Managing a traditional bricks-and-mortar business is, in itself, a tricky prospect but taking a business online with little to no training can be an absolute nightmare. Establishing a web presence involves learning new strategies and new ‘languages’. One term that small businesses might be aware of, perhaps owing its bad reputation, is Private Blog Network (PBN).
In a nutshell, PBNs are a series of domains where the entity controlling them sets out improve the Google ranking of a client’s website by altering anchor text and links in their network to, in effect, manipulate Google’s ranking algorithm. Why do they have a bad reputation, you ask? Simply, put, they can attract penalties from Google.
The reality, however, is that it is very hard for small business owners to cost-effectively ‘attack the market’, so to speak, when they move online. PBNs are an opportunity to gain a small foothold in the SEO space. I’m not advocating that your entire link building campaign should centre around them – they definitely should not. The majority of links to your site should come from established, reputable sites. However, you should leverage PBNs by incorporating them into your overall link building strategy.
You undoubtedly would have heard of people who have had their sites penalised by Google due to Penguin – a Google update to its algorithm that tracks manipulative links. I am willing to bet that if you were to check their backlink profile, you will find thousands upon thousands of blog network sites linked to them. On the flipside however, if you check those against sites that do well in the online space, you will find that along with “good” links, you will also find the use of PBN links.
I may get some backlash from my fellow SEO experts for saying this, but the reality is, a lot of us use PBNs. Next time your site is having SEO performed on it, find a friend that knows a little about SEO and have them check its backlink profile. I would hazard a guess and say they would find blog network links.
Now, whether they were or weren’t disclosed to you by your SEO agency is another matter. This is where risk management comes in as a business owner. Ask your agency if they use PBNs on your site, and if they say yes, ask them politely how much of the link profile is made up of PBN links (there’s no need to panic at this point). A safe percentage would be around 15%, the rest should come from blogger outreach (i.e. guest posts on relevant blogs), business directories, and online press releases. If they say 50% or some ridiculous number like that, it would be time to be asking them to dial it down, even if you are ranking quite high, you could be looking at a Google penalty sometime in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, the use of PBN’s is very much a risk management situation. Some PBNs are quite powerful, depending on how they are built, and can garner you great increases in Google rankings. Do you tell your agency to go for gold, or do you tell them to dial it down? Ultimately this is up to you.
As a business owner, it your duty to understand the basics of what people are doing for you regarding your online marketing. I have dealt with many clients in the past who believe it to be a “fire and forget” type of transaction, whereby they pay the monthly fee, and just pray their rankings increase. This type of thinking often leads to arguments when things go wrong. My advice to you would be to learn a little about digital marketing, that way you know what questions to ask, and what risks you are taking for that big jump from rank 10 to rank 1.
About the author
The founder of SEO Rank Up, Andrew Vilbar is passionate about all things digital. From Nintendo in Grade 2, all the way up to the present day, he’s constantly nerding away. He’s passionate about working as a team, with his clients to achieve desired goals, and uses a holistic approach to digital marketing.