Google Targets PBNs (Private Blog Networks) for Destruction

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Private blog networks, or PBNs, had previously been discussed on I’ve Tried That as a questionable link building strategy for increasing page rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). It now appears that Google has finally caught up to PBNs and targeted them for de-indexation.

In brief, PBNs are sets of niche keyword-focused blogs and websites that exist to raise the Page rank of client websites on the SERPs by backlinking to them. This backlinking service is usually paid for by the clients; however, clients may also pay to get trained and then create their own PBNs.

Recently, many PBNs have reported being de-indexed by Google, including PBNs containing good quality content. The webmasters of these sites typically received the following warning message in their Webmaster Tools area:

pbn

Google has been using the “thin content” explanation to penalize most PBNs. However, it appears that the real reason has more to do with Google’s newest algorithm update rooting out specific linking patterns and Whois information rather than analyzing quality versus thin web content.

For example, NoHatDigital, a PBN site that features quality content, recently lost 40% of its network sites to de-indexation by Google. It has also been reported that another quality content site, aPennyShaved, lost a massive amount of traffic for its top keyword “best electric shaver.” Interestingly, noHatDigital noted that one of its PBNs, Links4Life, was left intact -this network is used by different students and thus contains geographically diverse IP addresses and hosts.

Given these reports, it is very likely that many PBNs are experiencing a link penalty from Google, and not the noted thin content penalty.

What does this mean for you and your own website as far as Page rank is concerned? In essence, your website may also have lost rank, or been de-indexed altogether, even if its content is of top quality and contains rich media, customer testimonials, in-depth reviews, etc. Here are the steps you need to take to find out if the PBN de-indexation wave has affected you:

1. Check your website’s performance.

If you haven’t done so already, you should first go to your Webmaster Tools area on Google and check your website for its latest traffic report. If your report shows a huge hit in visitor numbers in the last two weeks, you may have experienced a PBN-related penalty.

google traffic drop

A recent traffic drop might indicate PBN-related de-indexation.

You should then check your messages- there will probably be a manual action penalty and explanation from Google on why your site has suddenly been underperforming in the search results. More than likely, you will see a note about “thin content with little or no added value.”

What should you do next?

2. Perform a link audit.

Link clean-up has been previously noted on I’ve Tried That as a good standard practice for any website to regularly undergo. In the case of receiving a manual penalty from Google, it is imperative that one of the first potential issues you examine is your inbound links. Especially if those inbound links have potentially originated from PBNs.

Start your audit by going to Webmaster Tools, clicking on ‘Search Traffic,’ and then on ‘Links to Your Site.’

inbound links

Check all these inbound links carefully and make sure they do not originate from PBNs. If you find a questionable link, write the website owner and request that he remove that link to your site. In cases where you receive no response back, you can send Google a text file containing all the links you want to disavow.

It’s also important that you check your outbound links to make sure they are still going where you intended; for example, outbound links get hijacked and linked to gambling or payday loan sites. You may also have inadvertently linked your website to a PBN.

If you’re not sure if a link is harmful to your site’s Page rank, you may add a rel=”nofollow” snippet after that link.

3. Make your site more authoritative.

It may very well be that Google is judging your own website to be part of a PBN. To address this issue, make sure to add About, Contact Me/Us, Privacy Policy and Terms of Service pages to your site. An affiliate disclosure page is also a good idea if you are selling or promoting any affiliate products.

Create social media profiles for your website on places like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Link to these sites and try to post regular updates. The more you invest in your public image via social media, the less likely it’ll be for Google to judge your site as a PBN or other link scheme.

Once you’ve made all your updates and removed any suspicious links from your website, submit your site to Google for reconsideration.

 4. And the single best action you can take…

Don’t link to PBNs! While there are some sites stating that PBNs aren’t dead, or that the “better” PBNs are not being hit by Google, the risk of being found out is too great to take a chance. Instead of paying a risky PBN for its content, outsource your writing needs to a qualified freelancer or write that content yourself. Generate guest blog posts in order to obtain quality links. Post podcasts, videos and other rich media that attracts viewers to your site and results in conversions. But don’t associate your site with PBNs!

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