So you may have heard, seen and even participated in some form of “blog network” as part of your link building strategy. However what's working RIGHT NOW is Private Blog Networks.
By private, I mean we won't be selling links for $15 a pop on forums. Private means private, for your use only.
This guide is all you need to know about building your own private blog network to rank your sites highly in Google.
Thank you for sharing this guide, it is much appreciated!
Buying Domain Names
Ultimately, this is THE most important step in building your private network. You want domain names that have an existing link profile, with age and a good Google history too.
That means no spammy links, nothing from questionable foreign sites, no adult or gambling sites either.
Where to Find Quality Domains?
I use a number of resources to find and acquire high-quality domain names, all of which allow us to search for both expired, expiring and auction domains.
Let's take a look at the 3 biggest and best link crawling tools out there, that will save you both a ton of time and money.
Bluechip Backlinks (BCB) is run by SEO master Terry Kyle. Terry has blown up the software as a service industry over the past few years with his hosting company WPX Hosting and CloudBoss.pro which is his platform to manage your PBN sites which saves a ton of time, money and hassle.
His best creation, by far, is Bluechip, which is the fastest URL crawler on the market. Not only that it also offers the most amount of features for the lowest price.
If you don't want to waste time crawling domains manually, then take my advice and take out a subscription with BCB. It's $99 /month and it's dynamite.
Here's what you get:
Everything in Bluechip is accessible from the dashboard. Above we can see the scan results page and those numbers in green are the number of free to register expired domains the tool found…pretty impressive eh!
You can add labels and color codes to your scans so you can easily see at a glance which projects you are working on. Inside of the dashboard, you also have the Majestic and Moz site explorer metrics so there is no need to leave Bluechip until you're ready to do some further analysis on your shortlist.
One of the best features is the ability to download the previous website files from WaybackMachine right from your BCB dashboard. This is unlimited and also allows you to either remove or NoFollow all outbound backlinks.
This saves hours of work setting up WordPress based PBN sites. You can simply download these files, upload them to your hosting and add an outbound link to your money site, all within 5 minutes.
Another tool that is continually growing is DomainReanimator, which is owned by Brian Burt. Brian is big in the Lead Generation and Amazon FBA world and he also dabbles in software!
Here's are the current package options:
Whilst more expensive than Bluechip, you do get an impressive dashboard and array of tools and metrics with which to work from. Like BCB, Domain Reanimator comes with both Majestic and Moz site explorer metrics for each domain.
One impressive feature is the archive.org tool to download the site files. However, DR has an added benefit of providing 3 snapshot images for each domain you click on. This allows for fast analysis of the quality of the site in its previous years and it's suitability for your project.
** note that the dashboard/interface has been upgraded since this video was shot. It is now much slicker and has a TON more info.
The PBNLab tool was built by Scott Moran and gained a lot of exposure in 2015. Scott is a great guy and always willing to help and answer questions r.e SEO and domain finding best practices.
He has built a monster of a tool that uses multiple bots (50+) to streamline the crawling process and return some great results.
Here are the subscription options:
Whilst PBNLab is the most expensive of the 3 you should really look at what your getting. the sheer number of bots used and it's speed give it the advantage and the number of domains and crawl options offered really mean this is a great value tool.
At $109 /month, you will easily find at least 20-50 domains that are worth registering, which is far cheaper than buying at auction or from a domain broker.
Check out the overview of PBNLab below:
Domain Crawling Software Tools Compared
Below is a comparison table of the 3 tools, what they offer and my overall rating. I have personally used all 3 for my business and I have put them through their paces, which qualifies me to make an accurate suggestion for which tool works best.
|Tool||Price||Crawlers||Moz||Majestic||Archive||My Rating||Best For|
|Bluechip Backlinks||$97 /mon||4||Y||Y||Y||4.5/5||Price & Crawlers|
|DomainReanimator||$197 /mon||1||Y||Y||Y||4/5||Mass of data|
|PBNLab||$159 /mon||75||Y||Y||N||4/5||Lots of bots|
- Moz – provides metrics from Moz OpenSiteExplorer
- Majestic – provides metrics from Majestic Site Explorer
- Archive – provides the ability to download the site archive files from waybackmachine
In summary, these 3 expired domain crawling tools are all cloud based, offer great support and can be left to do their thing whilst you get on with building your website.
It will ultimately come down to price and the results each can generate. If you are looking for the best, my vote goes to Bluechip Backlinks.
Semi-Manual Methods of Domain Crawling
the methods below are cheaper but more time consuming. if you are on a budget then I would use one of the options below. However if your time is important to you and you are looking at building a 10+ site PBN, then one of the paid options above best suits you.
I use ExpiredDomains.net because it's a great source of FREE information and the search/filter capabilities are very powerful. They have multiple options for finding domains, such as GoDaddy auctions, free to register expired domains, plus lots of other neat filters such as a minimum Moz Domain Authority or Majestic Trust Flow.
There are 3 type of filter you can apply.
– Common Filter,
– Additional Filter
– AdWords & SEO Filter
A quick summary of each is below;
The common filter allows you to define PageRank, Domain Length, with or without hyphens and numbers etc
As you can see my this search excludes any Fake PR's and Page Rank -1 (it's still worth performing additional checks before you commit to buy however, you can use the Fake PR Checker here).
The additional filter allows you, as I have done, to choose only domains that are available to register. If this was not selected, auction and closeout domains would be returned also.
AdWords & SEO Filter
This is where the tool gets really powerful.
– We have the ability to search on both Majestic Trust Flow and Moz Domain/Page Authority.
– There is also the option to look for domains that include keywords, where those keyword receive a minimum number of Exact Match Searches.
– A Min and Max CPC function is the icing on the cake.
We have pretty much all we need right here to find some awesome domains.
I have recorded a short video below, which show how I hunt for expired domain names using ExpiredDomains.net
Note – I no longer recommend RegisterCompass as a good source of Expired Domains. This is for several reasons;
- I myself am no longer able to find decent domains here, that I can't find elsewhere.
- I cannot justify the monthly subscription cost as the ROI isn't there anymore.
- I find the interface far slower than other tools/services out there.
- You can find better/cheaper services from the other recommendations in this post.
RegisterCompass is a premium tool that is pretty much unrivalled in the industry. I have yet to find another piece of software or service that can deliver the volume of data at the speed RegisterCompass does.
With this tool, we can search for Expired Domains, Auction Domains and Domains due to Expire.
The search box gives us every option you would need to find those hidden gems;
In this example, I'm looking for domains that contain the word “Dog”, that have over 50 Moz backlinks. The top TLD's are selected (.com, .net, .org and .info thrown in for fun).
This search brings back the following;
That's a total of 159 domains we have to go at, now that may not seem like a lot but there is always something of interest. Let's take a look at the 53 Expired domains that we can grab for the price of the reg fee…
Scrolling down the list a few jump out at me, one of the best I see is “cratetrainingdog.net”.
And here are the Moz domain details…
This is a super related domain to the dog niche, with a DA score of 20 and PA score of 33. There are 60 linking domains and a total of 67 links.
Looking at the anchor text usage we see there is a fairly good split of anchors being used to link to this site.
You could do a lot worse than pick this domain up for the $8 reg fee 🙂
Another free tool, this time from Moonsey.com and their expiring domains auction tool. At the time of writing, their site states;
List of recently expiring domain names in next 24 hours at Godaddy auctions
In this time will finish 6585 auctions with great domains for SEO having Google Pagerank (PR).
This is live updated list ( several times per each minute ), contains accurate domain auctions details and seo metrics.
So we have 6,585 GoDaddy auctions that will expire in the next 24 hours. The cool thing about this tool is the ability to sort your results very quickly; the downside is the lack of filters available which can make it difficult to find niche specific domains.
However as you will see from the guide below, we don't have to buy niche specific, as we can always rebrand the site to make it super relevant to our money site.
Moonsy offers the ability to show both domains at Auction and those available to Buy Now, along with the ability to sort by many different metrics including;
- Current Price
- # of Bids
- Time Left
- Google PR
- Moz DA
- Moz Backlinks
- Linking Sites
- EDU/GOV Links
- Directory Listed
- AdWords CPC
- AdWords Search Volume
- Alexa Rank
You can also check if the domain is indexed in Google and it's history using the Way Back Machine from Archive.org.
Choosing the Right Domain Names?
I will start this section by saying FORGET PAGE RANK right now.
It won't be around in the very near future and it hasn't been updated in quite some time.
There are so many PR5 sites out there you can pick up for next to nothing, you may think you have a steal, however quite often they have already lost their backlinks and they are worthless.
What Makes a Good Domain?
Authority & Relevance
A link from an authority domain that is relevant to your niche is gold for your search engine ranking. Google loves this kind of link, its a big thumbs up for your site from another trusted site.
Whilst buying domains with authority is definitely doable, buying relevant domains may prove a challenge. However what we can do is MAKE THEM RELEVANT.
We can do this by taking the following steps;
- Make the Name and Branding of the site relevant
- Make the Title Tag Relevant
- Change all Meta Tags to make them niche specific and super relevant.
- Add posts, images and videos all related to the topic
The only way to buy quality sites is to look at the back links. Stay away from spammy looking links or anchor text in another language. You've seen those domains with 5k backlinks and Chinese anchor text right? Yeah, so stay away from those.
I follow a 4 step process when choosing domains for my private blog networks.
1 – Moz.com Open Site Explorer
I look for Page Authority (PA) over 30, Domain Authority (DA) over 20 and as many referring domains as possible. The more the better as there is less chance of 100 sites all dropping your link than say just 10 referring sites.
Also check the backlinks and anchor text split to see if the domain may have been over optimised in the past.
2 – Majestic.com
I look for a Trust Flow (TF) and Citation Flow (CF) over 15 and again as many referring IP's as possible. Also check the links in Majestic as it will pull different results than Open Site Explorer.
3 – ahrefs.com
Ahrefs will usually return a more complete backlink profile overview. Look at the quality of the links pointing to the domain, the more relevant they are the better. Older links are better still.
Also use the Anchor text chart for a great indication of a domain that was previously spammed or owned by another SEO. A high percentage of keyword rich anchor text is an indication of a domain to avoid.
4 – Test the history of the domain
Run the domain through the Wayback Machine from Archive.org. Take a look back at the snapshots to make sure the domain didn't contain any unwanted content when it was a live site.
How Much to Pay for a Good Domain?
There are various opinions on what you should expect to pay for authority domains. However most of these are based on PageRank as this is what has driven the market up until very recently. Those prices and opinions are now out of date.
To be completely honest, prices and valuations are constantly changing. It's both a buyers and sellers market and you really need to get a feel for the market buy dipping your toe in. I would suggest picking up a few expired domains for the reg fee and go from there.
You will quickly get an understanding on how to value a domain and its links.
To give you an example I bought 7x UK domains from a forum member for $480/$68 each.
Now this was when the market was all about PR, so 3 of the sites were PR4's, 1 is PR3 and the other's are PR0, however they have an awesome link profile and I knew I could actually use one for a niche site and the rest for my blog networks.
The Moz DA of these sites range from 28 to 44, so I have some very good domains for what I consider a great price.
As a rough guide, domains with a PA of 30+, with a clean link profile (usually PR3) sell for between $150-$400 depending on the link profile.
Registering and Registrars
This part is important;
You need to use different registrars not just GoDaddy and NameCheap.
By mixing up the registrars you significantly reduce any footprint your site may have and you make it harder for the powers that be to find your network and de-index it.
Also as an optional layer of protection, I like you use a combination of both Fake registrant details and privacy protection. This way not all of your domains have private whois, some of them have real looking people and addresses…even if they are made up!
So mix it up and be different, don't take the easy road and have all you domains in one account, all using privacy protection.
Some registrar examples;
This step is WAY overcomplicated by many. You need to keep it simple or you can get lost in a maze of usernames and passwords, and more importantly lose focus on the important stuff….ranking your website.
First up let's understand the key requirement:
Unique Class-C IP's
Your website needs backlinks from other websites in order to rank high in Google. These links act as a vote for your website, and generally speaking the more unique votes you have, the higher you will appear in the SERP's.
In order to get these unique links from our private blog network, we need to ensure that each domain we own appears to be a stand-alone website, not linked to any of our other sites. To do this we ensure that the hosting provider we use offers unique class-c IP's.
What is a class-c IP?
An IP address is broken up into 4 blocks, below we call them A, B, C and D
As you can see the “C Block” is the third block along and is where we need to have a range or variance amongst our PBN sites.
Which Hosting to Use for a Private Blog Network?
I have 1 main rule for hosting a PBN;
Stay away from self proclaimed “SEO Hosting” companies
For some reason, many people suggest SEO Hosting as a solution to managing many domains. Whilst it does make it easier to manage, SEO Hosting is NOT GOOD for a Private Blog Network.
You want to avoid attention and footprints at all costs. Don't you think Google with all its Ph.D. employees they have sitting around, could easily identify these ‘LOOK AT ME I'M AN SEO' hosting providers? I do.
The Only Option I Use
Look, some people suggest using a single account with a large hosting company and using CloudFlare and all manner of tricks to mask your IP. The trouble is you will have the same nameservers on each PBN site…does sound like a footprint to you?
The ONLY way to build a PBN without hosting footprints is to use a unique host for each domain. However, this takes quite some time, organisation and management. Luckily there is an awesome service you can use to eliminate all of the hard work when it comes to hosting your PBN.
Bulk Buy Hosting have a bunch of accounts with some of the largest hosting companies in the World and they are NOT an SEO host. They have hundreds of customers running legit sites on their servers too…which helps your PBN remain in a good neighborhood.
There are 4 main reasons I use Bulk Buy Hosting:
- They eliminate the need to sign up to a lot of cheap hosting accounts (which can go down on a moments notice)
- They place my sites on trusted servers with very large hosting companies
- The provide unique IP address for each domain AND unique Name Servers
- They provide hosting as cheap as $1.71 per domain…which compared to the $4-$5 you'd pay at just ONE of these large companies, is a steal.
So here's how it works.
You sign up for a package of between 5 and 50 accounts depending on how large your PBN is. You get ONE monthly bill, zero servers or accounts to manage and they add all of your domains into a single dashboard from which you can view all of your account details.
As you can see in the example above, the dashboard is neat and precise, providing just enough information to do what you need and eliminating all of the junk that usually comes with hosting PBN sites.
Pay close attention to the “Server IP Address” and the “Name Servers” columns…each is unique and that is KEY to hosting a successful PBN.
A More Time Consuming Alternative
Thr second and more tedious option is to use a shared hosting by manually creating a new account for each domain. This is a good option if you have the time to manage all of those accounts.
Here's what I used to do.
- Simply go to this forum dedicated to shared hosting offers – webhostingtalk.com/forumdisplay.php?f=4
- Sign up with one of the $1-$2 hosting companies – ensure they offer cPanel and one-click WordPress/Blog Platform install
- Add a PBN domain to the account and set up the nameservers
- Build out my site, add content and get it indexed
- Create another $1-$2 hosting account with a different host
- Rinse and repeat
The downside to this option is that you do have multiple passwords, and you also need to login to different accounts for each domain.
There is a way to track and manage this which I will show you later on. 🙂
Setting up a Site
With around 20% of the web running on WordPress and the fact that it's so easy to mange, you can be forgiven if you use it on all of your PBN sites.
I would say 80% of my private network runs on WordPress. For the other 20%, I dabble between Raw HTML, Joomla and Drupal. I believe this adds a little extra security to your network and helps to hide the footprint left by WordPress somewhat.
The process of setting up these sites is exactly the same as creating any niche site, and can be broken down into 3 steps;
- Install your blogging platform
- Add a theme and plugins (vary these)
- Add content and OBL's to your niche site and other authority sites
I would actually recommend doing everything yourself when you first get started, as 5-10 PBN sites are easy to manage. When you get above 50 it gets…interesting, and you may need a VA to help you so you can get on with more important stuff.
Doing it yourself initially also gives you the added bonus of knowing the process inside-out, you can then show your VA exactly how you want things done.
Managing your Network
If you were expecting me to use fancy tools for managing my blog networks, then I am sorry to disappoint you. I like to keep things simple.
I use an Excel spreadsheet and my VA. That's it.
I buy a domain, add it to the spreadsheet and my VA does the rest. Below is a list of the tasks I provided to my VA to get the site up and running.
- Add Registrar account details to spreadsheet
- Add the domain to the hosting account (this varies from domain to domain)
- Add Name Servers with the registrar
- Install WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, including theme and plugins
- Add the Username and Password to spreadsheet
- Remove pre-installed plugins and pre-created pages (Sample Page and Sample Post)
You can get a copy of the spreadsheet I use to manage my Private Blog Network below; a share would be much appreciated 🙂
As you can see the sheet makes it very easy to keep tabs on your domains. The comments column is used to keep track of the sites development, and the ‘Content Info' section gives an indicator when we need to update the sites with fresh content.
What's more, I use the “link building” section to track the number of links to the site (using Ahrefs) and also when the last link building campaign was done.
This is a brand new section to this guide as many of you have been asking me questions on how best to write and add content to your PBN sites. The rules for content are as follows;
- 300-800 words in length
- Contain an image, video, opt-in form or some other visual reference
- Link out to other authority sites within the same niche.
- Quote facts and figures or statements made by other people.
- No keyword targeting is to be done.
Ok, first off we need content. The steps I follow are simple;
- Hire a VA Writer from Elance/UpWork (formally oDesk) – There can be had for less than $3 per article.
- Come up with a list of topics/article titles that will fit my niche and links I am building.
- Send the VA the instructions along with a deadline. (if possible have the VA upload the articles direct into your WordPress dashboard as a draft)
- The last step is to add your links to your money site into the articles. Be sure to vary the anchor text, link out to other authority sites and add images/video where possible.
That's it in a nutshell however I will also answer another questions that is often asked;
Should I allow the articles with links to roll off the homepage?
My answer is YES. Do what seems natural and that any normal website would do, don't just leave a one page article on there if you want to continue to add links then do so using additional content.
Linking to Your Niche Site
The key to linking to your money site is not to overdo it.
1 link to your own website on the homepage is enough. I recommend doing the following keyword anchor text variations on your PBN sites to stay ahead of the game where Google Algorithm updates are concerned;
- Avoid exact match keyword anchor text links – e.g “Dog Training”
- Utlize URL/Brand anchor text – e.g www.mydogtraining.com
- Use longer tail related anchor text – “best place for puppy dog training”
- Use different anchor text for each link – this is the latest method to avoid over optimisation
If you follow the above you can avoid anything that looks spammy, and we can avoid reducing the impact of our links, and possible over optimisation. I also place links to other relevant websites to further improve on the sites ‘natural looking' articles and links.
You may think the anchor text “best place for puppy dog training” is too long, but time and time again, I have sites ranking very well, with minimal backlinks, because they have a more natural looking anchor text profile.
Recent testing has proven that there is little to no impact of linking to your site more than once from a PBN domain. Also using keyword related anchor text is much better for long term success than using exact match anchor text.
For example, we should be using the anchor text “best place for puppy dog training” instead or “dog training”.
This related anchor text will help you to avoid any future Google algorithm updates as your backlink profile will look much more natural. In addition you PBN sites outbound link profiles will also look more natural and less spammy.
Increasing the Power of your Blog Network Sites
N.B This section has been updated to reflect my recent thoughts and findings.
Previously I explained how I would use GSA Search Engine Ranker to build backlinks to these PBN sites to increase the number of links pointing to our sites and increase the authority/power of them.
Well from testing I have completely removed this step and no longer recommend using GSA to build backlinks. There is a better alternative, which saves a ton of time and offers better quality links for your PBN domains.
I now spend zero time adding extra links, I simply purchase the odd Hoth package here and there for domains that need a boost. Here are some of the benefits of using The Hoth:
- Content creation
- Tier 1 & Tier 2 backlinks
- Private PBN posts
- Web 2.0 Links
- Social Bookmarks
I reinvest the time saved by finding more aged domains with quality backlink profiles, to increase the power and the size of my PBN. The beauty of this is that the hard work has already been done and these sites that have a super clean link profile will give us all the juice we need.
This is an optional step and should be used on PBN domains that require an extra boost or those that have lost their backlinks.
How To Avoid a Blog Network Footprint
Footprints are the reason many of the larger blog networks were taken down by Google, PBN's such as Build My Rank, ALN and LinkVana to name a few.
If you want to ensure your network stands the test of time and continues to be a valuable business asset for years to come there are specific steps you must take to avoid leaving a footprint with your private blog network sites.
As this section is such an important part of building a blog network, I have given it it`s own guide which can be found here – Private Blog Network Footprint Checklist
The 5 Golden Rules
If you follow these 5 golden rules when building your Private Blog Network, you will be well on your way to building a very powerful resource.
- Never Interlink your network sites (this means don't link one PBN site to another).
- Only link out to your site a maximum of 3 times on the homepage and use varied anchor text (Keyword, raw URL and keyword variation)
- Don't use spun content for your PBN sites (unique content of 300-600 words is plenty, add an image and video and your golden)
- Add other authority outbound links (OBL) to your articles (wiki, youtube etc)
- DO NOT sell links on your sites – keep all that lovely link juice for yourself 🙂
So there you have it, my complete guide to building a private blog network the right way. If you have your own tips for reducing footprints or a specific way you manage your sites, please let me know in the comments.
Wrapping It Up
There is no denying that building a PBN is a time consuming and costly affair. I have worked with many people just like you and helped them through the process to ensure they build a network that's built to last.