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The Google War On Public Blog Networks

So it seems like I chose the wrong time to take a trip to Mexico! A lot has happened in the 2 weeks I've been away…

Here are my thoughts on the Google crackdown on PBN's and how my network has performed.

What I Will Discuss In This Post

  • How my network effected
  • My take on the reaction of the SEO community
  • How to move on from here
  • Building a better network
  • Plans for the future
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So What Went Down?

I will keep this brief as I'm late to the party and a lot has already been covered elsewhere.

In a nutshell, Google came out with an assault on a sites that belonged to link networks, with some of the well know larger networks taking on huge casualties.

Rank Hero, which is ran by Hayden of NoHatDigital had 40% of their sites deindexed. There were also comments flying around over on the black hat forums of people losing large chunks of their network.

Glen of Viperchill also took a 5% hit to his large network – which is probably one of the smallest hits I have seen.

As for the money sites using these networks to rank…many received messages in their Webmaster Tools account with a “Thin Content” penalty warning. Which resulted in their sites bombing out of the SERPS.

I'm sure you've seen many of the posts already so I will jump right into it.

Was My Network Effected?

I came back to a number of emails from concerned Rank Source clients and blog readers who wanted to hear how my network has been effected.

I am please to say that so far Rank Source remains untouched.

Yep – Not a single one of my sites has been deindexed. How long this will last I don’t know, but later I will summarise my thoughts on why I think the network remains ok and why I believe there's more to come.

Where I was hurt however, was with customer cancellations.

Turns out that there were a number of Rank Hero customers who were also using my network and as a result of their site being nuked – they no longer required the PBN package.

So whilst my sites did survive, I still took a financial hit.

Why Did I Emerge Unscathed?

There could be a 101 reasons why my network remains intact, and whilst I am happy to be in the position I am, I still believe the main tactic here was to rock the PBN boat.

When a tactic (such as PBN's) becomes more mainstream, it makes sense for the big G to step in and get people running scared screaming “SEO is dead”…

and you know what, it worked.

The possible reasons below represent my own personal thoughts. They could be completely wrong, however since I don’t work for Google – I can only make an educated guess.

  1. Being a small a fish in a big pond

I believe Google set out to create some big waves and a lot of hype. By targeting the biggest and most vocal networks and bloggers they gained maximum impact.

Not only did they hurt the network owners, they also made their customers run to the hills to hide out for a while.

  1. My absolute refusal to cut corners

Simply put, whenever people asked me about ways to save time & money with PBN's I have a stock answer;

DON'T DO IT

For example there is;

  • SEO Hosting – For me this was a big no-no and an obvious indication that you have a PBN. I do use HostNine from time to time but for Rank Source, each site has it's own unique hosting account.
  • WP Dashboard Automation Tools – another shortcut people want to take is to use a plugin to link together all of their sites so they can manage them from a single dashboard. Again, I have never used these, primarily as they didn't exist when I started building my network.
  1. My refusal to publish reports

This is one element I have stuck to from the very start.

Whilst it has certainly hindered my ability to work with many people who saw a monthly link report as a ‘must have’, I feel this has been a key reason in maintaining my network.

I have been asked over and over again by existing and potential clients to provide a monthly report that details exactly where links have be built each month.

You will have seen from my ‘PBN Footprint Checklist’ that I published in December 2013, that I state reports of any kind are a big no-no.

My Thoughts On The Reaction So Far

It didn’t surprise me to see people running for the hills. After all, if you have been in the SEO game for any length of time, you will know that this is what happens after every Google Algo update.

Do I think blog networks are dead? No.

Do I think Public Blog Networks will come to an end – yes, eventually.

The key word here is Public.

The acronym PBN gets banded around a lot and is used to describe both Public and Private blog networks. I think now more than ever the ‘P' in PBN should stand for PRIVATE.

Doom and Gloom

You will obviously get the scaremongers and those who predict the end of the world as we know it.

There are even some that will throw in the towel immediately.

Take Spencer of Niche Pursuits for example and his post and follow up podcast here and here. He basically did a complete 180 and stated he will never use a PBN again.

It was easier for Spencer to do this because of how well he has diversified his portfolio and always kept an eye on bigger and better things. Google simply made the decision easy for him.

On the flip side, there are also those that push on and advise that that thing to do is to stick it out and keep doing more of the same, perhaps with a slight twist.

What you need to take into account is the person’s current frame of mind whilst sharing their thoughts. For example;

Tung Tran of CloudLiving

Tung expressed his opinion that PBN’s are dead., which was no surprise if you look back to May-14 when he stopped posting on his blog and moved away from Niche sites. I am good friends with Tung and I know he has been against PBN’s and black hat SEO for a while.

Therefore it didn’t surprise me to see that post.

There are some very good and thought provoking posts on the subject which you should certainly check out.

How Should You Proceed?

The way I see this whole thing going is that SEO’s will eventually start to realise that that need to keep their networks low key.

Small, close-knit groups of 3-5 people will get together and pool their resources. A few guys from the PBN Course have already started to do this and I think it’s a great idea for lots of reasons;

  1. You limit your expenditure
  2. You increase your reach and options available
  3. You decrease your exposure
  4. You have a small mastermind group of sorts and can keep each other informed on the latest SEO news and best practices
  5. It’s easier to manage 10 sites each than 50-100 sites by yourself

Building A Better Private Link Network (PLN)

To use a new acronym, a PLN is a Private Link Network. I see this as the future for SEO’s looking to rank their sites using techniques that still work.

Here’s how it goes;

Picture your niche/authority sites and imagine how much time and effort that goes into the content, the structure, the layout, the styling and logo.

Now take this blueprint and apply to your PLN sites.

Each site must;

  1. Have unique ‘Non SEO’ hosting
  2. Use quality content that you would be happy to share with others – if you’re using spun content. STOP.
  3. Have a persona or a personality – who are you and why have you created the site? Get creative.
  4. Have a good style and format, including custom logo and graphics
  5. Limit the amount of outbound links to money sites
  6. Include links to other authority sites, News, Wikipedia, Facebook etc
  7. Avoid exact match anchor text links – keep it looking natural
  8. Have a unique email address associated to each registrar
  9. Block backlink crawlers using a mixture of methods (robots.txt, plugins etc)

Some of the more general rules are;

  1. Use a mixture of platforms (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, HTML)
  2. Keep the sites niche specific
  3. Buy brandable domains with age and a clean history
  4. Avoid domain auctions – use a broker (such as DomainHaul 🙂 or learn to find domains yourself)
  5. Keep it private, that means to yourself or within your small PBN owners group

Two of the key attributes your PLN sites should have that I would like to point out are…

Be Niche Specific

I have mentioned a few times about having a niche specific private link network that is used only by you. If you are to build a network, you must ensure that it is niche specific and as relevant as possible

Improve Your Site Quality

  • Platforms – using the same CMS (read WordPress) for each site is not the way to go.
  • Article Quality – improve this to a point where you would be happy to share and tweet out the content you have published
  • Link Velocity – ensure you have content that doesn’t contain links
  • Authority Site OBL’s – linking out to other authority sites is something you should have been doing, however I know many don’t. Share the love and don’t just link to other money sites.
  • Social Profiles – Have them set up and make them active

My Plans For The Future

So what does the future hold for my network and other businesses?

Whilst on vacation I had time to reflect on how this “PBN War” would impact three of my business.

Rank Source

For me it is without a doubt more of the same. I will continue to build PBN’s and increase the size of my existing ones.

I am toying with the idea of allowing access to my higher end network, which would be an application only network and limited to only a handful of people. This also reflects my thoughts on where I think PBN’s and SEO in general are going.

If this is something you are interested in drop me an email.

PBN Course

I still believe that the course and all of its contents holds true. We will be updating a couple of things coming this week that reflect the recent events, however the core of everything we teach remains true to how myself and Doug build our networks.

Domain Haul

This is a tough one as the business has just completed its 2nd month of operations. The last 2 weeks of September were obviously very slow due to people being worried about PBN’s, Expired domains and generally waiting until the dust has settled.

I predict a pivot in the model where the domains we have can be used for other things. More on that to come in a later update, I still need to iron out the finer points.

Future Projects

Niche Sites

I will continue with my niche site challenge for as long as it takes to come to a natural conclusion.

I will not however be building anymore niche sites. There comes a time when the buzz around building and ranking a small site just isn’t there anymore, and that time has come.

Therefore my focus will lie elsewhere.

Authority Sites

In August 2014, I started what will hopefully become a 5 figure per month website.

This authority site is in a competitive niche and will use a combination of keyword research, current news and trends and white hat only SEO techniques.

Traffic generation will be the key to its success and whilst it will operate on a ‘affiliate commission’ basis, there will always be the option to introduce my own products in the future.

This will be a slow and steady site, so expect an update from time to time on its progress.

If you want an idea of where I'm heading, check out Gael of AuthorityHacker.com

Outside of SEO – Other Business Models

I have always been interested in Paid Traffic. My first major foray into paid traffic came with my successful TeeSpring campaigns. Since then I have been thinking of ways to continue my learning and hopefully create a new revenue stream.

In April I commissioned a developer to build a site that will focus on a competitive niche – Accommodation.

The site is run using and API provided by the company I will be an affiliate for. The site has all of the core functionality and all that’s left is for the styling to be completed.

Ecommerce

Several weeks ago, I shared with my mastermind group my plans to get involved in the ecommerce space once I returned from Mexico.

I have been planning my brand and have products lined up that I will private label and begin selling on Amazon via FBA.

Pat Flynn recently published a podcast on this very technique that has seen people create a 6 figure business in a short space of time.

This is a growing space and there is still plenty of room to build your own brand and line of products. This is what I would call a ‘real business’ that steps away from SEO and places that focus on market and product selection, with a twist of marketing and some awesome customer service.

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So what's your take on the Google PBN War? Will you be throwing in the towel or learning from this and moving ahead?

Lewis Ogden
 

Lewis was able to take his hobby of building websites and turn it into a blueprint that enables him to build, rank and profit from niche websites. As a result of his niche site success, he now makes a full-time 5-figure income and even managed to quit his 9-5 job back in early 2015 all driven by his knowledge that he shares here on this blog.

Walt - a couple of years ago

PBN’s are still working seriously well.

In once sense, I’m rather happy that most people think PBN’s are dead.

It just means that there’s less competition for me.

Hopefully the sales on your network will increase. I’ve recently started selling my PBN links but I’m trying to keep it as secure as possible by manually hand-picking my clients.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Thats a good tactic Walt, knowing your clients and working with them to build a good working relationship will certainly pay off.

Jeff - a couple of years ago

Hey lewis –
Interesting stuff here, and I think it’s great to keep going on PBNs. Google nailed a lot of people affiliated with rank hero, and they were getting too big in the space. My network was intact (as well as all the sites I have built out for people) but my only earner took a hit – which is why I had to cancel rank source, as I have nothing to link build at the moment.

I’ll be back though, and with a bit of a different strategy next time.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Thanks Jeff, its unfortunate that RH has such a knock on effect, but thats just the way it goes sometimes. It will allow me time to add even more sites to my network and I will be making it entry by application so much harder to get in but more secure for the existing clients.

    You’re welcome back anytime, will be interesting to hear about your strategy.

Alistair Cochrane - a couple of years ago

Hey Lewis, Keep us posted on the Amazon private label products, it’s an interesting topic and something that appeals to me. Thanks )

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Will do Alistair – its certainly a growth area and becoming more and more popular. I expect more so now Pat has covered it.

mike - a couple of years ago

After building a few pbn sites of my own super haphazardly, I started cleaning up my act, now all my pbn sites I make are for 1 money site only, and they are niche specific. They still could use some cleanup in the design, personality and readability, but at least I know if google finds me out they’re only getting 1 of my money sites, because none of my PBN sites will lead them to any more than 1 individual money site.

At least I think that I’m protecting myself that way? I’m fairly new to this so if theres holes in my logic feel free to point them out.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    That makes sense Mike, anything you can do to limit your risk and protect yourself is a good idea.

    john - a couple of years ago

    i think links from 5 expired domains to your 1 money site is better
    then if you make another money site, then build another 5 expired domains for it

    2 websites should never have the same link profile imo

      Lewis - a couple of years ago

      This is what I generally dofor niche sites – build out 5-10 PBN sites and see how it ranks and slowly add 1-2 new sites until it ranks #1

        John - a couple of years ago

        true cause if we check the sites that are ranking , especially those that are not owned by SEOs, they dont even have strong links with them, so 5 to 10 is enough i believe…

          Lewis Ogden - a couple of years ago

          Yep indeed – start small (so you dont waste time & money) and see what it actualy takes to rank your site. You can always add sites as you need.

          map7050 - a couple of years ago

          Spending this week cleaning up my act, adding photos, individual names and last names, email accounts with associated names for each pbn site, one pbn at a time. adding different unique plugins and cleaning up the link profile so only 2 max links to any money site on each pbn, with at least 3 non money site outbound links, next step, switch each pbn site to different domain registrars and hosting, currently I use hostnine for its simplicity but that seems like a footprint! man everythings a footprint!! haha 🙂

          Lewis Ogden - a couple of years ago

          How did that work go last week? Did you get your PBN cleaned up?

          map7050 - a couple of years ago

          I have been slogging away at it, prioritizing my best money site first, perfecting the pbn sites one at a time with all the necessary footprint eliminators. Learning so much since I started figuring out all this online marketing stuff a few months ago, your posting has helped a lot. thanks

          Lewis Ogden - a couple of years ago

          Nice work man, keep it up. You will get to a point where the work you have pt in will be worth the effort.

          As long as you keep building and improving your money sites and not being too aggressive with link building and PBN’s – it should last long term.

michael - a couple of years ago

Hi Lewis,
I noticed a drop in a particular keyword for a money site that had exact match anchor text links from ‘thin’ feeder sites. In fact, the keyword dropped off the face of the planet. I have now cleaned up the thinness of the feeder sites. Do you think google has penalised my money site for that keyword to the point where I need to start the money site again on a different domain?
Michael.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Did you notice a drop of all keywords or just a handful? Are the sites now ranking better quality than your site?

    Also did you get a “thin content” notification or were your feeder sites deindexed?

    Hopefully these questions should help you to answer your own question and pave the way forward. I wouldn’t jump to a new domain too soon.

Brian - a couple of years ago

Yea I think eCommerce is the way to go. That’s what I’m into and PBN’s have really pushed my site to the top. I have had about 20% of my network deindexed but have plans to start rebuilding with stricter regulations. I think that if you do rank a site with white hat tactics as well as a few added PBN links to get that extra boost then that is the way to go. If you are solely relying on PBN’s to rank and make money that is just super risky and IMO not worth it in the long run.

The future of IM is looking more and more like Authority site building for sustainable, long term businesses is the way to go.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Couldn’t agree more Brian – a long term approach is what’s needed. The trouble is people (myself included) struggle with processing the reality that it may take 12-18 months before you start to see a good ROI. Sure you ould earn money before that point, and i would suggest that if you’re not then you are going fast enough.

    White hat whilst a slow process can really help to build comething for the future. I don’t know many people who would choose to continue to build small, risky sites over 1-2 secure money makers that can stand the test of time.

    Yet that is what we do with each noche site. I now only have a small vested interest in niche sites – after the case study is complete, I’m done with them.

John Shea - a couple of years ago

+1 on the eCommerce private labeling venture. I think you know my take on this already but I think the biggest issue with PBN’s right now as you have witnessed is people are going to be afraid to use PBN links after reading a story like Spencer’s.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Yeah it seems that eCommerce is one that a lot of people agree with – I plan to continue that very soon.

    Unfortunately most people will just read what Spencer has written and copy him – none of their own testing or thoughts will go into it – they will just use him to do their thinking for them, which is a real shame as people would learn so much more by testing, trial and error.

Khue Tran - a couple of years ago

All of my PBNs are still alive. I used only 800+ words HQ articles (how to type article, step by step with images, video) and some posts on my PBN are ranked with some longtail keywords. So I decided to use PBNs untill the update personally affect me.

    Lewis - a couple of years ago

    Thats a great way to blend in – lots more work than thowing up a 1 page blog style site, but you method is sure to last much longer!

    Glad you’re still doing well man 🙂

Abass Sahrawi - a couple of years ago

Great post

Jack - a couple of years ago

So because I dont have a VA, and was writing everything by hand on every site I own — I only had 5 PBN sites.

All registered to fake names on different accounts using proxy.
All on their own seperated shared host.
All except 1 had blocked bots in .htaccess only.
All had their own theme/style which mimicked what they were previously.
All had custom headers and unique 600 word hand written content.
All had about, contact, privacy pages.

3 out of 5 of them were de-indexed.

Only issues I can think of were:

-Sites had about 4-6 articles each total (2 were always linking to nothing and stickied to homepage. Other 2-4 articles were linking to money sites.)
-Had only 1 or 2 articles out of the 4-6 total site articles linking to other authority sites to save more PR
-Blogs would link to money sites of any topic, though I did use the link injection technique to make it seem plausible
-Sites had no internal links since all articles were on homepage and there were so few articles anyway.
-All blogs had that blog feed PBN full post excerpt homepage look to them, though appearances shouldn’t matter algorithmically

Oddly enough one site that did not get de-indexed was the only one not blocking crawlers, not registered with a proxy, and had private whoIS. The other had so much PR that it still has articles indexed that havent existed for years.

Lewis, if you end up reading this. Do you have any ideas from what I listed was likely the culprit of the de-indexation? The sites were so small I really didn’t think I’d get hit for linking to a few authority sites. And this is a ratio of about 60% de-indexation which is terrible.

I like to dream big of a white hat adventures but for the small time seo that needs instant cash thats not really an option.

Thanks

    Lewis Ogden - a couple of years ago

    Hey Jack – You are right, white hat is a long term thing and if you are lookng to make money quickly its not going to work for you.

    As for your small PBN, that really does surprise me to be honest – are you in a competetive niche? Is it possible your competition reported you?

    The fact that the one site that survived wasn’t blocking link crawlers is interesting. I use a custom plugin that is tweaked for each site (name and code etc) – however it still does the same thing as change the .htaccess or robots.txt file or even using SpyderSpanker.

    As non of my sites were hit its really hard for me to draw a conclusion on this as I hve no test data to use.

      Jack - a couple of years ago

      None of yours were hit, wow thats good man.

      Just wondering when you set up/register each registrar account for an expired domain — are you using a proxy/vpn or your home IP?

      And if you are using a proxy is it a private proxy or a VPN like HMA?

        Lewis Ogden - a couple of years ago

        I don’t use any proxies, I try to keep things as simply as possible. Home IP too.

        I think people over estimate the big G sometimes, I mean they don’t care about small fish, until that fish grows into something bigger and people look up to them and ‘whack’ a nice target to hit and to mke ppl think twice.

          Jack - a couple of years ago

          Yea that makes sense. My logic was just; since google is a registrar it seems plausible they may be able to see the IP used to sign up for each registrar account(s).

          If that were true, all an aglorithim would have to do is filter by recently ressurected old websites (x) the number of sites/registrar account with that recurring IP.

          Then it could find that 64.23.321.424 has 40 aged sites across 10-40 registrar accounts he recently registered over the past year.

          Eliminating the possibilty of a real owner or person buying an expired domain for legitimate reasons.

          Again just my thought process, maybe a little tin foil hat, but I dont see how this is too farfetched for the likes of G.

Richbloomingseo - a couple of years ago

From the people I’ve spoken to that use PBN only 1 guy was hit with some de-indexing but the vast majority are ok. I’m sure most of it was a algo change and they have improved that side of it. I’m sure the rest is them going after the big boys that publicly talk about it or sell services.

Peter Janssen - a couple of years ago

Hi Lewis,

I’ve a question about setting up a private link network for 40 money sites. The sites are all local lead generation websites for lock smiths. We want to set up lot’s of locksmith related blog sites with high autority and form there link to our money sites. All blog sites will become real sites with higt quality content ,different hosting, design, look and feel etc.

Is it ok if each blog site will link to 8 money sites? So for every 8 local locksmith sites we set up 8 blog sites. Hope you are willing to advice us how we can best set this up.

Ed Marti - a few months ago

I think PBN will not work anymore in 2017 because people are abusing it and they rank extreme fast in google they say google will punish you and stuff i see a lot of people stay in top ranks without a single move from first spot only with PBN and thats not fair they kill all the manual work that other SEO experts do hope you understand me anyways i like your blog.

    Lewis Ogden - a few months ago

    I disagree, PBN’s will continue to work. You talk of ‘Fair’ like other SEO’s who use PBN’s are ding something wrong? They are simply using what they know about the Google Algo and using it to their advantage…I am going to presume by ‘manual work’ you mean guest posting and relationship building, and if you think that makes you a Good SEO then you need to reconsider.

    You are not better than an SEO who uses a PBN, you are exactly the same, an SEO and that is all.

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