How to Rank #1 in Google for “PBNs” (Without Using PBNs)

All about that PBN life?

That’s cool because I used to love using PBNs.

But let’s be honest:

I didn’t just love using PBNs… I was obsessed with them.

I would nerd out all day about how I can grow my network, how to find the perfect expired domains, how to build my PBN, how to make my PBN links stronger and most importantly, how to reduce footprints.

And if I wasn’t doing that, I was defending the use of PBNs on forums.

I was all in…

…Until I got nailed by Google.

Not only did Gotch SEO get nailed for using PBNs, but so did several of my clients.

Before that happened, I thought I had complete “control” of my SEO because I was in control of my backlinks.

It’s crazy how wrong I was.

But sometimes you need a rough moment to change your ways.

What I realized about PBNs…

1. The whole process of building PBNs is a waste of time.

This was true back in 2014, but it’s even more true now. I can’t believe some of the discussions I see in Facebook groups and forums. The lengths that some people are going to make PBNs effective is astounding… With all of that effort, you could acquire REAL backlinks from REAL websites and never need to worry about getting penalized again. It’s also a waste of time for developing your skillset as an entrepreneur…

2. Knowing how to manipulate a search engine is not an evergreen skill.

Google can make all of your PBN building skills obsolete overnight. It doesn’t matter if you spent years learning how to build the perfect PBN. All Google has to do is change their algorithm and reduce the dominance of backlinks as a ranking factor.

Then BOOM:

You go from SEO expert to working at McDonalds overnight because you focused on improving a skill that isn’t evergreen.

So, what can you do instead?

Focus on building evergreen SEO skills such as learning:

  • How to create content that people actually want to link to
  • How to improve user experience (so you drive more sales for your business)
  • How to build relationships (that will accelerate your business’s growth)
  • How to outreach for quality backlinks (from real websites)

3. Using PBNs puts your business on a shaky foundation.

I remember getting a pit in my stomach every time I read about a new Google update. I would run to my computer to check my rank tracker just to make sure I didn’t get nailed. The uncertainty of using PBNs isn’t fun.

The good news is that you don’t need to worry about Google updates as much when you are using a content-centric and outreach-based SEO strategy.

That’s what I’m going to show you today.

In this guide, you’re going to see how I ranked #1 in Google for “PBNs” without using a single PBN link.

Now you probably just opened a new tab and launched the Google Keyword Planner to see how much search volume “PBNs” gets…

That’s okay because that’s where I want to start:

Why Search Volume is Flawed

The keyword phrase “PBNs” only get 260 searches a month according to the Google Keyword Planner.

And that’s SEARCHES. Not estimated visitors.

So, let’s say I get 30% CTR for that keyword. That means, I should be getting approximately 78 organic search visitors a month from that keyword.

Now here’s why my equation is dumb:

When you rank for a target keyword, you don’t just rank for that single phrase. You rank for many other closely-related terms as well.

So, how much organic search traffic do you think my “PBNs” article gets per month?

500? Maybe a 1,000?

Try 2,983 in May alone.

So, what’s the disconnect?

How can I get 2,983 organic search visitors when my target keyword phrase only get 260 searches a month?

The first reason is because most keyword phrases are “unknown”. So, when you rank for your target keyword, you end up ranking for many long-tail variations as well. Many of these long-tail variations will show zero search volume in the Google Keyword Planner.

The second reason is because I’m using a title modifier, “2017”. Adding the current year to time-sensitive content has always been effective for driving more long-tail search traffic in my experience.

The last reason is my SERP click through rate (CTR). The average SERP CTR for this PBNs article over the last 30 days is 5.81%. The highest CTR for a keyword phrase is 60%. If you can improve your SERP CTR, you can get more organic search traffic.

What I’m about to show you will help you improve your CTR in the SERPs, but most importantly, will help you rank better in Google as well.

Let’s jump in:

It Starts with Content

The key to getting more organic search traffic is understanding that your content is the lead domino.

So, the question is:

How do you create SEO content that performs well in Google?

Here are a few proven ways to make Google salivate over your content:

Be unique at all costs

Creating content that is unlike all others is the #1 way to win over Google’s heart. The first step to creating unique content is to analyze your SEO competitors. Go to Google and enter a keyword you want to rank for.

Now all you need to do is ask one question:

How can I create something that is DIFFERENT than what is ranking?”

That’s the question I asked when creating my private blog network article. In fact, it’s the question I ask every time I want to create a new piece of content.

When I was doing my research, I noticed that every ranking page was a guide on how to setup PBNs.

Knowing this I had only two options:

  1. Try to create a better guide or,
  2. Create something different and unique

I chose option #2.

Now you’re probably wondering:

How do you create something different and unique?

Don’t worry…

Here is a tested framework you can use to create unique content (that people love sharing and linking to):

1. Use unique data

Creating your own unique data is the best way to differentiate your content. Anyone can write “how to” guides.

But, you will never win in Google if your strategy is to out-“how-to” your competitors.

It’s a losing battle.

If you want to dominate long-term, then you should create unique data.


You might see the word “data” and envision a bunch of geeky guys in lab coats.

But listen:

I barely passed math in school and I don’t have formal training in data analysis.

If I can create unique data, then you can too.

The crazy part is that your data doesn’t even need to be real. It can be hypothetical data and still have an impact.

For example, my PBNs article has a section about the ROI of using PBNs. The figures I used are rough estimates based on my experience. I didn’t need to hire a team of data analysts to do it.

I just typed numbers into a Google Sheet. That’s seriously it.

The point is:

Use data if you want to differentiate your content from your competitors.

2. Challenge industry norms

It’s funny because sometimes your content is answering a question you have about your industry. I got the idea to write about whether PBNs are worth it or not because I was pondering that exact question.

The only way you can “challenge” industry norms is by living and breathing your industry. At the time, I knew the risk and cost of using PBNs. I also knew that a large subset of SEOs love using them.

So, instead of going with the flow, I decided to challenge this decade-old strategy.

The best part about challenging norms in your industry is that you don’t have to take a hardline approach. You can be objective and argue for both sides. But in the end, you need to give your reader a clear opinion of your own.

Analyze your industry.

What “best practices” or “norms” can you challenge?

3. Give unique solutions

Good content solves problems and offers solutions. If you use unique data and challenge industry norms, then you need to offer a solution.

To give you an example, I came up with a 90/10 formula for my PBNs article.

It’s simple:

Only 10% of your backlinks should come from “high-risk” opportunities like PBNs. 90% of your backlinks should come from lower risk opportunities such as those acquired through outreach.

All I did was take the Pareto principle and applied it to this situation.

Here’s are the big takeaways from all of this:

  • Your content needs to be different and unique
  • You need to avoid the rabbit hole of trying to create better guides and better “how tos”
  • Unique data, unique positions, and unique strategies will always dominate regurgitated guides.

Remember earlier when I said content is the “lead domino”?

That’s 100% a fact, but it’s not the only domino.

I would be lying to you if I didn’t show you other factors that have allowed my article to perform well.

Let me start with the biggest one:

The “Unfair” Advantage

Do you ever wonder how popular bloggers get hundreds of social shares and blog comments within only a couple days of publishing?

It’s because of their email lists.

I can tell you firsthand that having an email list is one the best (and easiest) ways to amplify your SEO results.


Because content promotion is hard without a list.

You can go buck wild on social media, spend loads of money on ads, and you can even build links until you’re blue in the face.

But NO content promotion tactic is easier and faster than leveraging your email list.

It takes 5-10 minutes to write and send out an email. If you have a decent-sized list, you get thousands of visitors to your new content within 24 hours.

So, why does this help your SEO?

Because you need eyeballs on your content if you want to get backlinks and social shares.

No eyeballs = no natural backlinks

The only reason I got a natural backlink to my PBNs article from Search Engine Watch is because my content had VISIBILITY.

Increased content visibility = better chance of getting natural backlinks

You need to grow your email list if you want to amplify your SEO results.

The third part of this strategy is to create a positive user experience on your website.

Please Your Users (or Pay the Price)

The first step to pleasing your users is giving them incredible value through your content.

I already know you will achieve this goal by following the framework above. But there are several other micro-elements that will impact your content’s performance.

Kill the Distractions

The key to pleasing Google is fulfilling searcher intent and offering a pleasant experience for searchers. Anything that doesn’t help the searcher is a distraction.

Here are a few common user experience killers:

1. Slow Page Loading Speed
Slow loading pages hurt user experience and kill sales opportunities. If you fix anything, fix your site speed.

2. Content is Below the Fold
Fulfilling searcher intent is the priority and that’s why your content needs to be front and center. The searcher’s experience should be effortless. Don’t make them scroll!

3. Annoying Ads
There is nothing wrong with having ads on your site. The problem is the way some websites use them.

Naturally, many websites prioritize clicks over a positive searcher experience by placing ads above the fold. While this may help in the short-term, it will kill your search performance in the long-run.

That’s because:

  • A) ads send searchers off your site and,
  • B) ads above the fold are annoying and distracting.

Anything that negatively disrupts the searcher will hurt your organic search performance over time.

4. Disruptive Popups
If you follow the SEO industry closely, you probably heard about Google’s threat regarding interstitial pop-ups.

In you’re new to SEO, I’ll put it in layman’s terms:

Google believes that pop-ups hurt searcher experience and they may start demoting websites that use them.

Fortunately, there’s a way to satisfy searchers AND use popups at the same time.

All you have to do is modify your popups so that they only show on the second page load. That way you don’t scare off organic search visitors.

Here’s the big takeaway:

Focus on pleasing the searcher.

Just to review, here’s how I ranked for “PBNs” without using PBNs:

  1. Create content that is unique and different (so that it attracts social shares and backlinks)
  2. Start growing your email list so you can have a reliable promotional channel
  3. Please searchers by doing what’s best for them

Are these three steps all it takes to ranking well in Google?


Here is one more important reason:

Strong Website = Easy Rankings

If you follow the three steps I listed AND you have decent website authority, then ranking is a breeze.

How do you know if you have decent website authority?

The easiest thing to do is use third party metrics such as Domain Authority (DA) from Open Site Explorer, Trust Flow from Majestic, or Domain Rating from Ahrefs.

These tools are a necessity, but there is another way to measure the authority of your website.

All you have to do is ask a simple question:

How long does it take a new piece of content to rank in the top 100 for your target keyword?

If your pages never rank within the top 100 after publishing (or without backlinks), then there is a good chance that:

  • A) your site isn’t authoritative,
  • B) your site doesn’t have enough credibility and trust, or
  • C) your site is new

On the flip side, when your site has authority, you can rank faster and easier.

This reduces your SEO expenses because you don’t need to invest as much into acquiring new backlinks.

Here’s what you need to take away from this:

You need to focus on growing the authority of your website as a whole.

So, just to review, here is a process you can use to rank in Google:

  1. Create content that is unique and different (so that it attracts social shares and backlinks)
  2. Start growing your email list so you can have a reliable promotional channel
  3. Please searchers by doing what’s best for them
  4. Focus on growing your site’s authority so you need fewer backlinks (and money) to rank

Doing these four things alone will get you some awesome SEO results.

Is this all there is ranking well in Google? No, but this is a great start if you’re new to white hat SEO.

Want more organic search traffic by using white hat SEO?

Enroll in our new SEO 101 course now. It’s free to join.


  1. Hey, Nathan! Thank you for the great post! I always thought that PBNs are “must have” in order to get ranked for the target keywords. But more and more people in SEO industry are saying the same thing all over again – PBNs will rather hurt your rankings. Do you have a suggestion on how to outreach bloggers in order to get natural links via guest blogging? It looks like it’s one of the hardest things to scale.
    I also wanted to ask you a quick question about that popup that comes up when the user is about to leave the page. Is it a specific plugin?
    Thank you!

  2. Excellent article as always, but a question regarding outreach. Did you suggest anchor text when guest posting or did you let it fall as it may?


    1. Hey Troy,

      Thanks for the comment! You can use keyword-rich anchors if it’s in the body of the content. I would avoid keyword-rich anchors if it’s only a bio link

  3. Hi,
    Thank for the article. I wonder have you have instructions on building web 2.0 pyramid or other techniques that may improve website trust rank?
    Thank in advance!

  4. As you know one main reason that most bloggers stop blogging is because of not being able to create regular interesting posts – This is the hardest part of keeping the site going for most.

    Also, in the case of affiliate niche sites, the only way to quick ranking is by using PBN’s. So your suggestions can only be valid for authority websites, something which is beyond most bloggers’ abilities to create.
    Even famous bloggers like John Chow have got most of their contents written by someone else. So it’s never easy.

    How many times have we heard that some of the big domainers have said they had bought certain domains for development purposes and they never got round to it – In fact what they mean to say is that it’s just too hard to keep creating interesting contents day in day out – So this is why PBN’s are still a good option for some bloggers.

    Btw, why did your PBN’s got found out by Google, if you’d covered all the footprints?

    1. Hey Rod,

      Thank you for the comment. Sorry, I don’t agree with that rational at all. Why is it beyond most blogger’s ability? Not sure I’m following. A content-driven SEO approach isn’t predicated on quantity. It’s based on quality content. Frequency doesn’t matter. Creating quality content and doing outreach isn’t reserved only for authorities. In fact, it works best when you have NO audience because there is more opportunity. Who said I covered all my footprints?

  5. One of the best articles written about PBNs.
    It’s quite timely also, as another giant of the SEO world, Matthew Woodward is really pushing his new PBN business. It’s rather disappointing to see that. I could ask for your opinion on that but I guess it’s already pretty clear what the answer would be.

    What stands out for me in this article is that you’re not focusing on the “PBNs are too risky” argument. You’re focusing on the “do things that improve your skills” argument.

  6. Hi Nathan,

    Well, I know lots of bloggers giving up due not being able to create good fresh content.

    I myself have a few decent domain names which I would like to develop but cannot write the content for. It’s the biggest problem for every blogger. May be some sites such as recipe sites find it easier but as a whole content creation is the one and only reason that stops us from getting rich!

    Also, regarding footprints, I personally would not use a PBN site more than once for each backlink to each of my money sites. Google would not stand a chance if you did it this way.

    1. Hey Rod,

      Once again, not sure where you are getting these conclusions from, but I will have to respectfully disagree.

      First, it’s a problem for every blogger? That’s obviously not true. No one said producing quality content was easy. If any entpreneuer is looking for “easy” ways to grow their business, then are already on the path to failure. The hard stuff is what has the biggest impact.

      Also, Google doesn’t stand a chance…? A multi billion dollar company with the best minds in tech doesn’t stand a chance against you using a private blog network? Come on man…

  7. Hi Nathan,
    Thanks for considering this topic.
    1- How about treating your PBNs like money site, means build PBNs with high quality content just as we build our money sites and keep it active with fresh content on regular basis. I find this way very secure comparatively using few posts or low quality content based content.
    2. I experienced by focusing blogger outreach approach, we don’t need to go for the PBNs but its very hard & time consuming comparatively PBNs.
    3. What do you recommend for the fresh website from where to take initiative of getting links. Normally, I initiate by taking some social signals, then business directories, press releases and finally PBNs & guest posts (sometimes these are paid as well).

    1. Hey Fahim,

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. Why would you go through all that effort when you can get a real backlink instead (without the risk, without the effort, and without the management)?

      2. Outreach is harder, but that’s why it’s better (not everyone else is willing to do it)

      3. I focus on creating quality content assets and promoting them

  8. Great article as always Nathan, but i have to disagree with this point……..

    “All Google has to do is change their algorithm and reduce the dominance of backlinks as a ranking factor.”

    This is never going to happen! Google has become the dominate force in Search through using backlinks as a way to rank websites. Lycos and AltaVista did not use the number of links pointing back to a website as way of displaying the best search results. Look what happened to them.

    Also if Google do change their algorithm to reduce the dominance of backlinks as a ranking factor, surely you would suffer too, regardless of if your backlinks were from PBN’s or content marketing?

    My final point……. what would become the dominant ranking factor? Social? I don’t see anything, which Google’s algorithm could control as astutely as they do backlinks

    1. Hey Chris,

      Thank you for the comment. I’m not implying that backlinks won’t be a ranking factor. I just believe there is a good chance that the dominance of backlinks as a ranking factor will decrease. I don’t work for Google, so I can’t tell you what will be different. But, user signals already have an impact on rankings and that’s only going to grow. Google values user experience above all else.

      I have to respectfully disagree on your point that my site or other content-driven sites would suffer. My site and other content-driven sites aren’t propped on backlinks alone. You have to consider the content itself and the user experience that is a direct results of that content.

      But at the end of the day, all I (and you) can do is test. My main point is that backlinks acquired through a content-centric approach are less risky than using PBNs.

  9. Fantastic write-up! I do agree on these points, especially the portion regarding pop-ups! I was just at a website that had FOUR separate pop-up blocks hit me… one after another! One my very first visit, nonetheless!

  10. I am a regular reader of you blog and I really like your blog post.

    Quick question: Suppose if i re-create all the domains(to be used as PBN) using will this method be safe from future Google penalty?

  11. It’s really a nice and useful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you shared this SEO helpful info with us to rank in Google. Please keep us up to date like this.

  12. Great article, Nathan. I think you make a good point about the flaws in Google’s search volume numbers, especially for single specific keywords. It seems Google is trying hard to get people away from optimizing for a specific term, which is why so many come back as unknown in analytics. I suspect it is also why they are now combining keywords and giving search volume ranges in the keyword planner. If you search for “pbn” in the keyword planner tool (at least on an account not running adwords), they give a search volume of 10K – 100K. That isn’t particularly helpful.

  13. Thanks for the great article. I was wondering if we use blogs of same niche hosted at different servers which are regularly updated to get a backlink then it would be difficult for google to find out if its earned or not.

    1. Hey Ashutosh,

      Thanks for the comment! That’s a common practice when building PBNs. Google can still uncover a PBN through other methods (usually footprints).

  14. Nice write-up Nathan.
    How do you get over the
    “If your pages never rank within the top 100 after publishing (or without backlinks), then there is a good chance that: C) your site is new”
    Is there any way to speed up time?
    Also, how can you tell it isn’t one of the other 2?

    1. Thank you Jo!

      Building a strong base of content before getting aggressive with backlinks seems to work well in my experience. But with that said, almost every new website goes through this sandbox period, which causes a lot of volatility. Your rankings usually stabilize after you build more authority (and with time)

  15. Really Like your approach Nathan. Creating something different than better seems like a good idea. I have tried “better” route but it failed miserably so I think I need to go the “different” route.

  16. Eeee! I was planning to go with PBNs for ranking my tech site. I just started this new blog, and I’m glad I found this, Nathan. I’m going full white-hat! No matter how long it takes.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with PBN’s! Love your posts, mate.

  17. Nathan, you are indeed the guy..But to be really honest, outreach as everyone says can be done with budget or reference.

    What if i don’t have the appropriate budget for running my blog. Should i take the grey hat route (Web 2.0s) and still be safe?
    Please please reply…!

    1. Hey Sajid,

      Thanks for the comment. If you don’t have a budget, then you need to put in the manual outreach work until you can afford to outsource it

  18. So, would you recommend not using/getting ANY PBN links at all?
    What if you have 90-95% of your links coming from elsewhere and 5-10% are from PBN’s? It’s good to have a varied back-link profile after all.

  19. Hello GotchSeo,
    I was searching about PBN, whether I should use it to build my Indian SEO agency site authority but this article plus others I have read here, Its definitely No.
    Earlier I used to believe, having PBN Empire would be so great didn’t realised it just matter of algorithm change it can get destroyed.
    So why not to invest in making friends over the web, making content, infographic, etc.
    Thanks allot and Can you also add my email from this comment to your list? No pop up came to subscribe this blog.

  20. It’s a very nice article and really inspiring.
    Just one confusion.
    I’m not sure whether someone has already asked this question. PBNs has 880 monthly searches from the whole world. When it is specified for just USA users, then it is 260 search volume per month. Is your May visitor statistics for only USA visitors or from the whole world?

  21. Hey Nathan, I’m new to your blog, it’s nice, easy to read and like you say minimal distractions, you talk about increasing the authority of the website. What’s your top 3 tips on doing this without spending hours every week, and is it better to have less weak links, more strong links rather than getting as many links as you can?

    1. Hey Matt,

      Thanks for the comment! I know this is an annoying answer, but you need both. You need high authority links from relevant sources, but you also need quantity as well

  22. I was ranking at top 4 or 5 in the google but struggling to rank top in google. Thanks for sharing such nice articles as i was really searching for it. Hope after using these techniques my website organic traffic will increase.

    1. Hey Albert,

      According to Google, it will be in the future. I haven’t seen much of a impact based on several tests. With that said, it’s a good move to improve user experience. Especially if you’re selling products and accepting credit card information on your website.

  23. Powerful stuff there Nathan.
    Looking for the long run you are absolutely right. Nevertheless, currently i wouldn’t give up pbns completely, but definitely start paying more attention to other things.

    Thanks for the great post!

  24. Nathan, great article! Thank you.

    Would a potential option for PBN’s be to create an authority site in the niche’s that you might want to SEO as an agency?
    Instead of absolutely lathering your homepage with outbound links, create a blog with high-quality content in the niche and work with fewer, but higher paying clients. Any link included would be within a user-centric, quality content piece. Almost like a natively “sponsored” piece I guess.
    Seems like a better way to go.
    Both your clients and your readers win. I think the issue with PBN’s is that they’re used as a vessel to drive volume instead of quality. I suppose it wouldn’t be very “private” to do it the way I’m suggesting though!

    1. Thank you! That would look at a lot better, but when you think about the ROT (Return on Time), it would probably be better/easier to get link placements on real websites instead of having to build them out

  25. Absolutely fabulous article. Appreciate your candor. A SEO firm just last month advocated creating PBN for long-term domination and I opposed it. So glad to learn here that no PBN are Google proof.

  26. Yes, i agree to all above points and i skimmed through all points. But still getting rank is very tough, as on page is in the hands of webmasters but getting quality backlinks is the toughest part. However there is no shortcut, so we need to work upon these factors anyhow.

  27. Wonderful piece of content Nathan. And yes, content is the key to everything (or most of things) in SEO. Then adding email marketing strategy could just do wonders. Enjoyed it!

  28. A balanced article about PBN use. PBNs are so tempting but even if the benefits outweigh the risks now, who’s to say what will happen in the future. Yes, they still work. Yes, they can be lucrative. But I wouldn’t want to base my entire business on them. Niche sites and “throwaway” Amazon affiliate sites might be best suited to PBNs. Do you agree?

    1. Hey Keith,

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I think they are useful for “rank and bank” approaches. But for long-term businesses, it’s not worth the risk

  29. Glad you are debunking the PBN life and that this would be ranking for PBN’s related search queries. Also, that you moved away from it and other deceitful techniques, before throwing in the towel. Keep preaching!

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