Private Blog Networks, or PBNs, have been all the rage in the SEO community for the past few years. The accolades are not without warrant.
As far as ranking websites, backlinks work. And, as anyone who has done outreach knows, asking others for links is a long and often fruitless endeavor. Instead, having links on demand seriously reduces the time burden of building the links your websites need to rank well in the SERPs.
Outreach and guest posting work, but they take serious commitment. If you have the time and resources to spend 40 hours or more a week, or to hire someone to spend that time fishing for links, then you can see serious results from this type of link building.
But, if you’re looking for a better ROI and much more scalable link building method, you basically have two options:
1.) Build your own PBN
2.) Buy links from a third party
Both strategies can yield some stunning results, but before you make a choice of which is right for you, it’s important to break down the costs associated with both options.
Setting up and running your own private blog network can result in fantastic ranking improvements for your websites. But, a PBN is not something you throw a few dollars into to get started and set it up over night.
There are two basic expense categories to consider while planning out your PBN if you decide to build one: infrastructure and maintenance.
Infrastructure can be further broken down into –
Whereas maintenance refers to –
To get started on putting a real dollar amount in getting a PBN setup, built out, and maintained we can take a look at each of those above categories independently.
We are also going to work under the assumption you’re planning on starting out with a relatively small 10 site PBN.
Domains – You can’t have a PBN without domains. The important part of these domains is that they are expired with some nice links already aimed their way.
There are a few ways to get these types of domains, such as buying them from auctions, buying them from brokers, or scraping them with tools, with each of these methods carrying different costs. The strength of the domain also affects the pricing.
The cheapest method mentioned above would be scraping for domains your self, if you don’t include the time you put in to doing so, which should not be ignored as scraping can take days, especially if you’re not experienced with it.
Brokers can get pricey, and auctions even pricier if you’re aiming for some real premium domains.
Since most people reading this want to rank websites to make money and not become a professional web scraper, we’ll work under the assumption you’ll buy expired domains from a respectable and not overly expensive broker.
The quick and easy way of doing so is to just use a broker that orders packages like those you can find here from Pure Quality Domains. Their cheapest 10-site package runs $250. You could try to scrape for those domains, but as stated before, the time and tools needed to do so would most likely end up costing you more than the $250.
You then also need to register the domains. There are various places to do so such as GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Hover, and they all charge different amounts. However, it’s best practice to not register all of your PBN domains with the same registrar, so a fair average cost of registration per domain is around $10, or $100 for all 10 for each year your own them. (fake whois)
Hosting – Now that you have some great domains you need to set them up on hosting. Several years ago using cheap $1/month hosting was cat’s pajamas. That was until lots of people using cheap $1/month hosting had their PBNs de-indexed.
There are plenty of theories why that happened ranging from Google targeting specific cheap hosting resellers to just the fact that bargain hosting usually results in horrific site performance, which can get you de-indexed too. Regardless of why it happened, it still happened.
So, best practice now is to use more common web hosting solutions, like Bluehost, HostGator, and A Small Orange. And like with your domain registration, you won’t want to use the same hosting for each domain, and you want different IPs for each domain too.
You can get some small or baby plans from the hosting solutions for around $4/month give or take, so the sake of simplicity, we’ll say properly hosting your 10-site PBN will run about $40/month, or $480 for the year.
Content – You can’t have a PBN without adding content to your new sites. Again, you can try doing this all yourself, which a lot of invested time and usually leads to total burnout, or you can pay for content.
When paying for content you’re going to need to decide on what quality you’re aiming for. The cost of writers from tier 1 English speaking countries like the USA, Canada, the UK, etc. is going to be significantly higher than the cost of using Filipino writers. Since you aren’t trying to really win readers over or sell them anything from your PBN, most opt for the latter.
There are plenty of writing services out there like HireWriters and iWriter. Using iWriter as an example, the cheapest 500-word article would run $3. Making the assumption that your 10-site PBN would link out to 10 money sites, you would need 100 articles, not including any supporting pages you add like an About page. The total cost of the content would be $300. Again, this does not take into account any other posts or pages you add to the PBN sites, but for simplicities sake, this estimate will do.
Content isn’t just articles. You’ll also need your PBN sites to look like real sites to minimize the chances of them getting de-indexed. That’s why most people add customs logos to each site.
You don’t need award-winning logos, so a basic Fiverr style logo should do, but you need to include the cost. Fiverr now adds on a processing fee per order, so one logo will run you $5.50, making the total for the 10 you need $55.
Setup – Websites don’t build themselves so after you have your domains, hosting, and content, you need to put them all together. Without getting into the some of the trickier stuff you need to do when managing a rather large PBN, even the basic setup can take some time.
For example, here are some of the tasks that need to be done:
To make these websites look like real sites and not part of a blog network you need to spend a little time on all the above.
Depending on your experience with setting up sites and how much editing the cheap content you bought requires determines how much time each site would take to setup, but for the sake of putting a dollar figure into this process, let’s say you’re fairly quick at setting up each site, averaging 2 hours per site. That would be a total of 20 hours of setup time.
How much money are those 20 hours worth? Again, this is a bit of an arbitrary number, but by taking an annual salary of $45,000 a year, your hourly pay rate would be around $21.60. So, using that pay rate your setup time would be the equivalent of about $432.
General Upkeep – While you can set and forget your blogs on your PBN, it’s not really a great idea to do so. Firstly, failing to update plugins is one of the biggest ways to get your sites hacked. Second, stale sites tend to lose their ranking power.
Even by doing the bare minimum and spending two hours a month on upkeep at the same hourly rate listed before, a year would run around $518.
Unanticipated Upkeep – It’s an annoying but unavoidable fact that when working with websites, things break. It doesn’t happen all the time, but perhaps a hosting server crashes and you lose all the data for one PBN site, or there’s a problem with the billing on another.
Dealing with this kind of thing takes time, and any time you spend fixing the problems is time you aren’t spending working on your money sites or other parts of your business.
Assuming you only have a couple medium-sized hiccups during your first year, we can estimate in 10 hours of time at out previously determined hourly rate. That would add another $216 to your costs.
Setting up a PBN, even a smaller 10-site one, is not the quickest or cheapest way to help push your money site up the SERPs, but it’s certainly an effective one. The fairly low-cost example we set up above would give you approximately a total of 100 links spread out to 10 sites for $2351. That equates to $23.51 a link for the first year. The, there’s recurring annual costs of maintaining those sites and links of $1314 for the domain renewals, hosting, and general & unanticipated upkeep.
It’s important to remember that this estimated cost-per-link is basically a best-case scenario where you’re maximizing the value of each PBN site and getting 10 outbound links per site. That means you also need to fund 10 money sites.
If you only have 5 money sites the cost-per-link would actually jump up to around $44, and if you are only running 3 money sites it jumps even higher to around a whopping $71 per link. The reasoning behind this is that regardless of whether your PBN is supporting 1 money site or 10 money sites, you still need the domains, hosting, logos, setup, and maintenance. The only expense you would save on is the content.
And, all of this math assumes you don’t have any of your PBN sites de-indexed.
So, can you build your own PBN to help rank you money sites? Absolutely. However, unless you have a suite of money sites, you usually get much more bang for you buck when you purchase backlinks from a third party. Aside from the money you’ll save, you’ll have much more time to spend on building your websites and your business instead of messing around with setting up and maintaining a private blog network.
Also, you should really check out Rank Guardian, our new ranking service.
Have you thought about building your own Private Blog Network but didn't know where to start?
Having your own PBN can have tremendous benefits in creating a profitable niche site, but it can be an extremely time-consuming, confusing, and expensive process.
And the most frustrating and difficult aspect of building out your own network has got to be the actual process of finding powerful and spam-free expired domains to use in your network.
In today's post, I want to introduce you to an amazing piece of software that I've been using lately that makes finding expired domains as quick and easy a process as I've ever seen.Continue reading
Have you been in the niche site space for a while and always wondered what all the hype was about PBNs?
I've been playing around with niche sites for a year and a half now. I've paid to be in a public PBN service, I've built out my own private PBN network of 45+ sites, I've built a PBN service for my e-mail subscribers, and I've studied how successful niches sites in almost every market have been able to achieve their rankings at the top of the SERPs.
And the bottom-line realization is this: using a PBN to rank at the top of Google still works, it never stopped working, and it's still the single best approach that I've found to building out a profitable niche site.
And in today's post, I'm going to show you why that's the case, and how you can use PBN links to help rank your niche sites.
"Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful" — Warren Buffett
Nine months ago, Google dropped an atomic bomb on the gray-hat SEO community.
The damage was bad. Untold amounts of PBN domains were deindexed, and money sites that had been earning four- and five-figures per month were wiped out, overnight, without warning.
Many gray hat folks vowed to never use PBNs again, including Spencer.
But amongst all this carnage, there were two key bits of details that stood out to me:
So while it totally sucked for those people who were negatively effected by the great Google PBN deindexing (my sites, luckily were NOT affected), the good news that came out of all of this is that using PBN links to rank a site is still a wonderfully effective strategy, and Google's algorithm cannot (yet) detect these networks on its own well enough to penalize these sites automatically.
Bonus: Want to see a quick trick on how to find your competitors' PBN links, even if they are blocking the backlink checkers to their sites?
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But you don't have to just take my word for it.
As many of you know, the real goal of this site isn't to simply tell you about a specific strategy, but instead to show you the how and the why.
So why don't we take a look at the SERPs and see what we find?
Here's a Google search for a random buyer's keyword, "best work boots", which has a very attractive local monthly search volume of 8,100.
As you can see, the top two results are niche sites, and there's another niche site ranking #6.
So how on earth are those first two sites outranking two HUGE authority sites in Amazon.com and Popular Mechanics?
Easy, they have some great PBN links pointed to them.
Let's take that second domain and plug it into Moz's Open Site Explorer to have a look at some of the backlinks.
As you can see, this site has 7 very high-quality PBN links pointing to it according to Moz.
Ahrefs shows a similar story.
And remember, these are just the links that the domain owner did NOT block from the search crawlers, which means there are probably dozens more PBN links just like these.
Let's take a look at another random niche, "air compressors", which between "best air compressor" and "air compressor reviews" has a very healthy LMS volume of 7,800.
Same story here. The sites ranking #3, #5, #6, and #7 in the SERPs for "air compressor reviews" are all niche sites!
Let's have a quick look at that 5th site ranking there.
Here are the top six links for this niche site according to Moz, unsurprisingly, all PBN links.
And here's what Majestic has to show.
Again, same story. And remember, Moz and Ahrefs and Majestic are only showing the links that haven't been blocked from the crawlers!
The truth is, I could do this all day long. Just do a Google search for any high-value buyer's keyword, and take note of any niche sites ranking on Page 1.
Run their domains through a backlink checker, and you will find the same thing. Over and over again.
Why? Because despite all the hysteria, Google has not figured out an efficient way to prevent PBN links from ranking sites (yet).
Many of you already know that one of my favorite ways of identifying a profitable niche to enter is by browsing the listings over at Empire Flippers.
The reason why this is such an effective strategy is that the listings have already give us validation for our market.
In other words, if a review site in the electric shavers review niche is generating over $2,500 per month, then we know that is a great niche to enter.
The thing about the Empire Flippers listings is that in the name of transparency, they have to disclose which sites listed for sale have been built using a PBN.
So what kind of sites in the Empire Flippers marketplace are using PBNs? Are they really profitable sites?
Well, the screenshot from above comes via this completed listing ...
An Amazon affiliate site in the home & garden niche ...
That happened to sell for over $205,000.
So, yeah: using a PBN to rank your affiliate site can certainly pay off handsomely.
As I mentioned, I've been using PBNs for a little over a year now.
I think I first heard of them when Spencer announced the launch of the now defunct and deindexed Rank Hero, but luckily for me, I never bought links from there.
No, I started my PBN experience using Jon Haver's Lightning Rank service, way back in May 2014.
At the time, he was offering links on 5 domains (2 links per post) for $300.
You have to remember at that time, I wasn't earning $3,000+ each month with my niche sites.
In fact, when I placed my first links order back at the beginning of May, my entire April earnings had been only $397.
So I was effectively spending 75% of my niche site income on one links package.
Looking back on that now, I can see how that may sound crazy. Why would I spend so much of my income on only five links?
And the answer is, because I wanted more.
Sure, I was extremely happy to have earned nearly $400 in a single month with my first niche site, but I knew that I could grow it even bigger. I knew that at the beginning of my journey, if I decided to re-invest a lot of my revenue back into the business — and that's how you really have to think about your successful sites, as small businesses — that it had the potential to grow into something really great.
And that's exactly what happened.
But I can see now how easily I could have been complacent with $400 per month, never invested any money back into the site, and just never tried to improve the site. I could have been happy with $400 per month and that would have been that.
And I realize typing this now that I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, but it's how I encourage people to think about their sites, provided they've started to earn a little money from them — don't be afraid to re-invest those earnings back into the site. That's what you need to do in order for it to grow.
Anyway ... I ended up using Lightning Rank on and off over the course of about five months, and was a very happy customer. NS1 climbed in the SERPs, it was earning over $2,000 per month consistently, so I was glad to spend the $225 (Jon lowered the price eventually) on a links package that helped secure my ranks.
And then this happened.
The great Google PBN de-indexing.
I have to be honest, I was pretty terrified. There were so many PBN domains getting deindexed, and so many money sites disappearing from the SERPs overnight. I assumed that my NS1 was going to get hit.
But for whatever reason, it didn't. I do think that a few of Jon's PBN domains got deindexed, but NS1 never received the manual thin content penalty for using PBNs.
Of course, I was relived, but I knew that I had to be more careful. While Lightning Rank served me well, it was still a very public service that anyone could join and it didn't limit the number of outbound links, so I wanted to be a little more cautious about my links.
Full disclosure: yes, I do offer a PBN Service of my own. It's not a "public" service (I handle all orders by e-mail) and I only allow six people per domain.
The thing is, buying links from trusted sellers is still the best course of action for the majority of niche site builders.
Because attempting to build your own network can become quite expensive and time consuming.
But I decided to take the leap anyway. I wanted to try building my own network.
I can't remember how I found them, but I ended up connecting with Dan Thompson, who at the time was running a domain brokerage with his buddy Curt. (Dan does local SEO now instead).
I ended up spending quite a bit of money getting my network up and running, as you can see above.
I was paying on average probably $40 per domain, and hosting and setting them all up with content myself. It was a lot of work but a great learning experience.
After several months of purchasing domains, I decided it was time to learn how to scrape them myself. This would allow me to lower my costs and scale a lot faster.
At first, I was using ExpiredDomains.net, which is a real manual process. I was following this guide by Jon on how to find them.
That was working okay for a bit, until I connected up with Scott Moran, who runs the extremely impressive PBN Lab.
It's the best domain crawler I've ever used, and I've been able to find dozens of premium expired domains pretty easily. He has various weekly and monthly plans, so if you're serious about building out your own network, I highly recommend you check it out.
I've been so impressed with the service that I'll be writing up a dedicated review of PBN Lab in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.
Another service worth checking out is Hammerhead Domains.
Now that I have so many domains in my personal network, how exactly am I using them to rank my niche sites?
I should stipulate that there are a couple of different approaches you could take here; I'm not saying mine is necessarily the best strategy, but it's one that has worked for me.
Also, this is not going to be a step-by-step guide on how to set up your own PBN; if you're ready to take the leap on that end, check out this post by Steve. Or you can get in touch with me, and I can set one up for you.
Once I've registered a domain and set up unique hosting, installed WordPress and some basic plugins, it's time to set up the site.
I like to post at least 5 unique (not-spun) articles to the site, spread out over a couple of days/weeks each, and I aim for around 500 words per article or more, including links to authority sites in your niche.
Then, it's time to add the posts with the links back to your money site. Try to add the links as naturally as possible, and don't include more than two links back to your money site per domain; anymore than that is overkill.
In terms of the design of your PBN sites, I may be in the minority here but I don't go to any great lengths to make a stunning design. The way I look at it is this: if a member of Google's spam team were to stumble across your PBN site, chances are, your "unique logo and theme" are not going to save you. So I don't waste my time.
You can keep adding a new article every month or two to the PBN site if you like, thought I don't find it totally necessary.
When you are done, you will have a PBN site with 5-7 articles on it, with two links back to your money site (or more than one money site, see below).
By far the most common question I receive about PBNs is how many PBN links do you need to rank a site on Page 1 of Google.
As you can imagine, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. How could there be? Each niche is different, each keyword is different, and competition plays a huge role in being able to rank, so there's no blanket answer I can give.
However ... to give a very general idea of what I like to target, I've typically found that a money page will require at least 15 moderately powerful PBN links (PA ~30) to rank, maybe up to 25.
What you're looking at above is a spreadsheet that I keep to track all the PBN links to my money sites.
This one is for NS2, to give you an idea, but just to be clear: this includes links to the homepage, and each of the three money pages (not just links to one money page)., over the past three months (not all time).
So that's generally how I plan out building out links to my sites, in terms of quantity, but again, every site and niche will be different.
If you have 20 PBNs in your network, and two money sites, can you link to both money sites from each PBN domain?
The answer is, it depends on your risk/rewards goals.
By linking out to multiple money sites from each PBN domain, you are able to scale faster and build a more cost-effective network.
The downside is, if one of your PBN domains gets discovered by Google and deindexed, then every money site on that domain is at risk of being penalized.
Personally, I have done a bit of both, so there's no hard and fast rule for me. It all comes down to your goals, your budget, and your risk tolerance.
In my experience, the overwhelming answer is no, definitely not.
Now, is it better to have a PBN link from a niche that's relevant to your domain than one that's not? Yes, it's nice to have, but it's certainly not necessary.
How do I know this?
Because outside of maybe a handful of domains, none of my PBN domains are niche-specific to my money sites. And my money sites are all ranking just fine. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
If you've made it this far and are interested in testing out some PBN links on your own niche site, I can help.
I launched my semi-exclusive PBN Service to my e-mail subscribers at the beginning of the month with a simple e-mail to my list, and already I've nearly sold out the first batch of domains.
Since I do have a full-time job and this blog is more of a side-hobby for me, my time is limited and so I'm only able to build out 10 new domains per month.
And since this service is semi-exclusive with only six people allowed per domain, I'm only able to accept 12 customers per month. So if you're interested in a links package, get in touch.
While using a PBN Service like my own is sufficient for 90% of niche site builders, there are people out there who want to own their own network, but don't have the know-how and/or time to put one together.
So if you're interested in owning your own mini-network of 10-20 domains, let me know and I'll see if I can build one for you. I'm in the process of building out a network for one of my readers, and I think I can manage doing a few of these per month.
Any questions, let me know in the comments.