Mike's Tuesday Tips –
One thing I get asked a lot and that I see pop up in forums and Facebook groups pretty often is "Do private networks still work?"
The TL;DR version is yes. Absolutely yes!
I use the term ‘private networks', but you will more often see people say PBNs. In my mind, there is a difference between the two.
Private Blog Network (PBN) stands for Private Blog Network, but let's be honest. When people are talking about PBNs they rarely are talking about something that is private. PBNs to me are Public Blog Networks.
These sorts of networks are the type that are advertised on lower tier marketplaces and easy to spot. The sites typically get posted on daily or even multiple times a day, each post has at least one link to another site, they usually cover a wide range of topics, they rarely have any kind of social presence, and they almost never have any kind of internal linking between their posts.
A private network, on the other hand, is a network of sites owned by you. Links are not sold on the site. You will not find anywhere advertising the selling of links for the site. They get posted to much less frequently (usually), and they are typically more tightly themed around a topic, but can still be fairly broad too if done right.
What's the difference?
To me there are a couple of huge differences.
*Risk. The most obvious difference between these two types of networks is risk. A Private Blog Network (PBN) is fast and easy to get a link off of, but that convenience comes with more risk. As I mentioned above, these sites are easy to identify, and once you identify one of them, it is very easy to unravel the rest of the network.
There was once a popular link seller on Warrior Forum claiming to have a "safe" network of about 5000 sites that Google would never target or be able to identify. I uncovered 3500 of those sites in about 45 minutes using nothing more than Scrapebox on a tiny laptop. It is much like a ball of yarn. Once you have the end of one string, you can unravel the whole ball.
Now just imagine what Google can do with all of their resources.
A truly private network is much more difficult to identify. The way I describe a site that is part of one of my private networks is that it looks just like any other site you might come across on the internet. It just happens to link to where I want it to.
*Diminishing Link Equity
The other major difference between a PBN and a private network is that PBNs will provide diminishing returns. They are posting frequently, and as they post older posts get pushed deeper and deeper into the site. Over time, that makes the page with your link on it weaker.
Anyone who has used public blog networks will tell you that it's kind of like going to the chiropractor. Once you start going, you have to keep going.
The same thing happens with PBNs. Once you start buying links off of them, you will find that you have to keep ordering regularly or else you will see a deterioration of rankings.
With a private network, you have complete control over how the link equity flows across the site. You don't have to publish daily, or even weekly. You can set up internal linking to keep your post pages stronger.
Yes, they are typically more expensive to set up and maintain, but the ROI is much, much greater. I could even make the argument that they are less expensive in the long run because, as I already mentioned, you have to keep buying PBN links over and over in order to maintain rankings.
Why do they work so well?
This is an easy one. Because links are still a significant ranking factor. Google has previously stated that the top 3 ranking factors in their algorithm are links, content, and RankBrain, in some order. I would argue that links are still the #1 ranking factor out there, but even if you do not believe that, there is no denying that they are a major ranking signal.
One of the most popular, and often fruitless, tactics for trying to build links is outreach, guest posting, whatever you want to call it.
Back in 2006, the thought occurred to me, "What if I could do ‘guest posting' without ever having to beg someone for a link? What if I just built the kind of sites I would want links from?"
I have been building private networks ever since.
If it is a topic that interests you, next week we will talk about how I go about evaluating and selecting sites for a private network.
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I know someone who does PBNs very effectively, they make the new sites high traffic, and then point links to their sites in countries like Italy or Germany, where each TLD Link is very expensive.
That's why i automatically stop scrolling my feed when i see a comment or a post from you, Mike. No bull-shitting whatsoever and right to the point, with no regard to the mainstream.
Interesting Mike Friedman. Do you only use private networks or you will vary it with other type of backlinks like Niche edits?
I use lots of things. Niche edits are fine as long as they are legitimate. A lot of places selling them are actually hacking sites to get them. That I want nothing to do with.
Great post as usual Mike. We've got sixty odd clients in the same niche in different parts of the country. All have verified GMBs, their own socials, own ads accounts… and yet we've chosen not to create links amongst them through fear of some form of Google penalty- not least because they are in the same hosting account which we fear could lead Google to confusing with them a PBN if we linked them. Would you worry about that?
I would not be linking between those sites. There really is no good reason for a local business to link to another local business in another town. Why would a dentist in Arizona link to another dentist in Florida?
On top of that, yeah I wouldn't want to mess with anything like that on the same hosting.
Expensive to buy a domain with "authority" unless you build links to it yourself, expensive to keep the hosting and domain every year just to keep those links. Expensive is a relative term of course, however if Google does a manual check (if manual checks are real- and not a myth?), then they'll find your ball of yarn, unless your setting it up on a completely different theme, hosting, etc.
Another thing to note, mike, is that even if you set these up perfectly, Google still knows that site doesn't bring in traffic. Which matters. (Unless you can… but then aren't you just investing in an entire new project?)
TLDR: I prefer links from sites with traffic – the setup time and expense of a legit Private Blog Network (PBN) is not particularly simple or cheap, but you'll get the anchor text and topical relevancy you're looking for. Manual outreach can score you links from huge sites that pass on a ton of ‘link juice' id rather that than PBN's, but I suppose its where ever you want to spend your time.
Would love to hear your rebuttal if you have one Mike FriedmanJosh
First, just to put this into some perspective, I'm not new at this. I have been building networks since 2006, long before anyone was talking about them.
Manual checks are only an issue if you are building shitty network sites. It's been well over 10 years since I have seen any of my network sites get de-indexed, and even then it was because I was pushing a few sites to see what I could get away with.
As far as your comment about traffic… who says my network sites do not bring in traffic? Many of them do.
Just as an example, I built a gaming network for someone several years ago. It was right around the time when Destiny 2 came out. One of the sites ranked in the top 10 for 2 years for all kinds of terms about the games. Searches for the best classes for PVP and PVE. Things like that. Probably could have easily stayed in the top 10 too if the person who bought the network had kept up with it.
That being said, whether or not the sites get traffic does not really matter. Google does not penalize sites for having links from places with no search traffic. If they did, that would be frightening and a really easy way to take down competitors.
As far as the expense, I always laugh when someone brings that up. I routinely pay $300-500 or more for "real" links from other sites, and that is on sites I have zero control over.
Yes, there is some expense in initially setting up a network site, but if a $12 registration renewal fee and $30-40 a year for hosting seems expensive to you, then you are doing something really wrong with your target sites. You should be making way more than that.
You can also greatly reduce your hosting costs by putting multiple domains from DIFFERENT networks on the same hosting. You can even mix in a few things like web 2.0 sites that allow you to use your own domain (like Tumblr) and get free hosting for a few sites.
Lastly, of course you can do manual outreach for links, but why does it have to be one or the other? You can do both. Private networks will generally give you much stronger, long-term links because you have complete control over the sites. When you do outreach, if someone accepts a link from you, they are probably doing so from other people as well. Or it might be a site that publishes frequently. As they continuously publish new posts, your guest post gets pushed deeper and deeper on their site making your link weaker.
With a network site, I can keep my links prominent. Even if I do publish to them periodically, I can continue to build internal links to the posts I care about feeding them link equity from the site.
Micha » Mike Friedman
I love this response, I'm not doubting your approach, I'm stating that it depends on where you want to spend your time. It can be time consuming and tough to outsource this, atleast for me. Also, the sites that you create are new domains correct? So they don't have much authority with Google initially, you build them up with content like an empire? I love this approach because you don't have to deal with humans, but dislike the level of effort, time and complexity associated with it.
Mike Friedman ✍️ 🎩 » Micha
No. I buy domain name with existing link profiles.
Micha » Mike Friedman
Time consuming and tough the find an inexpensive domain with authority, (for me) however if you've done it since 2006 I can definitely agree on the value of this. Do you have sop's in place to outsource this? I'd imagine 200+ of them would be really powerful.
Mike Friedman ✍️ 🎩 » Micha
You rarely need 200. Many times just 10-20 is more than enough. Depends on the domains you are using and the competition of course.
Domain acquisition runs me anywhere from $85-500 a piece.
Micha » Mike Friedman
Id use them for three way linking as well. Great info. Love these & will engage in future posts of yours.