The saying, “Garbage In, Garbage Out” was originally used in coding, however can be used to describe any situation in which poor planning will adversely affect the outcome that you desire. In this regard, the phrase is especially relevant to backlink building and SEO. Garbage links in, garbage SEO out.
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to building backlinks, and a common tactic in building these links is guest blogging. This means writing unique and engaging content for other blogs, and in exchange receiving a backlink. Done well it can be a powerful tool for websites, helping to obtain brand exposure and potential referral traffic on top of the link. However, understanding how to tell if a blog is part of a private blog network is the first crucial step in avoiding spammy or poor-quality links that may negatively impact your SEO.
The Problems with Private Blog Networks
At its most basic core, PBNs operate in a similar way for link building as pyramid schemes act towards money. Private blog networks are networks of interlinking blogs which are usually owned and operated by a single person in order to direct links between the owner’s sites. A practice designed to boost the search engine visibility of websites by taking advantage of the power of links in Google’s algorithm, with mass created blog links.
Previously, the PBN tactic worked relatively well for SEO. Yet while some black hat SEOs will claim it still does, the real problem with PBNs is that they have long been on Google’s hit list. Since 2014, Google has been manually penalising websites found to be using them (Search Engine Land). Given this, and more recent updates to Google’s algorithm, PBNs should be avoided. While some PBNs might still ‘work’ in the short-term, they are certainly not future proof.
However, from a backlink building perspective, sometimes PBNs can be hard to identify. These private blogs have been well built, and to an untrained eye can look like a good website to get a link from. This brings us onto the next section: how to spot a PBN.
How to Spot a Private Blog Network
As a higher DA/DR means a more valuable backlink, this is usually a deciding factor in whether to approach a blog in the first place. We’d suggest aiming for a minimum of DA 25, so first of all avoid any sites lower than that. Having said that, PBNs can have high scores so more inspection is required.
2. WhoIs information
Nowadays, most PBNs are smart enough to avoid this detection method. However, if you are unsure then check the website’s WhoIs information. PBNs will always have this private or secured, though if you see a named individual and contact information, that is a good sign the website is not a PBN. Look this person up to be sure.
*Having private domain data does not necessarily mean it is a PBN – many choose to do this for their own reasons.
3. Estimated Traffic Data
The best blogs to get traffic from are those with traffic. Use the Chrome extension from SimilarWeb to check estimated traffic data. PBNs will usually have low, or no traffic at all.
4. Check their backlinks
An Ahrefs scan will reveal the condition of the website’s backlinks. PBNs regularly launch off recently expired domains to take advantage of previous links to the old website. Recently purchased domains will feature a large number of broken and/or irrelevant links.
5. Visual and Content Clues
Quite often this is the deciding factor, as none of the above can be conclusive. PBNs use poor quality images and/or poor quality content so be on the lookout for this. Put some time into assessing the website and use your judgement as to whether their content has genuinely been created for readers. If you question that, this is a strong indication that you are dealing with a PBN.
Ultimately, PBNs can be hard to identify and it’s naturally in the PBN owner’s best interest to avoid being detected. However, follow the above steps and you’ll be well on your way to a more successful, long-term backlink building plan free of PBNs.