as many of you like the AMA on PBNs and the 301 guide.
Let’s throw another guide onto the forums.
Grab some coffee. This is gonna be a bit longer.
- PBN – Private Blog Network
- RD – Referring Domains
- DR – Domain Rating
- DA – Domain Authority
- OBL – Outgoing Backlinks
- Droplet – Server on a cloud host
- Money Site – Your main website
What is a PBN and why is everyone raving about them?
First let’s start with a basic definition: What exactly is a PBN?
PBN is short for “Private Blog Network“
And as the name suggests, it’s basically a network of expired domains with strong link profiles and clean histories that you leverage to funnel link equity to your money site. If it’s done right, the PBN should help improve your rankings over time.
Typical PBN structure:
Why does that work?
Well, as most of you already know, Google uses links as one of their key ranking factors.
It all started with a little algorithm called PageRank.
PageRank was used to determine the value of a site by looking at what other sites were linking to it. It was scored logarithmically on a range from 0 to 10. With 10 being the highest.
You can still read about it in the original paper (Link)
Pagerank eventually evolved to become the GOLDEN METRIC to determine the value of a backlink for years, up until Google discontinued the public display of it in 2016.
However, Google still uses PageRank internally:
The key takeaway here is that Google still uses links as one of their KEY ranking signals.
And while the search algorithm today is much more complex and advanced, links remain as important as ever.
There’s actually a really great study done by Perficient (Link) that shows the correlation between links and respective rankings in the SERPs in 2018 and 2019 (so rather recent).
Their results show that links still play a key part in ranking higher in the SERPs.
Cool story, bro. We already knew ALL that.
Okay, dude, chill your nuggets. I’ll explain why it’s important stoll good to know.
So, we’ve learned that Google loves links. But not just any type of link. You can’t just load up the ol’ xRumer and send a few hundreds thousands forum posts to your site. Those days are gone (sadly).
These days Google heavily favors CONTEXTUAL links.
By contextual I mean in-content links from sites with great link profiles and superb metrics. These can be guest posts, editorials, link insertions and, you guess it, PBNs!
Just imagine having a small PBN of powerhouse domains that only YOU control. You say what goes where.
Sounds pretty awesome, right? It is.
Here’s just a small glance at one of our low-key PBNs:
Don’t you think owning a small network like this would be a huge asset for your overall SEO success?
Even for smaller niches with low-mid competitive keywords.
Yep, we think so too.
That’s why we love PBNs and use them for almost all of our own sites.
However, building, running and especically scaling a PBN comes with certain risks.
RISKS OF A PBN
As you may know, Google is highly AGAINST any type of active link building. According to their guidelines:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”
So, by definition, any type of link building you do is against their guidelines.
But fuck it, this is Blackhatworld, not Webmastercentral.
We love building links. We always have.
We just need to be extra cautious these days. Especially since we don’t know what Google is planning for future algo updates.
The fact is that links stillö work. They work SOOOOO f*king well, that all the big players out there use PBNs to rank their sites.
However, building a PBN is not a simply task.
You can’t just buy a random domain, host it wherever, slap on a free theme and link to all your site. Nuh-uh. Big no no.
By doing that, you will leave a lot of so-called digital ‘footprints’ in the proverbial sand that Google can find. If they do, you will end up in the ‘penalty zone’ sooner than later.
For those of you that were already here in 2012-2014, you’ll probably remember the big blog networks like ALN or BMR?
Incredibly powerful networks that worked like a treat. Sites were ranking left and right and it was beautiful.
However it was not long until Google found all their PBNs and penalized the whole network including the sites that bought links on it.
It sucked. BIG time.
So, in order to keep your PBN safe, you need to avoid these dreaded ‘footprints’ at all costs.
In addition to those risks, a PBN can become quite expensive. I’ll just quote myself here.
Maintenance and scaling is easy, once the site’s are running. Price wise a 10x PBN network would cost you roughly:
- 10x mid quality expired domains (RD20+, decent 3rd party metrics (if you want those), top TLDs (com/net/org) incl. domain registration = $450 minimum. But for really good domains you pay easily pay $100+ / domain. So this is a bare minimum. You basically leverage domain volume over domain quality. Would possibly argue that you need more around $1000-3000 for 10 good domains + registration fee.
- 10x good cloud droplets incl. backups (via Vultr, Digitalocean, Linode, AWS, etc.) = $60 / month absolute minimum. Don’t cheap out on PBN hosting. Having a decent hosting infrastructure is imo the most important aspect of any good PBN.
- 10x PBN set-ups with no footprints, theme customization, necessary plugins, htaccess customization, redirections, blocked IP lists etc. = $300-400 minimum, usually more around 500$ – unless you want to set them up all by yourself.
- 10x niche relevant articles (at least 1500-2000 words split over at least 1-3 articles) = $250 minimum
- A few premium themes + Elementor PRO ~ $500
So per domain you pay at least $100-150.
And that’s just a bare minimum.
For really good domains, i’d ballpark it somewhere between $500 and $2000 per site.
Yep, PBNs are not cheap. But with high risks come high rewards.
So for those of you who are not scared to spend money to make money, read on.
WHERE TO FIND PBN DOMAINS?
Okay, so we now know that PBNs work excpetionally well to help your rankings.
We also learned that PBNs are only as good as the domains that it is built on.
So where do you find these golden nugget domains with incredible metrics, link profiles and age?
Well, there are basically two options you have: Buy them from a vendor or find them yourself.
Many of your probably don’t have the time, expertise or patience to sift through hundreds and thousands of expiring domains every day.
The good news is that there are domain vendors, that did all the groundwork for you. They went through the abundance of garbage domains out there, bid at auctions, hassled with site sellers and scraped until their di*ks fell off.
That’s a lot of work. So, clearly, you have to pay a pretty penny for these domains.
Having said that, if it saves you valuable time, it’s a no brainer. Most of the domains offered by vendors all have great DR and RD with a balanced link and anchor profile.
There are several good domain vendors here on BHW, that you can try out. I don’t want to give any recommendations.
FINDING THEM YOURSELF
If you don’t want to use a vendor, you have to find your PBN domains yourself.
We recommend to use
It’s completely free to use and integrates with the biggest domain marketplaces.
There are several stages that an expiring domain goes through. And, technically speaking, a domain can be snatched up during different times of that expiration process.
Stages of an expiring domain
Renewal Grace Period – the domain owner still has a few days to renewe their domain. During this time there is no way to bid or buy the domain in question.
Domain Auction Period – if the domain owner decides not to renew the domain, the domain moves into the auction phase. Here you can bid on the domain name and the highest bidder usually get the domain. This is one of the best times to snap up a really good PBN domain, but know that you won’t be the only one bidding for the domains. GoDaddy, in particular, has a HUGE auction marketplace, where hundreds and thousands of bid are added every day.
You can check them here (for Godaddy): https://member.expireddomains.net/domains/godaddyexpired/?o=bids&r=d#listing
Clouseout Period – if the domain is not successfully sold at auction, it will become a ‘clouseout domain’. These can be purchased for a fixed price and are available for a few days. There are quite a few gold nuggets in here that people overlooked at auctions, so you may get lucky.
You can browse through them here (for GoDaddy): https://member.expireddomains.net/domains/godaddycloseouts/ (GoDaddy)
Pending Deletion Period – if the domain has not been sold at clouseout, it will move into the ‘pending deletion stage’. After that it will become available to the public for everyone to register.
At this point it would make sense to use a backorder / dropcatch service to register the domain once it drops to make sure that you get it before anyone else does.
Good dropcatch providers are SnapNames.com, Dropcatch.com or Nicsell.com
You can browse through all pending delete domains here: https://member.expireddomains.net/domains/pendingdelete/ or https://member.expireddomains.net/domains/dropcatchauctions/
Deleted Domains – if no one dropcatched the domain or no backorders have been placed, the domain will become available to everyone again.
There are literally millions of domains available in this stage and most of them are utter garbage. But who knows, maybe a domain vendor overlooked a nice domain. If youre lucky, you still may find a domain that you can use (but don’t expect too much)
You can browse through them here: https://member.expireddomains.net/domains/combinedexpired/
PBN Domain Analysis
Okay, so now you know where and how to find PBN domains, let’s dig into the analysis part of this guide.
Before you even think about buying an expired domain for a PBN you want to make sure that it is actually worth your hard earned bucks.
You specifically want to do the following:
- Check Indexation
- Check History
- Check Trademarks
- Check Link Profile
- Check Anchor Profile
First of all you want to make sure, that the domain is still indexed.
While this is not a necessity, it is a good sign that the domain is suitable for a PBN.
To do that, simply go to Google.com, type in site:domain.com and check the results.
Takeaway: An indexed domain is a good domain 😉
Check Domain History
Next, you want to make sure that the domain has a clean history and has never been used as a PBN or for other rather shady or spammy techniques.
The easiest way to do that is by using Archive.org.
Archive.org gives you snapshots of the domain throughout it’s time in the WWW.
You want to click on those little circles for each individual year and spot check how the site looked in the past.
Takeaway: If it has never been used for a PBN or other spammy technique, you are good to go.
Check Domain Trademarks
Next up, you want to see if the domain name is currently trademarked. It would suck to have a company send you a C&D, only because you skipped this step.
Just do it, it takes literally a minute.
The easiest way to do check for active trademarks are these sites:
If the domain is not trademarked, you are good to go.
Takeaway: No trademarks? Cool, proceed.
Check the Link Profile
This is the most crucial step.
You want to make sure that the potentially interesting expired domain has strong links that are still live.
The easiest way to check all live links to a domain is via Ahrefs’ site explorer.
Go to ahrefs.com, enter the domain name and then navigate to “Site Explorer 2.0” -> “Backlinks”.
We recommend to use the following filters:
- D0 Follow
- Backlink Type “in content” – to only show contextual links
- DR from 10
- One link per domain
Then sort by DR (descending).
This will give you an overview of all the powerful contextual links pointing at a specific domain, to see if it’s worth it.
Here is BHW for example:
Ahrefs will also show you if those links are still live or if they dropped, which can give you a concise picture on the state of the link profile.
Takeaway: Make sure that the expired domain has strong (and live) backlinks. Preferrably contextual ones.
Check the Link Targets
Next, you want to check to which pages have the most links pointed to them.
You will want to re-create these pages on your PBN. So it’s imperative that you check this.
Go to “best by links” and sort by “referring domains”
This will give you an overview of where the links are pointed to and what pages you SHOULD re-create once your PBN is hosted and live.
Takeaway: Make sure that the links are pointed to pages you can re-create.
Check the Anchor Profile
Lastly, you want to take a look at the anchor profile of the potential PBN domain.
Ideally, you want your PBN domain to have a diverse anchor profile with <10% of exact match keyword anchors and no spammy sh*t.
Takeaway: Make sure that the expired domain has a diverse and natural anchor profile.
That’s it for the domain analysis part. Now let’s get into the most complex part of it all – the PBN setup and what footprints to avoid.
PBN FOOTPRINTS (TO AVOID)
So far we have learned:
- Why PBNs are so powerful
- How to find a PBN domain
- How to analyze a PBN domain
Now let’s dig into the setup of a PBN. Let’s start with all the footprints you need to avoid and end with a step by step guide on how to host your next PBN site.
#1 Bad Hosting
This is typically the most common footprint we see.
You want to avoid shared hosting, VPS hosting or even worse PBN hosting at all costs.
We usually recommend to get one single droplets per PBN from reputable cloud hosting companies, like:
- Digital Ocean
- Cloudways (managed DO/Vultr hosting)
With those providers you can get truely unique and dedicated A, B and C-class IPs for each and every one of your PBN sites.
Typically a IP is split into 4 blocks, namely AAA.BBB.CCC.DDD
We don’t want to host our PBNs on servers in the same C class and we also don’t want our PBN hosted with any other website. This is how huge networks got de-indexed in the past. So we want to avoid that at all cost.
Instead we want our PBNs hosted on different A, B AND C block, like this:
- PBN SITE A hosted on IP 18.104.22.168
- PBN SITE B hosted on IP 22.214.171.124
- PBN SITE C hosted on IP 126.96.36.199
- etc. pp.
By going with cloud hosts you can get this level of IP diversity while leaving no virtual footprints.
It is definitely more expensive than other hosting options out there.
But it is oh-so-worth it.
- Shared Hosting – like HostGator, Siteground etc. While you can hide in plain sight (so to speak), the scaling and management of shared hosting for PBNs is an absolute nightmare, as you need a separate hosting plan for each PBN. It’s economically not feasible.
- VPS Hosting – just don’t … seriously!
#2 Bad Registrars
Don’t register all domains on the same date and DON’T use dropcatch providers. We can recommend Dynadot, Name, Namesilo, GoDaddy.
#3 No Whois
In times of GDPR and privacy concerns, this is more of a privilege instead of a footprint. It’s completely free with most registars these days and highly recommended. Not having a private WhoIs probably leaves a bigger footprint.
#4 Custom Nameservers
The big cloud hosts we mentioned above all give you the option to use their DNS networks. This means you can use their nameservers, for example:
ns1.digitalocean.com, ns2.digitalocean.com etc.
These nameservers are used by hundreds and thousand of sites and apps, so you will blend right in with those.
We don’t recommend to use custom nameservers.
#5 Blocking Crawlers
If you know how Ahrefs et al. work, it makes no sense to block bots via .htaccess – unless you have an up to date IP list (which I bet you don’t).
Also, how many real sites block these crawlers? Right. So why would you, if 80%+ of all sites don’t?
In our opinion BLOCKING is the real footprint, especially when you use plugins like spiderblocker and co.
#6 Build unique PBNs
Having the same ugly a** layout for all of your PBNs will certainly leave a huge footprint.
You know the look, right? Simple free theme, full posts on the homepage and no customization whatsoever.
Instead you want to build real sites. Sites that pass a manual inspection if it ever comes to that.
Each PBN should have a custom logo and a custom layout (menus, stock images, design, etc.)
Today, the use of page builders makes it quite easy without leaving much of a footprint.
You really only need Elementor Pro + Astra/Hello/OceanWP Theme ; Divi and/or GeneratePress+GenerateBlocks to build 100s of unique sites. You can also invest into 4-5 of the top selling themes from Themeforest for more diversity.
We highly recommend to try and build sites that look unique and resemble real businesses.
You can easily find someone here on BHW that can help you with this.
#7 Use unique content
We mentioned that before.
We never, ever use thin (spun or worse) or scraped / expired content. The first is just garbage and the algorithm is just too smart these days, the later involves certain risks of copyright strike, which we absolutely want to avoid on a $500+ domain.
ALso don’t use scraped images (same reason -> copyright). Use stock free images from Pixabay or Pexels instead.
#8 Don’t interlink your PBNs
Duh. Self explanatory.
You also want to make sure, that the money sites that you link to are on separate and unique hosts.
#9 Build Links to your PBNs (optional)
Real sites lose and gain links all the time.
So it’s recommended to add a few quality tier 2 links into the mix.
This will not only help your PBN sites, but also your money site.
It’s not absolutely necessary, but incredibly helpful
#10 Use internal links on your PBNs
Real sites have a LOT of internal links. Not only can they help to pass link juice from internal pages to the homepage (and vice versa), but they can help to create topical relevance for the whole PBN site.
#11 Skip GA/GSC
Don’t use Google Analytics or GSC on your PBN domain.
Another duh. Paranoia gets the best of us.
But why risk it?
#12 Use internal redirect correctly.
Some sites have more links pointed to the root version (non-www) some sites have more links pointed to the www. version. Make sure to know which one you want to use and redirect the other variant. Otherwise you may experience underwhelming results.
Also make sure to rebuilt inner pages that have links pointed to them with the exact same URL structure and add fresh content to those with internal links to the homepage.
We go into a bit more detail in this 301 thread.
#13 Say no to CloudFlare
It’s just not necessary.
Whoever tells you that it’s super useful to hide any footprints, has never run a large scale PBN.
You DON’T need it, if your hosting is done right.
#14 Say yes to SSL
While there are still many sites on non-SSL, it has become pretty much the standard for new sites.
It’s completely free with letsencrypt and we definitely recommend to add it to your new PBNs.
Having said that, a few years back SSLs were very pricey, so we still have a lot of PBN sites without SSL for PBN sites that are 5years+. Tbh, we’ve seen no adverse effects (yet). But ALL of our new builds are with SSL.
#15 Maintain your PBN
Keep your PBN sites updated (themes + plugins) and add non-commercial content once in a while.
This is just common sense.
We’ve had a few hacking attempts for some of our PBNs in the past years and we’ve learned from our mistakes.
Keep maintenance up and use a good security plugin like Wordfence.
Optional A: Create some social accounts for your PBNs. Not really necessary, but makes the site more legit.
Optional B: Use a caching plugin. We love WP-Rocket, but you can also use a free one from the WordPress directory.
Think that mostly covers the footprints.
One of the easiest ways to install WordPress on one of the clouds hosts are “one-click-apps”
Here’s a great video on how to do it on DigitalOcean:
It works similar on Vultr and Linode.
Alternative #1 – Use Runcloud.io
You can use also use server manager like Runcloud.io to connect your Digital Ocean / Vultr and Linode droplets.
From there you can easily install WordPress, SSLs and manage your service.
With RunCloud, you don’t need to be a Linux expert to build a website powered by DigitalOcean, AWS, or Google Cloud. Use our graphical interface and build a business on the cloud affordably.
However, it’s not free and comes at $12.5 / month – but you can manage unlimited servers on it.
Alternative #2 – Use Cloudways
You can also Cloudways to host your PBNs.
Cloudways is basically managed cloud hosting for the biggest providers like DigitalOcean, Vultr, Linode, AWS and Google Cloud.
You get the full percs of footprint free hosting with a managed service on top.
Downside: The price.
Te cheapest droplet is $10.00 / mo – which includes the $5.00 fee for the droplet itself and $5.00 for their managed service (basically)(.
If you only want to host a few PBNs and a few bucks more per month don’t hurt your wallet, go for it.
It’s super convenient and easy to install WordPress via Cloudways.
Here’s their guide on how to install a DigitalOcean Droplet: https://www.cloudways.com/blog/host-wordpress-on-Digitalocean
You see, hosting a site on a cloud host is not rocket science, especially with the help of one-click-apps or server managers like Runcloud.
Anyone can do it.
Now that the PBN site is live, you can get ready to link out.
How to link out from your PBN
Here are a few factor to keep in mind when linkin to your money sites.
Linking to just one page of your money site:
This is the best and safest approach to using your PBNs. By keeping OBL = 1 you leverage all of the link power. This is our recommended way to use PBNs. Of course you can target diff. inner pages on your money site by using separate PBNs. That’s totally fine. So PBN A links to moneysite.com/abc/ and PBN B links to moneysite.com/xyz/.
Linking to several pages on one single money site:
You can link to more than one inner page on your money site from a single PBN, but we would recommend to use it VERY sparingly, as it can leave a footprint.
Linking to several money sites
Linking to more than one money site from a single PBN is fine, if the niche is somewhat related or suitable and the money sites don’t share any footprints (same hosting server, DNS, email, monetization).
Example: You could easily link to a tech affiliate blog AND a web dev site from one tech PBN, while linking to an insurance money site wouldn’t be ideal (tho you can still do it by using creative content topics).
In the end it’s up to you. We like to keep OBL = 1 or max. 2 for private dedicated PBNs.
FAQ – FREQUENTLY ANSWERED QUESTIONS
What anchors should I use?
Anchor diversity is something that you have to keep an eye on at all times. It’s super easy to overoptimize.
We like to keep our anchor profiles at the following ratios:
- Branded Anchors (see above): 70-80%
- Generic Anchors: 8-10%
- Longtail and Partial Phrase Matches: 5-8%
- Exact Match: 3-5%
Having said that, PBNs are perfect to snipe exact match or phrase match anchors. But they also work well for branded and generic anchors.
The beauty here is that you are in full control of your anchors.
Should I display full posts on the homepage?
If you plan to keep the OBL = 1 on the homepage, you don’t even have to use full articles on the homepage.
You can make the site look like a business page instead and add the link (surrounded by at least 250-300 words of content) in one of the elements.
For example if you want to create a roofing PBN, you could use Astra’s Roofing template (https://websitedemos.net/roofing-services-02/) and add a anchored link here:
Obviously you want to adjust the template a bit, so it doesn’t look like the stock version.
But that’s just one example.
There are many ways you can go about this.
We also have PBNs where we only display excerpts via the content views pro plugin or use a script with an “expand” feature but in a way that the link is still visible and clickable. (for OBL > 1 cases)
We also have PBNs where we display several full posts on the homepage, fi the structure of the homepage allows for it. (for OBL > 1 cases or our PBN services)
We also always rebuild all inner pages that have decent links and add a fresh piece of content and a link to it. We power these up with a few more additional t2 links. We don’t always add them to the homepage, if the links are strong enough, hence the hybrid model.
How much content should I use on my PBN?
The bare minimum is 3000-5000 words of content, imo.
We add a few new article to each site every few months. But it’s not a priority. The baseline content is enough.
Do you guys use anything expect PBNs for your own sites?
Yes, of course.
We usually start like this (both national and local niches):
- 5x branded guest posts (focus on niche relevancy)
- 5-10x branded link insertions / niche edits
- 60-90x structured and unstructured citations. We use these for both affiliate sites and local sites (of course. These include must have accounts on authority directories, social sites, video sites and image sites.
- 15-20x manually crafted & branded web 2.0s with unique and WELL WRITTEN content that is extremely targeted to your brand and your niche. We typically add 2-3 articles to each web 2.0 and embed our videos and add 1-2 branded links. For local sites we also add a citation, map embed and gmb cid links on top.
That’s a really good foundation of branded links for any site and you can build these right away without worrying too much about any algorithmic penalties.
You can probably get all those links sorted for < $2000 incl. content.
After that scale up and get more aggresive with anchors.
While doing all the link building, we try to emulate a natural anchor profile as shown above.
Does the PBN have to be 100% niche related? Will it still be effective if it’s not?
Yes, it will still be effective. You can still create relevancy on a page level instead of a domain level. However we do not recommend it.
But it works nonetheless.
That’s it. Hope you liked the guide.
Now get to work and set up your first PBN.