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I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”]
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