What are PBNs? Why You Should Stay Clear of Them

What are PBNs? Why You Should Stay Clear of Them
  • 3 min read

Back in the wild, wild west of the world wide web, just about anything went. Everyone wanted to be listed on Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, and any directory site they could get their hands on. Then came Web 2.0. Google was all of the rage, Twitter and Facebook were on the scene, and people began to understand that they could work together to exchange clout (“link juice”) for their mutual benefit. That’s when blogging clubs and services like Triberr came about. 

These blogging clubs are sometimes referred to as PBNs. We’re not talking about Peanut Butter Nutella sandwiches. We’re talking about an old-school, black-hat SEO hack. Private Blog Networks. Once a darling of SEO agencies, they’re shady and we recommend steering clear of them – if you care about your long-term reputation.

What Are Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Essentially private blogging networks are a series of websites set up with articles that link to one another. PBNs can be owned and operated by one agency in order to get leads or they can simply be a co-op of sorts between agencies that work together. There were much simpler days in the past where you could buy a pre-owned domain with a history of some domain authority and usually get away with it, but Private Blogging Networks are now considered 100% black-hat SEO and Google actively works against ignoring or penalizing these types of links on your website.

Why Can’t You Exchange Links?

It’s not that you can’t exchange links, it’s just that you can’t exchange links just to exchange links. (Wait. What?) Meaning, exchanging a link just to exchange a link tends to lower the quality of the writing. People will work in a phrase just to get the words in. With Google’s Content Quality (E-E-A-T) requirements, links must be natural and supportive of the overall thesis.

In other words, write your articles like a 7th grade persuasive essay, and you’re likely to be on the right track.  

And, heads up to affiliate marketers: if you’re paid to include a link, you must include a rel=sponsored attribute tag. Otherwise, rel=nofollow is the way to go. 

How Do I Get Backlinks Then?

Backlinks must be earned to be valuable. It’s like diamonds that are mined versus lab created diamonds. If you didn’t find it in the ground, it’s just not as valuable. People must link to your content because of the value you’re giving, not because you’re part of a PBN or link exchange. 

What’s the solution? Write good content. It takes work but it’s worth it. Take a stand. Make your opinions known. We have done this by stating we’re the fastest WordPress host. That’s a statement we can back up. We’ve taken a stand on cheap $3 hosting for agencies as well. Don’t be afraid to have a personality. 

Does Google’s Spam Update Make Guest Blogging Obsolete?

Google’s Spam Update doesn’t make guest blogging obsolete because it’s always a good thing to publish new perspectives and raise up voices. Co-marketing (influencer or brand marketing) isn’t bad. Random guest posts from people without a high author score (experience, expertise) is what’s bad. 

Instead of cheating with PBNs, interview your clients. Be on a podcast. Don’t worry about whether it’s a follow or nofollow backlink, those will be natural backlinks at least.

Reach out to people you know have expertise to bolster up your own content. They’re more likely to share it and you can show your audience that you’re open minded. Make a video (backlink from YouTube). Sell a WordPress plugin (backlink from WordPress.org). Write a book (backlink from Amazon.com). You get the point, but recovering from a Google Algorithm Update is usually pretty painful and not worth the risk.

Makes Sense. I’m Not Part of a PBN.

You may have been nodding your head this whole time seeing how this is pretty obvious that PBNs are spammy. Hiring a content marketing agency isn’t so easy because what’s not obvious is the scores of SEO and marketing agencies who still use these shady tactics to “deliver” stunning results to their clients – albeit very temporary before it eventually blows up in complete disaster.

“Google does its best to fight unnatural links by constantly improving its algorithms. However, black-hat communities show a lot of evidence that PBNs still work for many websites.”


SEO takes time. Why? Because good SEO has to do with how people find you. SEO is affected by the volume of published words. Words on your website. Words describing images. Words on directory listings. Words on social media. Words in reviews. And then there’s the technical aspects of SEO – speed, security, accessibility – good code. Words take work. 

And don’t forget that good SEO should be tied to the business’s goals (revenue). You’ll want realistic expectations with your content budget, ad budget, and off-page SEO budget. Having a backlink to your site from a random food blog just doesn’t make sense when you’re a roofer. People can spot fake.

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