Setting up and getting traffic to a new website can be challenging. Getting Google to rank your site can be even more trouble. There are two hundred different parameters that Google looks at when they are ranking your site but 3 of them are crucial. One of those is backlinks – links to other legitimate sites similar to yours. Google looks very favorably on them, but take care. If your backlinks make their way to Private Blog Networks, Google can penalise you. (Image source: SEO Hero).
PBN webmasters will offer you a link from the PBN to your site. But what a PBN webmaster is doing is trying to make their own network of sites look more legitimate in the eyes of Google. Google’s Penguin algorithm actively seeks out these types of schemes and penalises them.
Read here about the 7 Crucial Google Penalties and How to Avoid Them. So, when developing links to your site, you should avoid PBNs at all costs. However, it can be difficult to tell if a site is part of a PBN network.
Try these six ways to help you identify PBNs and avoid them.
1) Check the Wayback machine
The WayBack machine is a digital archive of websites that has been in public use since 2001 however it has been collecting information since 1996. Many PBNs buy and resurrect dropped domains because they already have high metrics and can provide ‘link juice’ – valuable SEO links.
So the first step is to check the site at https://archive.org/web/ to see if the domain was used before.
2) Check the sites Whois information
While most PBN webmasters are smart enough to avoid this detection method, it is still worthwhile to check the website’s WhoIs information. PBNs will sometimes have the information private or secured, but if you find the site has a named owner and contact information, it’s a good sign.
Even better, check further into the individual’s details. Some unethical PBN webmasters will use a fake persona for their Whois details.
3) Check their Estimated Traffic Data
The reason we want links is because they bring people to our site. It only makes sense then that we would want to get website traffic from sites that have a good amount of website traffic.
You can use this Chrome extension from SimilarWeb to check estimated traffic data. PBNs are likely to have low, or no traffic at all. It is also a strong warning if the site is mainly getting direct traffic:
Check with a service like Ahrefs or SEMrush as well to see where the site’s keywords rank. Where the sites top keywords don’t even rank on the first page, you would be wasting your resources to place a guest post at that site.
4) Check their backlinks
Backlinks can be checked using the free backlinks tool from Ahrefs. Simply type their URL into the checker and links on their site will be listed. Expect links on their domain that lead to unusual places or to totally unrelated topics. If they have picked up a dropped domain, the links may be left overs from its previous life.
If the site has too many links from bookmarking or content curation sites and also features few good links from quality sources, be careful how you proceed.
5) Check their author persona
Real blogs are run by real people. Finding information about these real people is easy with a Google, Facebook or LinkedIn search.
PBN sites pose as real blogs and sometimes they will use a fake persona to try to deceive you. But with only a small amount of digging on your part, it will become clear if this is the case.
6) Their social media pages
If you find a ‘person’ on social media, check their links. Links will only go to their home page – the PBN site you are trying to avoid. You will be able to recognise a fake social media page by the small number of followers they have and minimal (if not zero) engagement on their posts.
7) Visual and Content Clues
When none of the above are conclusive, you might need to rely on good old fashioned looking at the site itself. PBNs use poor quality images and/or poor quality content and can duplicate this content across their network of sites. Take the time to assess the website and use your judgement as to whether their content has genuinely been created with readers in mind. Go with your gut. If the content doesn’t feel legitimate, don’t run the risk of engaging with the PBN.
If any of the above raise red flags, you are best just to avoid engaging at all with the PBN site. After all, you are looking for quality, legitimate backlinks – and PBNs can only lead to trouble.