Private blog networks (PBNs) have been one of the most popular link building tactics of the past few years.
PBNs are usually expired domains that you register and re-create so that you can use the website to post links to the site that you want to rank.
Obviously, this is cheating Googles algorithm that wants to rank pieces of content that get the most legitimate links (which act as votes) because that suggests the piece is valuable.
But the real question that SEO’s need to ask themselves is:
In this article, we’ll be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of using PBNs. We’ll also take a dive into the ROI (return on investment) of PBNs to see if they can be lucrative or not.
Three reasons not to use a PBN
Even those SEO’s that use PBNs accept that they are a gray hat method. They don’t follow Googles guidelines, and that means that you’re susceptible to being penalized.
However, there are other downsides to using PBNs. Let’s take a look:
PBNs are a cheap alternative to outreach and content marketing, so you might be surprised to see that our first downside is the cost of PBNs.
Private blog networks are surprisingly costly, especially in the long term.
The costs will vary hugely depending on what types of domains you’re buying. The domain is often the largest single cost, although you can register expired domains for the cost of registration, usually around $10.
However, with PBNs becoming more popular, it’s challenging for the average SEO to find domains to register. Instead, it’s likely that you’ll buy from a domain seller or at an auction.
Let’s presume that you paid $100 for your domain.
- Domain: $100
- Whois Yearly Cost: $5
- Hosting Yearly Cost: $20
- Articles: $20
= $145 for a single referring domain.
That’s almost the absolute minimum. Sure, you could cheap out and write just one article for the website, and you might be able to get a domain for $10, but it’s unlikely.
All of a sudden a PBN becomes extremely expensive. Of course, if you own a vast portfolio of websites that then cost can be spread across them, and the cost per link will fall.
Although the monetary cost of PBNs is high, the time you’ll need to invest is worth far more than you’d ever imagine.
Finding a single domain to buy could take you hours, especially if you’re only looking to find expired domains to register.
Add onto that some extra time if you have requirements for the strength of the backlink profile and all of a sudden you’re looking at a whole day to find just a single domain.
This will vary greatly depending on the tools you use, but even in the best-case scenario, you’ll still have to spend time setting up all the hosting accounts and websites.
This could take anywhere between four and five hours.
Then, you’ll need to make the website look decent so that it’s not blatant that it’s a PBN, you’ll need to upload the content you outsourced, install the plugins and create links to your money sites.
None of this takes into account the extra time you could face if there are any errors, if your hosting goes down or if the websites are hacked.
Already, you could be looking at over 30 hours to create a small PBN that will only give you a few links and will require recurring payments to maintain.
Regardless of the time and monetary cost, the biggest reason to not use PBNs is that they are risky. After all the time and money you’ve invested into creating your private blog networks, there’s a chance that Google de-indexes it or penalizes your website.
At any moment your entire business could crumble. If you value being able to sleep at night, this isn’t a good way to operate a company.
The risk of PBNs is arguably higher than ever. We’ve seen mass de-indexation of PBNs over the past few years, and it’s obvious that Google is actively penalizing websites for unnatural link profiles.
If you’re operating a legitimate business that you want to be running years from now still, PBNs will bring a level of risk to your company that you won’t be comfortable with.
Three reasons why you should use a PBN
Of course, if there weren’t any good reasons to use a PBN then you wouldn’t find so many people using them.
Let’s take a look at three reasons why you still might want to use a PBN:
When compared to other link building tactics like outreach or GSA links, PBNs give you a lot of control as you create them but also in the future.
You have control over what content surrounds the link, what other links are in the post and most importantly, the anchor text of the link.
This control can be powerful to an SEO operating on a portfolio of websites who wish to test different methods.
With this level of control, you can also make changes after the fact. If you do receive a penalty or just want to test changes to your link profile, you can log in to your PBN and remove the link.
PBNs are powerful because they are created on expired domains that have real trust in the eyes of Google and often a strong backlink profile.
When you’re creating a new website, links from a PBN can lend that authority to your site and help you to rank.
Getting similarly strong backlinks can be difficult through outreach, especially to a new or thin site. This is often the case with local businesses who don’t want to go to the effort of creating content that can be used for link building.
Instead, they can leave their website as it is and use PBNs to build powerful links that would otherwise be impossible for them to acquire.
No Outreach Needed
PBNs are for the lazy SEO. That’s not a dig; it’s just the truth.
One of the biggest benefits of PBNs is that you don’t have to go to the effort of forming relationships with bloggers and convincing them to let you guest post of featuring your content.
Although content marketing is extremely effective, it can often be time-consuming, especially for amateur SEOs and local business owners.
In general, having relationships with industry bloggers and influencers is a fantastic thing, however, if you’re looking to save time on outreach PBNs can do that for you.
ROI of PBN’s
Business is all about ROI. You make to make more money than you invest.
Fortunately, figuring out the ROI of using PBNs is quite simple. All you need to do is compare the cost of the PBNs to the potential revenue from ranking for the keyword and then factor in time to rank and the chance of not ranking.
It’s simple, we promise!
Let’s look at an example keyword phrase: “landscaping Las Vegas.”
It gets 700 searches per month
The first place page has 72 referring domains
For this example, we won’t bother looking at the strength of the referring pages or the overall domain strength of the page. Instead, we’ll assume that to rank #1 you’ll need at least 72 referring domains to your page.
If we use the average cost of a single website in your PBN that we calculated before, $145, then the cost of your PBN would be $10,400. That’s a big number!
So, for PBNs to generate a positive ROI, you would need to be able to earn $10,400 in profit from ranking #1. Of course, if you ranked for the next 100-years almost any business would, but be realistic and assume that you might only rank for 5-years or less.
In this example, the Lifetime Value (LTV) of a single gardening client might be $5000, and the profit margin on each customer could be 20%. That would mean a single customer would bring a profit of $1000.
That would mean that to have a positive ROI you’d need to get more than 11 customers from ranking #1. Given that there are 700 searches per month, at #1 you’ll get around a 40% CTR, equalling 280 visitors per month.
Of those 280 visitors, you’d only have to convert around 0.36% of visitors per month to make a positive ROI within a year.
Your own business is probably far more complicated than this simple example, but it should show you how you can go about calculating the ROI for your own business.
The idea if to figure out your LTV of a customer and compare that to the cost of the PBNs and the amount of traffic the keyword will drive. Obviously, this doesn’t factor in the risk of PBNs.
The Ultimate PBN Strategy
One mistake that many SEO’s makes is treating PBNs as the ‘be all and end all.’ If you do choose to use PBNs, then they should only be part of your overall SEO strategy.
In the right circumstances, private blog networks can be extremely powerful and arguably the best link building tactic for yourself or a client.
However, having all of your eggs in a single basket is never a good idea.
Diversifying your link profile will help to reduce the chance of you being penalized, even if you do have some PBN links.
When you’re deciding whether to use PBN links you don’t need to think of it in a black and white way. Your options aren’t only all PBN links or no PBN links; you can find a balance.
If your entire backlink profile is from private blog networks, then you’ll stick out, but if only 5-10% of your links are from PBNs, the risk is going to be substantially lower.
If you’ve decided that your risk tolerance is higher than average and you’d like to use PBNs, you should consider them as a supplement to your other content marketing efforts.
Using traditional marketing and outreach methods to earn great links from magazines and industry leaders, then use PBNs to create links to commercial pages.
Getting editorial links to commercial pages is extremely difficult, that’s one of the reasons many SEO’s will use PBNs exclusively for ranking product pages that are hard to build links to.
As with any business decision, it’s impossible for us to give you bespoke advice. You should look at the risk and reward of PBNs and decide whether they are right for you.
Keep in mind that marketing is about ROI, cash flow is king. If you believe that the ROI from PBNs will counterbalance the risk then they are probably a good choice, otherwise, stick to white hat content marketing and outreach.