Is PBN Still A Viable Option To Rank Your Website?

Using PBN

PBN (Private Blog Network) is a group of websites built to manipulate search engine rankings. These websites link to a money site to pass link equity and improve authority.

Most SEO campaigns require a lot of time, hard work and investment to succeed. We humans naturally love shortcuts. No one wants to wait for years to see the results of an SEO campaign. Using PBNs seems to bring some sort of solution to this problem. Since they are by far the most effective way to rank a website in a relatively short period of time.

Why people love them so much?

Because they work very well. Unless you get caught by Google, you are in very good shape. However, should you have to use them to rank your own website?

We will discuss if using these links for our website is a good idea or not. Before delving into that, I want to invite you to think a little bit about the following quote by Sun Tzu from The Art of War.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Before you decide to use a PBN, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much information you have about Google? 
  • Where do you get your SEO information?
  • What type of algorithmic updates Google has made?
  • How did these updates change SEO?
  • Do you have funds as much as Google has?
  • Do you have accumulated knowledge of reviewing billions of websites on the web?
  • Would you be still perfectly ok, if you have lost entire traffic on your website?

If you cannot positively answer even one of these questions, but you still want to use PBNs, you're only playing poker with your website.

You may have read a few blog posts about PBNs written by “SEO gurus”. Most of the PBN-related information on the web is out of date. Google has already patched those holes in its system. However, there are still people who recommend using PBNs in 2020.

The SEO gurus you follow may have shown how they could rank a client website using PBN links. They might even be right! I'm not telling you that these links can't help you get a good SEO ranking.

However, how did you calculate that you are likely to get the same results by applying the same practices?

Let's assume that you have used PBN links and ranked your website for your keyword on Google's 1st page. Would this be the kind of success you can maintain for many years?

google penalty

I don’t know your answers to all of these questions, but I wouldn’t take these types of risks for my website. Because I don’t want to build churn and burn websites to rank for a while, and lost all of my traffic due to an algorithmic update, or manual penalty. 

However, there are people who will never agree with me about the idea of using PBNs, regardless of what kind of evidence I show them. If you want to manipulate Google using shady SEO techniques, do it very effectively.

Because you're unlikely to deceive Google with the same strategies that worked a few years ago. Make sure you have a ton of money and high-quality engineers dedicated to working on your black hat projects.

The sure way to invite a Google penalty.

Not depending on the type of link, anytime you build links you violate Google's terms of services. Let’s say you go to a social bookmarking site and bookmark your site for a quick backlink.

Congratulations! You've done something that Google absolutely discourages you from doing.

Google already knows that the bookmark site you get links gives free links to everyone else. However, instead of penalizing you, Google usually turns a blind eye by ignoring those links. It means you get no SEO benefit having those links pointing to your website. In certain cases, these links may also potentially increase your webspam score.

When it comes to PBN links the situation is different. These links are more powerful, and dofollow links. They usually come from self-hosted domains, within the body of page content. They imitate natural backlink patterns, by having unique IPs, and domains for each given link.

Just for your information, Google has more than 12,000 manual reviewers worldwide by 2012. The number of manual reviewers is likely to be higher today than at that time.

I have a question for those who want to build PBNs in 2020.

Can you build it in a way that can pass a Google manual review?

You may count all the practices you follow as good enough not to leave a footprint. However, do you know exactly what Google's criteria are, and what kind of tools Google uses to spot a PBN?


I don't know what Google is looking for, and what kind of technology they're running to decide there's a link scheme. Do you remember the quote I asked you to read and think about?

You are likely trying to deceive an algorithm, that you have no idea what it is. How do you plan to beat Google on its own game?

Here is how many times Google updated its algorithm by years.

  • 2018 – 3,234 “improvements”
  • 2017 – 2,453 “changes”
  • 2016 – 1,653 “improvements”
  • 2013 – 890 “improvements”
  • 2012 – 665 “launches”
  • 2011 – 538 “launches”
  • 2010 – 516 “changes”
  • 2009 – 350–400 “changes”

The above information is taken by the Moz website

Do you know what were the thousands of updates above? Also, do you have an idea what type of changes those updates have made on SEO? Unless you are a Google employee who worked 10+ years with John Mueller, there is no way to know what Google is equipped with.

Even if you have worked at Google, you would only know a small fraction of the algorithm. Because engineers at Google working on the separate projects, or components of the algorithm. These components come together to shape the entire algorithm Google uses.

We're talking about an algorithm that has machine learning capabilities. Google's algorithm can learn from past experiences without human intervention.

If a certain link pattern is found as spam and introduced into the algorithm by machine learning, the next time algorithm detects the same pattern it will trigger a manual review action.

Once your website triggers a certain piece of the algorithm, it will be sent to a Google-trained employee for a manual review. A real human is going to go through your links.

Let me tell you the harsh truth right away.  

If your website has a relationship with a group of sites involved in a link scheme and is sent for a manual review, you are in serious trouble. Manual reviewers know exactly what they need to look for. Your web traffic, backlink profile, link velocity, and many other things you don't even know about.

Everything you use on the web owned by Google. If you use Google web console, Analytics, Gmail, or Chrome browser, chances are high you leave footprints. I don’t think Google is reading your emails. However, if a certain concern exists, they may have an algorithmic structure to question your entire footprint on Google’s land. 

Google spends billions of dollars every year to improve its algorithm. They employ the smartest professionals to detect web spam and manipulative actions trying to take advantage of its system.

Let's talk a little bit about the important private blog network facts.

The majority of the PBN sites are built like crap. They don’t have good content, and they in fact built with spun or very low-quality content. Content on those websites is almost never updated. Anyone who has a quick look at these sites can tell if it's a PBN site, let alone a Google engineer trained to find them.

These websites are rarely built on a premium theme, as the average price for a premium theme is about $50. If a network of 100 websites uses premium themes, an additional $5,000 would quickly add up.

PBN sites usually don’t have social media existence or social signals. It is a trait normal websites don’t have. 

Google can algorithmically know:

  • How good the quality of the content on a certain page? (Spun content is a no-no!)
  • From what part of the content the link comes from? (Is it contextual, footer, or author bio link)
  • How people behave on a website (PBNs cannot retain visitors on-page for a long time)

Earn backlinks naturally

People should link to your website. You shouldn’t chase links to rank your website. The more stuff you do to cheat Google, the higher the chances for your website to go through a manual review.

You may think, earning backlinks naturally almost impossible since no one wants to link your content. You are right, no one wants to link low-quality content. If you create outstanding content that is very well researched, you will earn links. People will find your website and link to it.

Do you know how many guest posts New York Times or wrote to rank on the first page of Google?

They wrote zero guest posts. They also don’t buy PBN links. 

How do I know that they don’t do it?

Because they don't need it at all. Sorry to say, but big brands don't write guest posts to build links. It's not how they built their reputation. Their millions of backlinks come from thousands of pages of high authority content, and very well-established trust.

You are not likely to build this type of authority with a mediocre website, which has the type of content that exists anywhere else on the web. The authority is built by taking the right action persistently over a certain time period.

Links are artificial ranking signals

Links are the #1 ranking factor, said by many SEOs. I completely agree with this idea. However, links are artificial ranking signals. Let me explain what I want to say.

Google wants to serve high authority websites on SERP. Because unless the otherwise is proven, websites with more links are the ones with better quality. However, links are only for the initial listings on SERP.

Let’s say your website has 500 referring domains, and it appears somewhere in the 1st or 2nd page of Google. Your competitor website has 10,000 referring domains and listed somewhere in a better position than your site.

If your page has a higher CTR, people spend more time on it, and they share your page on social media,  your website will be initially positioned in front of your competitors. Google values user experience more than anything else, however, it still couldn’t find a reliable way to keep backlinks completely out of its algorithm.

Google looks for quality signals on websites. It can track if people reading your content, scrolling on-page, clicking on links, etc. Especially after the introduction of the RankBrain in 2015, Google started to watch user behaviors on pages more carefully. RankBrain is the most important piece of Google’s algorithm together with the content, and links. 

As I have said links can be manipulated, and it is manipulated from those entities who come to the market with higher initial capital. However, user behaviors cannot be faked by a website who provides a poor user experience. Therefore user experience is the organic ranking signal while links are artificial ranking signals.

In the next few years, with better utilization of AI importance of links will be less than today. Google will not depend on links to tell if a website is of high quality.

How do I know it?

Look at the amount of progress Google achieved only even in the last few years. If you think Google will depend on the links to decide if a website is a high quality, you are doing SEO as in the 2000s.

Disavow doesn’t work

Most people build black hat links that have somewhere in their minds that they can disavow links if things go wrong. Disavowing links is denying responsibility for the certain links in a backlink profile.

If you see in your Google web console a warning that you have unnatural links, you can disavow them. You can add all those links in the disavow file to submit Google for reconsideration.

disavow links

You can tell Google your competitor was doing negative SEO for your website. 

However, what is the likelihood you convince the Google engineer believing in you while you have in fact used these black hat links.

Avoid at all costs links like:

  • Sidebar
  • Footer
  • Directory list
  • Blogroll
  • Sitemap
  • Compilation of sources
  • Style links

They should not point to your page or from your page. Because you can get manual action for only having one of these problems. These links are likely to be devalued or at worst they may trigger a manual action.

Manual Actions

manual actions

Manual actions are taken by the manual webspam team. There are many different types of manual actions. They are listed in “Search Console” under “Search Traffic“.

The most common manual action is unnatural link notice. They are “Action vs Site” and “Action vs Links”. 

If you have an unnatural link penalty vs site you should: 

  • Delete links
  • Show good faith
  • Disavow rest
  • Submit for reconsideration

You have to make Google believe you will never do it again. I don’t know how you could convince Google. You may tell you don’t know what is a backlink, your webmaster did shady stuff, or your competitor is responsible for your black hat links.

If you use PBN links, you have probably made a plan to your website in case of a manual penalty. It is possible to get out of manual action against the site.

If you have an unnatural link penalty vs links, do nothing. It is just a warning to change. Don’t delete your links. Don’t disavow your links.

Stay away from PBNs, link farms, link wheels or any type of other black hat link scheme. Believe it or not, even article spinning is a blackhat technique by itself. Since it is a manipulative action to affect the search results. If done consistently it may trigger a manual action by itself. 

If you use these links to rank your local business website, or eCommerce store what is your plan in case you get caught. In fact, the question is not about if you will get caught, but when you get caught.

If you rank on a good position for a certain keyword, chances are high your competitor will go through your link profile. Guess what, if they don’t like you positioned yourself in front of them, they will report you to Google.

Google admitted earlier that they have acted upon 60% of spam complaints. What it means having blackhat links is walking on a slippery rope.

If you get caught having a PBN, Google may even blacklist your name. You may build your next website, and don’t know why it is ranking.

Don’t Invent the Wheel Once Again

PBNs used to work before 2014, nowadays Google is much more experienced to find out these networks. Both Pat Flynn, and Spencer Haws formerly mentioned using these links in the past. However, they only follow clean link building practices today.

reinvent the wheel

Do you really need a new to “try and fail experiment” that can be expensive for you?

PBNs are not dead! However, they are way too risky to invest in. If you have an appetite to earn big, and you have a big risk tolerance PBNs can still be a viable option for you. In the end, you are the one will decide to use or not to use them.  

Work to improve user experience

Most PBN sites are poorly built. They lack good design and don’t provide a good user experience. Their only goal is to boost the money pages they link to. If PBNs work fine, and websites that don’t offer good user experience rank, people would quit using Google.

They would go to use other search engines to surf the web. Therefore, Google doesn’t want to lose its business and fighting against PBNs aggressively.  

Would you prefer spending thousands of dollars, and long hours to build PBNs? or spending the same effort on creating great content, and providing the best user experience. 

I would choose the latter one from the above 2 options.

Buying some PBN links only

What about not building a PBN but buying those links from the vendors? 

This question is sourced from the mentality of doing things just right enough, but no more than necessary. If you don’t build PBNs but you consider purchasing a few of these links, you are still taking big risks.

We have no idea until what degree Google can tolerate these links. We also don’t know when our site may likely get a manual review due to a competitor filling a spam complaint against our website.

Final Opinions

I am not here to tell you PBNs are useless. In fact, I have told that they work really fine.

Everyone has a different style of doing SEO. If you use these links, you can build authority instantly. You will not need to outreach people to submit guest posts or wait for your content to earn links naturally.

However, the risks having these links pointing to your website weighs are heavier than the positive returns you may expect. All in all, it is a short term plan that may be suitable for those who don't have long term plans with their websites.