Private Blog Networks (PBN): The Myths and the Risks

PBNs, or private blog networks (also known as cloaking), are a type of spammy SEO strategy. You may be able to attract more eyeballs with this method, but it will also make your content less visible on Google and decrease the chances that you’ll rank high for relevant keywords.

Link building is important because it helps build trust and authority. It can also help with SEO ranking. Read more in detail here: why link building is important.

You can’t dismiss the value of link development if you want to improve your website’s organic traffic. Backlinks, along with content and RankBrain, are one of the top three ranking determinants, according to Google. 

Link building is an effective SEO strategy, and the appropriate links may boost your ranks and organic exposure. Backlinks, on the other hand, aren’t simple to get by. At least, not when you adopt Google’s Webmaster Guidelines-compliant strategies.

To expedite their website’s organic development, some SEOs prefer to utilize practices that go against these recommendations, such as leveraging private blog networks (PBNs).

In this article, we’ll go into this contentious link-building strategy and debunk some of the prevalent misconceptions about it, focusing on:

What are Private Blog Networks, and how do they work?

A private blog network (PBN) is a collection of websites that link to one another often. These link networks are made up of low-quality links that are used to skew search engine results.

PBNs are frequently used by SEOs who want to be in “complete control” of their link-building operations. Other white hat link building strategies, such as digital PR, broken link building, or resource link building, include third-party editorial placement of links, which SEOs and webmasters can’t necessarily “manage.” 

As a result, expired domains are often used to create PBNs. These expired domains once housed a website that had accumulated links and established some amount of authority in the eyes of search engines. These expired domains are bought and transformed into sites that are part of a private blog network, with fresh material added to ensure that the outbound connections pass PageRank.

a hat in black SEOs that use this strategy go to tremendous measures to keep Google from recognizing their sites as part of a network or detecting any links between them, such as:

  • Hosting with several hosting companies
  • Using many registrars to register domains
  • the use of several domain extensions
  • Using a variety of themes or layouts
  • Creating material that does not connect to money websites in order to hide postings that do.

While PBN sites are often referred to as being part of a network, the goal is for them to seem to be standalone. 

Consider this: instead of earning links, having a private blog network allows you to put links to your site(s), with the precise anchor text you want to use, whenever you want, and to whichever page needs boosting.

Isn’t this just fantastic? Wrong. PBNs are an obvious breach of Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines, and your site may be penalized as a consequence. As a result, it’s not a strategy we’d endorse or suggest.

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Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines are broken by PBNs.

PBNs are not a suggested link-building strategy. If we look at the Link Scheme rules from Google, we can observe that:

Any links used to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results might be deemed a link scheme and a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Any conduct that manipulates links to your site or outbound links from your site falls under this category.

The links that come from such sites are plainly meant to influence Google search results (these connections aren’t earned, but rather posted on behalf of the site by someone acting on behalf of the site).

The fundamental problem is that PBNs are being utilized to ‘game the system.’ If we keep reading these recommendations, we will discover that:

Creating original, relevant material that may organically develop popularity in the Internet community is the greatest approach to attract other sites to build high-quality, relevant connections to yours. It pays to create high-quality content: Links are typically editorial votes, and the more helpful material you have, the more likely it is that someone else will find it beneficial to their audience and link to it.

PBN connections are not editorial links put as a consequence of excellent content. They’re merely a gimmick to manipulate search ranks, and they’re not going to work in the long run. 

The Consequences of Using Private Blog Networks

So, what are the hazards of PBN connections if they are against Google’s guidelines? These may be divided into two categories:

1. Your website has been penalized or has dropped in the rankings.

There’s a risk that your site may be punished and smacked with a manual action in the most serious circumstances when manipulative link building strategies are used excessively.

But what exactly is this? We can see from Google’s recommendations on this that “When a human reviewer at Google determines that a site’s pages do not comply with Google’s webmaster quality criteria, a manual action is taken against the site. The majority of manual actions are related to efforts to tamper with our search index. The majority of the errors mentioned here will result in pages or sites being ranked lower or excluded from search results without giving the user any visible evidence.”

In summary, a manual action against your site will result in worse results for certain pages or the whole site. 

A manual action may result in your whole site being removed from the index in the most severe cases. If links are the source of the activity, the most typical response is ‘Unnatural links to your site.’ You may learn more about this in the video below from Google:


You’ll need to address the problem (delete links or submit a disavow file) and submit a reconsideration request to recover from a manual action. 

Even if this is effective, since inorganic connections artificially boosted your rankings, it’s doubtful that they would return to their prior position.

Unnatural connections may also cause an algorithmic adjustment, in which the system determines that links should not be used to determine a site’s rating. Around most cases, particularly in 2020, it’s more probable that the system ignores the connections rather than causing an algorithmic modification.

Previously, Google’s Penguin filter was updated on a regular basis, causing sites to lose ranks as a consequence of artificial connections. This is now a part of the main algorithm in Penguin 4.0.

2. The Hyperlinks Have Been Ignored

The truth for most SEOs who use private blog networks is that connections considered unnatural by the Google algorithm are more likely to be ignored than to result in a human action. 

Manual actions are seldom seen nowadays, unless there is an overuse of manipulative methods that prompts an examination of a site by Google’s web spam team. But, what does it truly imply if Google ignores your site’s links?

In a nutshell, this implies they have no bearing on rankings. Google’s John Mueller has previously said that connections that are unlikely to be natural are ignored. Not to mention the fact that Google now has access to data from a huge number of disavow files. SEOs have been assisting search engines in better understanding the origins of unnatural connections for many years.

If a link has no influence on rankings, either favorably or adversely, the time and money spent creating it is basically squandered. Nobody likes to find out that their efforts have been in vain. 

Why do some SEOs continue to rely on private blog networks?

Given the hazards connected with this strategy, you’re undoubtedly asking why some SEOs still employ private blog networks to gain connections. There are two main reasons for this:

1. Link-building is time-consuming and unpredictable.

Quality connections are tough to come by. It takes time, and the outcomes aren’t always certain.

Email outreach, in combination with digital PR, broken link building, link reclamation, resource link building, and other similar approaches, is often used to gain quality and authoritative connections.

In brief, these strategies all entail contacting relevant journalists or webmasters and attempting to persuade them to link to your article. These strategies are all about bringing attention to a piece of content in the hopes that the receiver will like it enough to link to it from other, new or current material. 

However, this implies that the outcomes are uncertain. Even the greatest efforts cannot ensure that a certain amount of links will be returned each month or quarter. Using a PBN, on the other hand, gives you greater control over the amount of uncertainty you’re dealing with.

2. A desire to manipulate and control anchor text

Back ten years, the majority of SEOs were focusing on exact match anchor text links. 

Because the anchor text of a link is used to indicate the subject of the destination page, SEOs reasoned that the algorithm might be tampered with in this manner.

In many respects, the Penguin algorithm put an end to this, although some SEOs still seek control over their link profile’s anchor text. When you get editorial links, you’ll see that journalists and webmasters will automatically connect to anchor texts like:

  • To learn more, go to this page.
  • the title of an article 
  • a plain URL
  • a company name

It’s significantly less probable that the anchor text is a term you’re pursuing. For instance, the following are some examples from Google’s Link Schemes guide:


Some people utilize private blog networks to influence rankings by having more control over the anchor text they employ. 

The Myths About PBNs are Debunked

Despite the concerns, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about PBNs, and it is often a subject of debate within the SEO community. Five prevalent PBN fallacies are debunked below.

1. Links from private blog networks won’t help you rank.

While links from a private blog network may violate Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines, this does not rule out the possibility that they may aid in your ranking. Actually, there’s a possibility they’ll assist you improve your site’s ranks… but it’ll probably only be for a short time.

Using a PBN to build links is dangerous, and in the worst-case situation, your rankings will suffer. However, it’s important to remember that the weight of a link is determined by a variety of criteria.

More likely, these connections will not help you rank in the long run.

For a limited period, they may artificially boost your ranks. However, as soon as the algorithm (or a human reviewer) discovers unusual behavior, your site’s exposure is likely to suffer.

2. Google is capable of detecting private blog networks with ease.

Google may detect private blog networks in a variety of ways, but the algorithm is mostly searching for fingerprints across sites that may belong to a group.

Poorly constructed networks may sometimes be identified by factors such as a common IP address, duplicate content, or the same domain owner. SEOs who are developing private blog networks, on the other hand, are well aware of what might leave a trace and work hard to avoid it as much as possible. 

When a collection of sites all connect to the same domain, however, one of the frequently overlooked footprints is created (s). This is often a critical signal when it comes to detecting artificial relationships. When a collection of links has a lot of commercial anchor texts and originates from thin or topically unrelated material, it’s simpler to tell whether they’re part of a PBN.

3. Paid Links Are Frequently Provided By Private Blog Networks

Paid connections and private blog networks are sometimes confused, but they are not the same.

Many bloggers openly sell links or sponsored pieces in our industry, but it doesn’t imply they are PBN sites. Many ‘link dealers’ sell links on private blog networks, and some of the services that are often labeled as ‘guest posts’ are really this form of link.

Regardless of the source, all paid links should be tagged with a rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” attribute. Just because they’re sponsored or paid links doesn’t guarantee they’re coming from a PBN. 

4. What Are the Differences Between Public and Private Blog Networks?

Although the premise is the same, you may hear the terms ‘private blog networks’ and ‘public blog networks’ used interchangeably. Both of these categories of sites are largely used to post links on, but there is one significant distinction.

A truly private blog network is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s private. The owner usually does a good job of concealing it, leaving little trace. These links will not be sold and will only be used by the owner for his or her own websites. 

Links, on the other hand, aren’t private at all if they’re freely sold (we’ve all gotten lists of sites with a price list attached on LinkedIn or by email without asking for them). They’re blog networks that are open to the public.

The essential point, however, is that the danger associated with public blog networks is considerably higher than that connected with private blog networks.

5. Is It A PBN If We Own Multiple Sites That Link To Each Other?

It’s fairly unusual for a company to have many websites that are linked to one another. These aren’t unnatural in the least, and they don’t create a PBN.

Many businesses have many websites, and it’s only reasonable to want to make sure that visitors know about them. These links are often found in the footer.

There’s no need to be worried about this, and there’s no need to stop integrating your properties together as long as it’s natural and not manipulative. Simply avoid using keyword-optimized anchor text for these links. The fundamental objective of a bunch of blogs becoming a private blog network is to develop links, which many sites owned by a corporation aren’t. 

What Should You Do If PBNs Link to Your Website?

If you suspect your site has links from a PBN or other low-quality sources, it’s a good idea to spend some time cleaning them up.

First and foremost, you’ll want to detect any links that aren’t natural, which you can accomplish using the SEMrush Backlink Audit Tool. 

You may choose certain harmful signals to compare your site’s link profile against, such as ones that often indicate a link network.


However, it’s a good idea to check your link profile for broader indicators, such as those that are considered manipulative or come from a dangerous environment. Learn more about backlink audits and how to spot hazardous connections using our backlink analysis guide.

Then, either by removing links or adding them to a disavow file, you must clean up links that are regarded to be poor quality, dangerous, or from private blog networks. 

Overall, we don’t promote or condone the use of private blog networks for link development. 

You should be employing editorial link-building strategies that present your brand as thought leaders in your industry, originate from sites that your target audience visits, and deliver referral traffic. The dangers associated with PBNs are not worth incurring.

A public blog network (PBN) is a website that is designed to look like it’s run by an individual or company, but in reality is owned by a third party. These networks can be used for many purposes, including SEO and link building. However, the risks of using PBNs are significant.

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