Private blog networks (PBNs) are the go-to link building tactic for grey hat SEOs.
But the question is:
Are they worth building from an ROI (Return on Investment) and a ROT (Return on Time) perspective?
I’ll answer these questions and more, but first, a quick story:
I used to love using private blog networks.
But let’s be honest:
I didn’t just love using private blog networks… I was obsessed with them.
I would nerd out all day about:
- how to grow my network
- how to find the perfect expired domains
- how to build PBNs
- how to make PBN links stronger
- And even how to reduce footprints.
And if I wasn’t doing that, I was defending the use of private blog networks on forums.
I was all in…
…Until I got nailed by Google.
Not only did Gotch SEO get nailed for using private blog networks, 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 private blog networks…
1. Private blog networks are expensive to build
One of the biggest cons is the cost of developing and maintaining a network. If you’re using auctions, it’s going to cost you anywhere between $40-$400 for a good domain. If you are using domain vendors, the cost will be similar.
As you can imagine, this can add up.
After you secured your new domain, you have to pay for private WHOIS, get hosting, and add content.
So, let’s say you secured a domain for $100.
- Domain = $100
- Private Whois = $5
- Hosting = $12
- Article = $5 (a good PBN will have more than one article)
= $112 for ONE site.
Do you think the cost is high?
Let me tell you about the time investment.
2. 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 on Facebook groups and forums. The lengths that some people are going to make PBNs effective is astounding…
With all that effort, you could get REAL backlinks from REAL websites and never need to worry about getting penalized again.
Think about the process:
First, you have to find domains that are worthy of purchasing.
95% of the domains are trash. And that’s being generous.
For my agency, in particular, we used expired domains if they met our Topical Trust Flow requirement. That made our research even more challenging, but it was often much more rewarding.
Let’s say you’re trying to build a network of 10 websites. It’s going to take you anywhere between 6-12 hours to find ten qualified domains. A “qualified” domain should have a Trust Flow of at least 15 and a Domain Authority of 15.
A lower metric domain is acceptable if it has relevant Topical Trust Flow Topics.
Now that you’ve secured 10 domains, you now have to set them up. It will take you 2-4 hours to find web hosts and get the sites ready for development.
You then have to develop the site by creating all the necessary pages, finding themes, writing/outsourcing content, installing plugins, and making the site look normal. If you want to be extra safe, you may also want to create social accounts for each site.
This process could take 1-2 hours per site.
This equates to about 36 hours invested for a network of 10 websites.
This also doesn’t take into account any type of hosting or hacking issues you may encounter. Cheap web hosts often go out of business without any warning and have horrible uptime.
Dealing with these issues can be a serious time killer.
Now, of course, you can outsource the majority of these steps. But when you outsource, you increase your expenses. Higher expenses will extend how long it takes you to get an ROI.
This brings me to my next point:
Does using private blog networks have a good ROI (Return on Investment) and ROT (Return on Time)?
The ROI of Using PBNs
Since both you and I understand the value of money, let’s start there.
For this example, I’m going to use the keyword phrase: “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”.
Here are some quick numbers about this keyword:
- It gets around 1,000 searches per month
- The average linking root domains for competitors on the first page is 135
What this data shows is that you’ll need approximately 135 expired domains to rank for this keyword. This isn’t an exact science. It may take more and it may take less. You also have to keep in mind the quality of the domains.
Here are some other numbers you need to know to predict ROI:
- Average SERP CTR ~ 3% – 30% (higher CTR for higher rankings)
- Average Prospect to Lead (PTL) Conversion ~ 5%
- Average Inbound Lead to New Customer (ILC) Conversion ~ 21%
- Approximate cost for developing one network site = ~ $112
- Approximate time spent developing one network site = ~ 1 hour
To make this easier, I’ve created a Google Sheet:
These are generous calculations, but it gives you an idea of the ROI potential of using PBNs. The Lifetime Value (LTV) of a personal injury client is high. There aren’t many niches that will have an LTV this extreme, which means it will take longer to get a positive ROI.
The month #1 – #3 calculations are based on ranking on the first page for “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”. Keep in mind that this is a competitive niche. So you likely wouldn’t reach the first page for about 6-12 months (if you’re good). That means you will be in the hole until you get there.
Different Ways to Invest $28k Into SEO
You can do a lot in SEO with $28,000 +. I remember when I was starting out and all I had was a credit card with $500 limit. Back then, I thought this was a lot of capital to invest in SEO. I was able to achieve a lot with $500, but I also invested a lot of sweat equity. So if you don’t have the capital, you have to make up for it with sweat equity, as Mark Cuban would say. With that said, there are two ways to invest in SEO outside of private blog networks:
Content-driven SEO strategies will stand the test of time. Not only are content-driven strategies safer, but they are actually the most scalable link acquisition model. If you had $28k to spend, you should invest 80% of it into creating link-worthy content assets. In short, that means creating valuable SEO content that’s better than industry standards.
It’s rare for an SEO campaign to succeed without backlinks. But since you aren’t using PBNs, you must focus on acquiring real backlinks. “Real” backlinks come from websites with traffic and strong editorial standards. There are three ways to get real backlinks:
- Through promoting your content via outreach
- Through publishing guest posts
- Through buying placement (risky)
Here are some link building techniques you can use:
Now that you know the ROI of using PBNs, let’s talk about something important:
PBNs are a waste of time for developing your skill set as an entrepreneur.
3. Knowing how to manipulate a search engine is not an evergreen skill
Google can make all 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 its algorithm and reduce the dominance of backlinks as a ranking factor.
You go from SEO expert to working at McDonald’s overnight. All 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)
4. Using private blog networks 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 to make sure I didn’t get nailed.
Let’s face it.
No matter how well you develop your network, you’re always going to be at risk of two things:
A) your sites get deindexed and B) your site lands a manual penalty for “Unnatural Inbound Links”.
In seconds, both your cash and time investment can be worth nothing.
You could have invested all that time and money into something more evergreen.
I’ve been hatin’ hard on PBNs in this article, but they aren’t all that bad.
3 Reasons Why You SHOULD Use a Private Blog Networks
Now that I’ve scared the living daylights out of you, let me explain the pros of using a private blog network.
Having control of SEO is powerful. With a network, you can dictate the anchor text, the links, and test like crazy to see what works. No other link building strategy allows you such freedom.
Let’s say worst-case scenario, you DO get a manual penalty. Since you have control, you can remove the links and the penalty will (likely) be lifted.
Keep in mind:
Getting a manual action removed is impossible if you built automated links or bought links on sites you didn’t own.
2. Instant Authority
Private blog networks are powerful because you’re leveraging the authority of an aged, trusted website. It’s challenging to get these types of links through outreach.
3. No Outreach/Relationship Building
You won’t have to spend any time reaching out or building relationships if you use PBNs. While this isn’t a good thing, it can definitely save you time.
So, since there are both pros and cons of using a PBN, is there any solution?
The Ultimate PBN Strategy
I see too many SEO’s relying way too much on private blog networks and they’re making a big mistake. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you should never put all your eggs in one basket.
This is true for ANY type of link building.
Google has destroyed many SEOs who have relied on a single link building method.
So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine…
I approach link building the same way as my retirement account.
First, I evaluate the risk of a link building strategy. Then, I decide how much capital and time to allocate to that strategy.
For example, I may invest in “riskier” stocks because the potential return is higher. However, the riskier stocks are only a small percentage of my overall portfolio.
This is exactly how you should approach link building and private blog networks!
If 100% of your inbound links are coming from PBNs, then you’re playing with fire.
PBN’s should supplement your other link building efforts.
If you keep your private blog network links between 5-20% of your overall link profile, then you should be fine.
PBNs are always risky, but it’s reduced when they’re only a small percentage of your link profile. The other 80-90% of your links should come from internal pages like editorial links, business listings, branded properties, or niche blog/forum comments.
You can also use this White Hat Alternative to PBNs if you want to avoid them altogether.
The White Hat Alternative to PBNs
Is it possible to leverage the power of private blog networks without actually building one?
The answer: “YES!”
The strategy that I’m about to show you is a white hat, safe, and if you want, it will allow you to never have to use a PBN again.
You’re going to leverage the links that make expired domains powerful. The only reason anyone even considers using expired domains is because of the tier one links going to the domain.
Here’s how it works:
Topically relevant links -> Expired Domain -> Your Site
With this model, you have to buy the expired domain, get hosting, get content and take all kinds of measures to eliminate footprints. More importantly, this model doesn’t allow you to get 100% link equity because the expired domain acts as a buffer.
Here’s what we want:
Topically relevant links -> Your Site
Tier one links are the most powerful because you get almost all the link equity.
I’m going to warn you:
This strategy is not cool or glamorous…
It will take hard work and time.
You may want to consider outsourcing some of these tasks because of the time investment necessary.
Now that I’ve scared you, let’s talk about what tools you’ll need.
Tools for the Job
My personal favorite tool for finding expired domains is DomCop. Here’s how you can find expired domains using DomCop:
Expireddomains.net is also a great option as well. Mainly because it’s a free tool. Here’s how you can use it to find expired domains:
You will also need Majestic and Ahrefs to analyze the links. You can use Open Site Explorer as well since it’s free.
Why This Strategy is Evergreen
There is a good chance that Google could devalue expired domains altogether or use some type of sandbox in the future. With this strategy, you’ll never have to worry about the effectiveness of your private blog network. That’s because you’re not actually using one! You’re just snatching up the links that make the expired domains powerful in the first place.
The first expired domain resource that I’m going to show you is DomCop. This is one of the best because it emphasizes Topical Trust Flow. As you know, the safest and most effective link building strategy is to acquire links from sites that have a relevant Topical Trust Flow to your website.
1. Open up DomCop and click “Simple Filter”
2. My settings: DA = 20 +, Trust Flow = 15 +, only common TLDs (.com, .net., and .org)
3. Search and sort by Majestic Trust flow
4. Now go down the list and look at the Topical Trust Flow for each domain
5. When you find a relevant one, click the colored number and it will take you directly to Majestic
From there, you can start looking for link acquisition opportunities. After you’ve sifted through Majestic, you should also run the same expired domain through Ahrefs. We just use a simple Google doc to handle all the link data. Don’t over-complicate this!
Keep in mind:
The only way you’re going to have success with this strategy is if your site has valuable content. The site owner isn’t going to replace the old link with some trashy one-page affiliate site you made. They will want to replace the dead link with something of value.
One way to increase your reach out success rate is to replace the content that was originally linked to. For example, let’s say I found an expired domain that used to be a blog about SEO.
I would look at its link profile and discover that it has links going to a blog post about “On-Page SEO“. I could either leverage an article I already have or just create a new resource knowing that there are links just waiting to be acquired.
The beauty of this strategy is that you know that the original content/topic was well-received and “linkable”. All you have to do on your side is create a better resource than the original and reach out. You should consider looking at Archive.org to see if you can find the original article that acquired the links.
Worst case scenario, you created a resource that you know is popular based on the link history of the expired domain.
There is no secret to reaching out. Just be genuine, compliment their work, kindly notify them that they are linking to a dead resource/website out of business, and give them an amazing alternative (your website/content) to replace the broken link. Personalize the email as much as possible, but the outreach process needs to scale. So you should test templates until you come up with one that has a high response rate.
Hint: if you have a female who works for you, have her participate in the outreach. Females tend to get higher response rates.
This strategy isn’t easy and it will certainly take more effort than just buying the expired domain. On average, you will probably be able to secure around 20% of the links you reach out to. The key to having a higher success rate is to only focus on opportunities that are highly relevant.
So, for Gotch SEO, I would need to find an old Internet Marketing and SEO blog that I could leverage. It wouldn’t make sense for me to reach out to real estate websites or something outside of my niche.
There are thousands of domains that expire every single day, which means there are thousands of opportunities for you to secure links for your business.
Other Benefits of This Strategy
What I really love about this strategy is that you can uncover all types of different opportunities. When you begin your research, you’ll find the dead links going to the expired domains, but you’ll also uncover content ideas, other dead resources/sites, and all kinds of different link opportunities.
Just the intel you gather from researching old domains should be more than enough for any link builder to put this strategy in your arsenal.
Are private blog networks worth it to you?
That’s for you to decide.
If you follow the 90/10 rule of link diversification, you will be forced to spend time on acquiring real backlinks.
At the same time, you’ll get the benefits of PBN links with decreased risk.
Keep in mind:
Marketing is all about ROI. If you believe you can get a return on investment using only PBN links, then DO IT.
For most people, it’s best to take the safe route and use more evergreen tactics.