The Ultimate Guide to Using PBN Links for Niche Sites
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
Wait, PBNs Still Work?
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:
Google Showed Their Hand
- By having to take a massive action like this and deindexing all of these sites, publicly, Google confirmed to us all what we already suspected: that private blog networks were still an incredibly effective way to rank sites at the top of the search results.
- By making these penalties "manual actions", Google also informed us that their algorithm still cannot detect the footprints caused by a well-made PBN; instead, it requires a human-review of the network to deindex it.
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.
Let's Take a Look at Some Examples
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?
Work Boots Niche
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.
Air Compressors Niche
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).
Empire Flippers' Sites with PBNs
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.
My Experience with PBNs
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.
The Google Update and Changing Course
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.
Building My Own Network
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.
Using a Doman Broker
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.
Scraping My Own Domains
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.
How I Use PBNs to Rank My Niche Sites
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.
"How Do I Set Up My Domains?"
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).
"How Many Links Do I Need?"
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.
"Should Each Money Site Have Its Own Dedicated Network?"
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.
"Do the PBN Domains Need to be Relevant to My Money Sites?"
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.
Interested in Getting Your Own PBN Links?
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.