PBN Services and Other Link Building Schemes
A PBN Service is a group or individual offering one or more Private Blog Networks to site owners from which they can link back to their own money sites.
This is just one of the many shady link building practices that Google frowns upon. For the long term health of your site and the stability of your search engine listings, let’s agree that anything that Google does not condone is bad. Their game, their rules.
PBN Services are link schemes and Google makes it pretty clear what it thinks about them in its Webmaster Guidelines
Another example of a shady lining tactic is forum profile links. If you are setting up profiles on scores of random forums and online communities for the sole purpose of creating a link back to your own site – how much value are you (or your link) adding to that forum and the internet?
Private blog networks are set up for the members as a way to generate links. The owners could care less about visitors and the sites often reflect that with poor, often (badly) spun content. That runs PBN services up against another Google bugbear: Thin content.
To webmasters looking to monetize their site, selling links is just a form of advertising. For Google to nix this as a form of revenue seems pretty heavy-handed. But Google are not saying that you as a webmaster should not accept paid links. What they are saying is, if you do, you must no-follow the link.
Look at it like this. If the purchaser has something of interest to offer your website traffic, then he’ll pay for the link even if you no-follow it. However, if his purpose for buying the link in the first place has less to do with your visitors and more to do with gaming Google, then as soon as you mention the words, ‘no-follow’, the purchaser will disappear faster than you can say, ‘avoid the penguin penalty!’
What a b-linking mess
For all their protesting about poor quality links, Google themselves are to blame for the infestation. Back in the day when site owners were linking out to each other in an effort to improve the visitor experience, links were naturally acquired. Services that complimented each other locally swapped reciprocol links and expert sites were referenced automatically with nary a thought that we were linking out to ‘authority sites’.
There was no underlying motive to add links in order to rank better in Google. Back then, links did not effect rankings so there was no underlying motive in creating them other than to provide relevant ‘further reading” for visitors. Of course there was a lot of swapping going on. Relevant sites most likely had an interest in the same demographic. If one site offered car hire and another accommodation – why would they not reciprocate and collaborate?
Anyway, Google merrily napalmed that spirit of camaraderie the instant they decided that links were a vote of value and that sites that had the most were worthy of getting key positions in the SERPs. From that moment on link builders went into a frenzy. And don’t forget, back then it was all about quantity, the more links the better. Quality and relevance be damned. Thanks, Google. What a blinking mess.
The Penguin has no pity!
In 2012, Google rolled out the first Penguin update. They designed it to trap those indulging in black and gray hat link building tactics. That first iteration was savage. Many of the site owners affected then and in subsequent Penguin updates knew very well that they were indulging in questionable link building tactics but were prepared to take the risk for short time gains. Others were simply unlucky business owners who had outsourced their SEO to a firm that did not following Google guidelines. They got tarred and feathered right along with the dark hats.
Google’s algorithm updates are like the law – ignorance is no defense. There is nothing human about the Penguin – which might sound like something Batman would say – but what I mean is, no human oversight is responsible when a site gets battered in an algo update. It is also not the only potential problem for those who are dicing with dark hat tactics.
In September 2014, well-known niche marketer, Spencer Hawes posted an article titled, Alright Google, You Win…I’ll Never Use Private Blog Networks Again! He had had 10 sites penalized for ‘thin content’, although he suspects the true culprit was that the sites were part of a PBN:
So, what makes me so sure this is a PBN penalty? I have a pretty decent pool of sites in my portfolio; some that used PBN links and others that did not. For example, in my webmaster tools account, I have 9 sites. Five of those sites received the “thin content” manual action. All five of those sites used private blog networks.
Hawes had always known that the PBN practice was questionable at best and had taken great pains to advise his readers not to indulge in shady link-building practices. He’d even called the upcoming demise of the PBN link-building tactic in the previous months. However, for him, the profit outweighed the risks for a while.
However, the money that could be earned in the short term was always worth the risk. Sure, I knew that sites might only last a year or 2, but they would be highly profitable. And that has been the case.
This is the difference between an affiliate marketer who might have hundreds of sites and a small business owner who has only one or two. The affiliate marketer can play fast and loose with some of his sites. He can test SEO tactics and go risky here and there, knowing that with a large portfolio of sites, he is unlikely to get wiped out in one single update.
For the small business owner however, a Google penalty can be devastating. No short term SEO gains are worth a Google penalty. He or she cannot take risks and neither should any SEO contractor who is hired to take care of their online marketing.