Whether you’re experienced or new to the world of SEO, you have definitely heard about PBN backlinks from your peers.
If that’s the case, you’re probably here for the million-dollar question: Are PBN backlinks worth anything? The answer can’t be a simple binary. So let’s take a step back and evaluate the pros and cons, starting with the very foundation of the query.
Google rankings: the ultimate SEO goal
It’s no secret that Google’s ranking algorithms go through hundreds of billions of webpages in the search index and pick out the most relevant ones in less than a second.
There are reportedly 200 different SEO factors that are fed into this complex algorithm. These include the likes of:
- Domain-related factors (domain age, domain registration, etc.)
- Page-level factors (keywords, titles, content length, etc.)
- Site-Level Factors (content value, insights, domain trust, etc.)
- User Interaction (CTR, bounce rate, etc.)
- Special Google Algorithm Rules (user search history, geo-targeting, etc.)
- Brand Signals (brand name anchor text, branded/keyword searches, etc.)
- On-Site Webspam Factors (redirects, pop-ups, ads above the fold, etc.)
- Off-Site Webspam Factors (hacked sites, unnatural links, widget links, etc.)
- And many more...
But as veteran marketers know, Backlinks are the most valued of all.
Backlinks: The key to Google ranking success
A backlink is simply a link from another website to your website. These are usually in the form of content on the other website that includes a link to your website. Backlinks are crucial because:
- They are a sign that other websites vouch for your content.
- If multiple websites link to yours, it is a sign to Google that your content is credible.
- They are the number 1 factor that affects rankings, as per experts.
What are PBN backlinks?
Private Blog Network (PBN) backlinks are basically an SEO hack for building a huge amount of authoritative backlinks without much effort. The trick? Buying domain names that used to have high domain authority but have expired.
A PBN is a bunch of such domains on which you can put up basic content that points a backlink to your website. It is a database of paid quality backlinks, to put it bluntly.
It is a quick way to earn passive traffic and improve your website’s rankings. Now, it must be clear by the very nature of PBN backlinks that they’re not necessarily white hat. In practicality, this puts this strategy somewhere between black hat and white hat SEO (often referred to as grey hat).
Let’s explore both sides of the coin.
PBN backlinks: The pros
There are more nuanced benefits of PBN backlinks than just being a quick-fix SEO hack when your clients or management are expecting too much in too little a time period. These include:
- Multiple SEO benefits: They give your website domain authority, SEO, and ranking benefits all at once.
- Control over backlinks: PBNs give you almost limitless power to dictate not just anchor text, but the entire content of your backlink sources along with numerous opportunities to test and improve it.
- Quick authority: It is a challenge to source a backlink from an existing authoritative website. With PBNs, you get scores of them at once, at your disposal.
- Short-term SEO benefits: You don’t have to spend any time building relationships with actual website owners and bloggers, negotiating with them, and convincing them of your authority. This has different implications for brand management, but it’s good for SEO in the short term.
PBN backlinks: The cons
Apart from sounding morally lackluster, PBNs have other disadvantages too. Here’s why you should NOT go for PBNs:
- PBNs are expensive: One very underrated con of PBN is the time and money which goes into making one. As per Nathan Gotch of Gotch SEO, using auctions and buying PBN domains can cost you anything between $40-$400, for good domains. The costs will be similar with vendors as well.
- PBN backlinks are time-consuming: They were time-consuming 5 years ago, and they are time-consuming even now. You have to begin by searching for high-quality domains from a pool of domains which are mostly unqualified. You have to spend time developing individual sites with specific content if you want them to look legitimate at all. Add to this the hassle of maintaining website security at all times and the strategy already feels like a mis-step.
- PBN backlinks can get you penalties: No prizes for guessing that Google can very well catch you in the act. If the websites which backlink to your website are inactive, not updated regularly, and have no internal linking, it can be bad news for you. Back in 2014, Google started imposing ‘Manual Action Ranking Penalties’. Experts have opined that this can even lead to de-indexations.
- PBNs are not sustainable: PBNs are a good short-term fix. But not if you want to grow your business and its reputation the right way. You can revoke penalties but they can hurt your brand image in this age of hyper-aware consumerism.
PBNs: To link or not to link?
As evident, PBNs can be very risky. If you want to take the risk for an urgent, short-sighted goal, you might want to try them.
For long-term business health, invest your time, money, and resources in other areas instead. Here are some avenues that you can explore:
Ditch PBN backlinks for these instead
Here are some safer alternatives to PBNs that can get your business the desired reach and ranking in a sustainable manner:
- Guest blogs: Simply find notable blogs in your category and pitch to them. Once they accept your pitch, discuss their policy regarding backlinks and earn some authoritative credit. They might add your backlink in their article or let you add it to your bio. Either way, it’s a win for you.
- Testimonials: An easier way than guest blogging is writing testimonials for the site you wish to get backlinks from. While writing testimonials, always keep 2 things in mind:
- Quote a numerical value to establish your positive experience with the website/product.
- Talk about a consumer need gap that was addressed by no other website/product but this specific one.
For example, “We didn’t know that a single language editing tool could simultaneously take care of grammar, plagiarism checks, spelling errors and everything else until we found Grammarly and that too at an affordable price of $100!”
- Shareable content: Social backlinks, as per some experts, are as important as other backlinks. There's another part of the industry which thinks that social backlinks don't have enough authoritative value. Either way, they contribute to indexing and help in the long run. How? Simply because social shares contribute to more visibility for the content. Since it reaches a lot more people, the likelihood of someone linking to it also increases.
If you create content based on the demographic and psychographic profiles of your core consumers, it will have strong shareable value on social media. You will have the double whammy of SEO as well as digital brand reach. This will take a long-drawn strategy of its own which begins with figuring out what format works on social media.
Though this is very general data, you can easily find specific data for your business category and strategize accordingly.
The bottom line
There are enough alternatives to PBN backlinks for you to make haste and opt for them instead. Our advice would be to avoid the grey-hat SEO strategy unless you are under too much pressure from clients/targets.
After all, the road less taken is often the road to success.