Firstly, I have to confess that as a content marketing/guest posting specialist, I am going to have a degree of bias towards the more conventional and “white hat” link gaining approach. Building PBN sites used to be a great way for an agency to manage their links to their clients’ sites, as well as grow niche-relevant properties that they know they will be able to get links from for those clients – whenever they need to. It means an agency can target a particular business niche, safe in the knowledge that it already owns the tools it requires to rank them and will largely be making a profit from the clients’ monthly retainers (unless extra sites are required to add to the network due to competition, for example.)
So What Are The Dangers?
The primary problem is going to obviously be Google and penalties. It doesn’t like sites floating around its searches with the sole purpose of passing on link juice to other sites. It also doesn’t like sites that are not updating their content, as well as attracting new links. Both of these add considerable costs to owning a PBN for any agency. So, how can Google work out which sites are PBN sites and which ones are genuine?
- Crawling sites that have had no new content or links since their conception and that are constantly linking out to other sites are a massive red flag. They are easy enough to spot once they have been crawled a few times. This tends to be your average PBN.
- Dropped domains are usually the domains of PBN sites. These are not hard to work out if, as Google does, you are constantly crawling the search engine analyzing sites. A spell of being out of action, only to be reanimated and then milked for link juice is not that difficult to spot however cleverly they are being hosted.
- Overall quality tends to be so bad. Poor cheap content that is neither shared nor viewed, often just spun. Social profiles that are unmanaged, poor weak links hitting the site, if indeed any marketing is done at all. All these point to a site that is never going to be in Google’s good books anyway. When you combine that with the fact that it offers no more value than just passing on link juice, it is going to stand out like a sore thumb.
This all means that penalties are a real danger, and in 2014, Google really went to town making a real effort, with a lot of success, to:
- Assessing content-thin sites receiving links from PBN’s
- Following links back to the PBN’s and deindexing them
There is no sign of Google letting up on their above targets. This post explains the same fears with some cost analyses thrown in. It is a fair synopsis. There is a real danger for not only the PBN’s themselves, but also your clients’ sites… and that means your overall reputation.
So Is It Worth It?
This question really bares similarities to the saying “Beauty is in the heart of the beholder”. It depends on your business model and whether you are looking long or short-term really. On the plus side:
- PBN’s are relatively cheap to set up. Around $250 per site is a fair estimation, so 10 sites at $2500 that you can use repeatedly for your client base will be profitable, as long as the network remains “un-penalized” of course.
- If the links are ranking similar sites, you can have a degree of confidence they will work on any new or prospective client.
- In theory, you have access to a number of links that rank your clients and you have control over anchor text, and when those links will hit as well as where.
On the downside, you have all the issues mentioned in the first part of this post. And for the long term, I would imagine them to be too great a risk to your clients’ sites/businesses as well as your own reputation. They are not hard to spot. As a Guest Posting agency, we spot hundreds. And we do not have sophisticated AI algorithms, nor are we the brightest minds in the tech world.
If we can spot them, do you think Google can’t? Sure if your clients are cheap payers you might have no other option, but you should at least let them know their risk to cover your own back should anything happen. Pay cheap get cheap right? Paying for links has been around forever and people will get what they pay for.
At the end of the day, spending maybe $2000 on a few strong GENUINE authority posts to hit useful and readable content pages is going to be a lot more valuable. It can drive real traffic and social awareness, as well as more authoritative link juice, than 20 or so weak domains, niche related or not. PBN’s at this point are just cheap and risky options.