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We have all heard of black hat and white hat SEO, but now it is time to delve a little into the grey hat domain. While all SEOs love to say that they use white hat techniques only, it is difficult to stick to the safe practices once a new algorithm update rolls out and the site traffic drops. During the trying times, website owners and SEOs often turn to specific not-so-black-hat techniques that are not entirely ethical either. Having a private Blog network lies in the grey zone. Most of the times, SEO experts are confused about the legitimacy of these practices.

What are PBNs?

First, we need to understand what private blog networks (PBNs) are. PBNs are an intricate network of websites that can build links and pass the link juice onto other sites linking to them. There was a time they could successfully boost page rank, search traffic and domain authority (DA). Unfortunately, that time was a long ago. After Google rolled out its Penguin update, harvesting links this was has become almost impossible. After the Penguin update, some websites have remained unaffected while other received manual penalties. Over the years, there have been many controversies about private blog networks and their effectiveness.

Always remember that sites belonging to a PBN don’t have any value. Most black hat SEOs, who leverage PBNs invest in domains, which have recently expired. In the past few years, Google has taken multiple active steps in de-indexing websites in private blog networks. Moreover, Google also assesses the sites within the content of a PBN site. In short, Google is actively trying to prevent the effort of these illegal sites to boost third-party ranks.

Should You be Worried about Google Penalties?

How many websites do you own? Many entrepreneurs and leaders possess multiple sites. However, is that a reason to be worried? Let us find out.

  1. Several sites and micro-sites lying around without much activity can attract the wrong kind of attention. Moreover, if they are low in value, the owner has sufficient reason to worry. Keeping multiple inactive micro sites makes it look like the owner is funneling link juice to one main website.
  2. Buying expired domains to put up new content is the first step in setting up a PBN. If the owner of these sites then links them to one main domain, then it becomes obvious that this is a private blog network which Google is against.
  3. Entrepreneurs buying links for websites that match the descriptions above also have reason to worry. Google is penalizing sites channeling link juice from farms and directories in the same way.

How to Avoid Bad Links and PBNs?

Sometimes, website owners face penalties without actively constructing a PBN. That happens when their site has links to multiple websites that are a part of such a network. It can happen unwittingly, but Google just does not want to give such websites the benefit of the doubt . You need to be very cautious before setting up your site’s link profile. There are a few telltale signs you need to avoid.

  1. Website design – It is something almost anyone can notice. Check the design of the site. Do all of them look similar somehow? Do they have an identical layout, navigation, and color? That might signify single ownership.
  2. Similarities in themes – Most WordPress themes have the name in the code. If you do not know how to check the source code, you can use WordPress theme finders to see if all of them use slight variations of the same theme.
  • Ownership – you can find the ownership details of websites on the WHOIS database. You can see the entire contact information. The only way to escape detection is by hiding the WHOIS details. That should raise several red flags, and it should indicate fishy business about the ownership of those sites.
  1. Backlink profile – each website has a distinct backlink profile that you can check on Moz and Ahrefs. These are the most comprehensive links databases. Checking their link relationships will help you understand how much interlinking these websites have.
  2. Content quality – it is understandable that you will check the content quality before linking, but check if the content is unique and niche specific. Just copy-paste a random part of the webpage on Google and run a search to look for copies on the internet.
  3. Media – it is difficult to recreate videos and images. If you doubt the authority of a site, you can always check the originality of their media. Use Google Image search and video finders to search for similar media files.

Over the years, PBNs have developed a dead giveaway – identical backlink profiles. Even when their profiles are not similar, they bear enough resemblances to denote a relationship. When multiple websites share the same link profile, then they are highly likely to be part of a PBN.

Why Should You Be Scared?

Penguin is a real-time core ranking algorithm that can detect the presence of identical backlink profiles. Earlier it was impossible for Google or any other search engine to determine if a website was genuine or a part of a PBN. However, with the advent of Penguin, it has become almost effortless and instantaneous. The only way to prevent a website from falling into the traps of black hat SEO is by being hyper-vigilant while link building.

There are cases when multiple sites belong to the same owner. For example – several media houses own numerous linked websites with related content and, sometimes, identical video or images. In such cases, the company websites have multiple links in their footer region. They don’t have to worry about Google flagging them as PBN since they are entirely related. These websites spend considerable time maintaining their domain authority and page authority to prevent search engine bots from labeling them as PBNs.

There are several similar networks of websites including media companies that require the assistance of expert SEOs to shield themselves from Google’s wrath. Reputable SEO consultants will always ask their clients to stay away from PBN and similar grey hat tactics. You may have bought links from Fiverr or from third-parties you have met through other forums before. Doing it right now can jeopardize the rank and reputation of your website or blog. In the future, if someone tries to tell you that it is alright to engage in link exchange since you are not paying for it, you should make a run for it.

Slow and Steady…

You might find the process of legitimate link building and white hat SEO to be slow and trying. During these times, you must think about the long term benefits. Most websites engaging in link farming, buying links from directories and working with PBNs will not be there tomorrow, thanks to Google. When Google penalizes them and demotes them, you will enjoy the added advantage of being on the right track all along. It is never too late. Audit your website link profile and give a trusted SEO consultant team a call.