharon. Expired domain plus cheap hosting doesn’t sound like what Google was penalizing. And I seriously doubt the Hoth links had anything to do with it. I might be pretty upset if I were you.

        • Haha. I also was unaware that “touching wood” was a cultural difference vs. our “knocking on wood” here in the states. At least I learned something new out of all of this! Maybe you should try knocking and see how that works in Australia. Lol

          I use crappy IX hosting for most of my PBN sites. Terrible hosting experience from them, and they are somewhat well-known for offering multiple IP addresses per hosting account. So you would think that if certain hosting providers were taken down – they would certainly be one of them. Hard to say…

          • Lol perhaps I should both knock and touch wood just to cover all bases. Now I have that damn “never had to knock on wood” song in my head. It’s all so hard to say which is what makes it so annoying. I definitely have a glass half full approach to it – well glass 29/30ths full anyway. I’m just happy I didn’t lose much.

  4. Any chance you can isolate why “I’m not sure why only those 2 sites got de-indexed when the rest of my PBN sites are very similar and have not been affected.” ? this seems like a good opportunity to learn sonething.

    • Neale, I hinted at my theory further down in the post. Not sure if you read the whole thing.

      “I have my suspicions as to why only 2 of my PBN sites got de-indexed – and that would be because I traded a few links to an acquaintance and his money sites got the manual “thin content” penalty. In other words, part of my network was exposed – but because I built it the right way, most of it is still intact and doing just fine.”

  5. Hey matt, excellent write up.

    I had zero rank hero links never used them, used two other well know PBN’s to one of my sites just a few links.

    I had lots of hoth links (which I love) diverse anchors mostly naked etc.

    I lost ten major authority sites and 10 other sites. Also three domains which I had recently launched that just had a few pages of content live.

    To me what happen I believe is

    1) they found a couple of PBN links from one of the networks claiming low deindexing. Not sure I believe them. That took them to my main money site that ranked 100’s of product buyer keywords in top ten. It was monetised with amazon only and maybe as many as two links per page to amazon.

    2) the presence of p(ublic)bn links led them to the site. Then a moron with little time or experience just zapped the related sites in wmt. But only the amazon ones!!

    Adsense sites and members of my own PBN with no amazon links were left alone… Wtf

    3) I lost a .co.uk site I’d bought from +empireflippers a few weeks ago. A $4k hit. It had links only from its creators PBN it was amazon affiliate also.

    I have to admit to being pretty pissed off. Months of planning and work destroyed. But that not the issue! Not even the cash cost.

    It’s that this is not algorithmic… I can see competitor still where they were with sites using the same strategies and content quality as I.

    This pisses me off not through jealousy far from it but because the way forward is unclear.

    I go with spencer haws, never will I waste money on a p(ublic)bn again.

    • Hi Steve,

      Care to share the two other well known PBNs you used?

      I purchased 10 links from Lightning Rank (three of those sites were deindexed, btw) but have not seen a change in my money site ranks — yet.

      • Hi

        Yes i did have some from them BUT the sites that had my links on from them are still indexed..

        Im still looking into this disaster as Im not fully convinced as to what got me highlighted in the first place.

        Bear in mind that even if the PBN is hit it does not mean that the manual audit and action would be carried out against your sites. The PBN being deindexed doesnot cause the penalty on the money site. A human (beeeeeppp) has to look at the sites linked to one at a time and decided to apply the manual penalty.

        So people saying that they are safe and not hit are really more lucky than anything if they have any live links from a P(ublic)bn.

        If were lucky this is a batch action by google and they will quieten down BUT i think they do these manual action programs learn more data about what a PBn is (after all they just looked at a ton) kill a ton of money sites and cause mayhem.

        My theory is that an algo update will come along later (a seperate attack) and kill more P(ublic)BN off. Including ones they already know about.

        • My sites had Lightning Rank links as well. Jon’s team does a really good job building out those sites and making them look natural. And I know he utilizes tons of different hosting providers.

          Since I’ve published this post – some of my rankings went down slightly. I’m guessing that a few of the strong LR links got de-indexed (not taking the time to check) – but still no penalties or massive drops in rankings. Just lost a few spots for a few keywords.

          The more I’ve read since I published this post, the more it appears that mostly Amazon Affiliate sites were hit. But not all. So I agree with you Steve – the way forward is unclear and really confusing. Perhaps that was Google’s goal with this ordeal. Simply to confuse all of us SEO’s!

    • No wonder why empire flippers are doing well. They are getting people to flip sites ASAp before the algo change! No matter what happens, they still keep the commission right?

      • Exactly right Sam. I’m sure Empire Flippers have that written into some sort of disclaimer. Plus, they are very transparent and informative about the risks and possible pitfalls (and everything else) when it comes to buying and selling sites. Empire Flippers aren’t doing anything wrong. But I can see your point. For this reason, I would be apprehensive to EVER buy a site that is dependent on Google traffic.

  6. Great post, Matt. Thanks for the shout out.

    I agree with your analysis and it’s good to hear that your money sites are good so far! It’s a stretch to call Rank Hero a “private” blog network…it was public by most definitions…just like @Stevewyman:disqus pointed out.

    Like Steve & Jeff, I lost some money sites but nothing like the Niche Pursuits guys. They really got hammered…which is a real shame.

    Thanks again!

    • When you think about it – greed for profit is really what took this whole thing down. If people weren’t out selling links on their networks, I think Google would have just ignored PBN’s altogether. They’ve made it clear that they don’t want people buying links and if they can figure out a way to isolate sites that they know were buying links – they will penalize them. It’s too bad that so many other sites got caught up in the crossfire.

  7. Totally agree Matthew, everybody is jumping on the band wagon because they used crappy Rank Hero links. It’s obvious they are going to get caught out sooner or later!! I actually wrote a hit back post to Spencers view on things here: http://doseoyourself.com/pbns-not-working/

    I think some people are forgetting the definition of PBN

    P is for Private…. not public!!!

  8. Great Post Matt,

    I was thinking one of the reasons my few sites were untouched was because PBN links were literally just the sprinkling on top of the links I built. I totally agree that web 2.0 links, blog commenting, and social links are completely worthless in the sense of adding link juice, but incredibly valuable in the sense of naturalizing your link profile.

    I think The Hoth is also a great place to start out a link campaign, get the ball rolling, then let you add just a few outreach links or PBN links to get that jolt to page 1.

    • Well said Dom. Thank you for validating my position and stance on the lower juice value links. I truly think that may be one of the reasons that my sites weren’t hit – because the backlink profiles do look natural because of the presence of these types of links.

  9. Hey Matt,

    Great post. So what do you consider a “true” private blog network and how do you create one? For the longest time, I thought these big blogs have been instructing us how to create private blog networks (PBNs) and not public blog networks (PBNs). Acronym use is confusing. Which is which? To my surprise, they were actually public blog networks. I find it shady. Anyway, how do we create private blog networks? So the Hoth IS a private blog network? What about lightning rank? Thanks.

    Keep inspiring,
    Warren

    • Warren – a truly private network would be yours and yours only. You would purchase, create and own every single site and only use them to link to your own money sites. The acronym is confusing, especially since the public network owners were calling theirs PBN’s as well.

      The Hoth is a public service, but they create a private network of sites for you. These sites aren’t typically considered PBN sites though, because they aren’t built on high authority expired domains. Lightning Rank sites are built on high authority expired domains, and they will sell you links to not only your money sites, but money sites of anybody else who uses the service too. Theirs would be considered public.

      • Ahhh. OK. That make sense. So if I create my own Private Blog Network, I probably will also need to make sure that the IPs are either masked or unique, so Google doesn’t suspect it’s me linking to my own sites?

        Also, just to be on the same page, The Hoth does create my own Private Blog Network, instead of me doing it, but as far as buying their links, that’s not considered private — which is the same with Lightning Rank — meaning that Google can catch it? Thanks.

        Keep inspiring,
        Warren

        • Your questions about The Hoth are starting to confuse me! Lol. I think you misunderstand slightly. The Hoth is a service. You pay them and then they create brand new web properties with brand new original content that links only to your site. They are different than PBN’s in that the sites they create are built on free Web 2.0 platforms like blogger.com, tumblr, wordpress.com, etc. PBN’s are typically built on expired domains. The Hoth will not use any of the sites they create for you to link to anybody else’s sites – and they give you the login credentials so you can make any changes as you see fit.

          Hope this helps clear things up!

          • Haha. My apologies for the confusion. I guess my main concern is will using The Hoth cause for de-indexing, since they’re using free platforms instead of unique domains — regardless of them not linking to other customer sites. Also, does creating private blog networks HAVE to be on expired domains? Why not create new domains?

          • Actually, it is far less likely that any Hoth created sites on free platforms would get de-indexed – because they are built on such big platforms.

            A private blog network does not have to be created on expired domains – you could buy existing domains that have not yet expired from their current owners. This is commonly done via places like GoDaddy auctions. The reason you use existing or expired domains is because they have links pointing to them already which create authority. Building out brand new sites for the purpose of a PBN makes no sense at all because they have zero links and zero authority.

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  11. Great post. I use Easy Blog Network and find it takes out a lot of the pain of building a PBN so that you can just focus on the things that matter I.e. your money site.

    The question if whether they work or not?
    Well, I pointed 8 decent links towards 1 of my sites a few months ago and they got me onto page 1 for a medium keyword. However I did not want to continue this site for various reasons, (the main one being no income and a bit of a disaster from the very beginning) so I redirected the links to another site .

    I just checked today and the rankings for the keyword on my previous site and its variations have completely ranked to the mid 40’s!

    So I think a few powerful links done right, mixed in with other kinds such as blog comments (which again if done right do have their uses), can seriously boost your rankings… Or destroy them if taken away!

    • Yep. Proves to show that powerful links definitely still matter. Personally (more than a year after I wrote this post), I’m not using PBN links anymore. I’m focusing more on outreach for my link building now. It’s less work, less complicated and the links are typically better – and pretty much no chance at all of getting penalized by Google for anything.

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