Are PBNs Safe and Do They Work in 2020
In this post, I am going try to answer the question of are PBNs safe and do they still work?
There is no black and white answer but by trying to look at this from a few different angles and my years of history building and buying and selling websites I hope to be able to provide a deeper understanding for you to make your own informed decision.
The decision ultimately around the risk vs reward will be unique to your situation.
Are PBNs Safe?
There is no form of rank manipulation that is risk-free, even supposed white hat strategies of outreach / guest posting comes with risk. The short answer is PBNs are still effective and being used by many. However, once site builders are established and have very long term time horizons and sites of significant size many move away from using PBNs.
This post is going to cover…
- What is a PBN?
- How do we define risk?
- Examples of when people use or don’t use PBNs
- Look at the data on who uses PBNs
- History of Google updates that impacted PBNs
What is a PBN or Private Blog Network?
A PBN is an SEO tactic where you purchase a group of domains, typically recently expired domains with quality backlinks to them, and then build a relevant site linking back to your money site. This shows Google that high authority sites in your niche backlink to your site and backlinks are still the #1 ranking factor in Google or another search engine.
How do we define Risk?
Risk is the probability of a negative event occurring and the consequence of that event. So in the context of are PBNs risky the question becomes…
- Probability – What is the probability that the use of PBNs will cause a penalty?
- Consequence – What is the consequence of that penalty?
When to Use and Not Use a Private Blog Network Examples
Let’s go through a few examples first before we dig into the data.
Example 1 – Purchased Large Clean Site
Imagine if you just purchased a large website that has never done any link building (white hat or otherwise) and you now need to decide should you build a PBN or buy PBN links or do nothing?
In this case and using the formula above your current probability of getting penalized by Google for the use of PBN backlinks is near zero and the consequence is very high.
Therefore, it would not make sense to increase the probability of a penalty by building PBN links.
Example 2 – Purchased Medium-Sized Site Already Using PBNs
In the case where the site already has PBN links. You are currently living with the potential of a penalty and therefore building additional PBN links (if they are built properly) does not increase the probability/risk in a significant way.
Therefore, adding additional PBN links to your site would not significantly change your risk while helping you rank.
Example 3 – Starting a New Site
This becomes a very personal decision for you based on your timeline, aggressiveness and overall appetite for risk. As shown below when we look at do PBNs work it is clear PBN links are still effective in 2020, however, are you wanting to optimize for short term success or long term success.
Therefore, it depends on your personal risk profile.
What Has Changed With PBN Building
I first started using PBNs in 2013/2014 and created some ultimate guides which have been used over the years and stayed remarkably relevant.
However a few critical things are different then they used to be…
- Speed of Building an Expired Domain – I don’t have all the data yet but it is clear the speed with which a relevant site is back up on a dropped domain matters in the eyes of Google returning its pre-dropped love to the site.
- Real & Relevant Is Important – It has gotten more important to find relevant domains to build your PBN site on. Having old restaurant domains link to your camping gear website is no longer as effective at passing link juice.
- Organic Traffic > Link Metrics – We are wanting to get domains that pass Google love to your website, the best measure of Google love is if Google is sending traffic to the domain. Buying for metrics only DA/PA/TF/CF/DR/UR have long passed.
- Anchor Text Obsession – The risk of SEO’s over-gaming the anchor text has increased and now Google does a better job of understanding the relevance of the page you are receiving a link from. So it is now smarter to obsess less about the anchor text and more about the relevance of the site you are getting a backlink from.
Are PBNs Safe and Effective in 2020
Now to try and answer this question I am going to look at a few sources of data.
First, looking at the histo
PBN Usage in Content Sites for Sale:
EmpireFlippers provides some great data by publicly identifying the content sites on their marketplace that use a PBN. I have done this analysis other years and therefore can compare is the rate of use of PBNs in content sites increasing or decreasing.
Looking at the number of content sites
Questions to Be Answered:
- What % of people building and selling profitable websites at EmpireFlippers use PBNs to rank their sites?
- Has the % of people using PBNs changed over the last 5 years?
- Are PBN’s used only on small sites?
- How much does the use of a PBN drop the value of a site by?
Big Pile of Data to Answer These Questions…
- 100 Most Recent Amazon Affiliate monetization method money sites listed on EmpireFlippers
- $227,461 worth of monthly net earnings
- $7,428,843 worth of sites included in the data
- Collect all the data filtering Amazon Associate, most recently listed/sold,
- Remove websites that don’t use organic traffic at all (some ecommerce, most FBA etc)
- Compare to previous results and answer questions
- Question 1 – What % of people building and selling profitable amazon affiliates websites at EmpireFlippers use PBNs to rank their sites now?
- Answer 1 – 32% of Amazon Affiliates websites for sale use a PBN to help drive organic traffic to their website.
- Question 2 – Has the % of people using PBNs changed from 2015 to 2020?
- Answer 2 – People using PBNs to help their Amazon Affiliate websites rank has decreased from 42% in 2015 to 32% in 2020.
- Question 3 – Are PBN’s used only on small sites?
- Answer 3 – It turns out sites that were using PBNs earned an average of $600/month more than those that weren’t. Over a $20k increase in value for the average site.
- Question 4 – How much does the use of a PBN change the value of the site for sale?
- Answer 4 – No Change – This was interesting there was almost no difference in how a site with a PBN vs without a PBN was valued. 32x for sites without a PBN and 31x for sites with a PBN.
A smaller % of people are now using PBNs to rank their Amazon Affiliate websites. Those that do use PBNs make 31% more per month than those that don’t and the valuation multiple is unchanged between the two groups.
Google has made it more and more difficult to build a network of sites to help another website rank effectively driving up the cost to build a quality network of sites.
As a result, what we have seen over the last 5 years is fewer people making the decision to invest in building a PBN to support their site but the answer to the question of do they still work is clear.
PBNs are still effective in 2020 however they are not without risk.
Great statistics and data backed by experience as usual Jon, thanks for crafting this great piece. Similar thoughts here, be it PBNs or so-called white hat link building, if it’s a manipulation of algo by forcing links, it is against Google TOS so why the heck NOT do PBNs.
Guest posts under relevant niche sites or PBNs under relevant niches site. One is criticized for ethics and even morally while both are against Google TOS as they force unnatural link building in my personal opinion.
So my thoughts on your great outlined post:
Why not do PBN link building strategically (say 8-15% of a site overalls links) if statistically, sites with PBN sell more upon flipping and white hat so-called link building statistically get LESS money upon selling and still surprisingly get flagged oftentimes upon a manual Google review. Conclusion on my end: just use what works ‘consistently’ and forget general link building consensus while data proves correct.
Yow – I am fully bold now, did you know most great SEOs are now bold Jon? I’ll be surprised you still with your good hair man!!
Thanks Francis. I like the aggressive posture…and very much agree with the odd moral opinion of PBN (gasp) but pay someone for a guest post on a site worse than a PBN (that is fine). There are certainly sites that I would strongly recommend not increasing any risk around even if it might work as I mention. Thanks for the comment.