PBN Algorithm Update: Now What? (Episode 33)

The great PBN Deindexation of 2014.

This is what it looks like from here:


As I provide PBN services and PBN info as a big part of my site content and services, I’m going to weigh in.  Usually I would wait, and see how things shake out, but people are FREAKING OUT.




.mp3 (download = right click, “save as”)

My Sites/Sites I built

They are all fine, as far as I can tell.  I don’t trust Google enough to enter every site in a “site:domain.com” search, but of the many I looked at, they’re all still going strong.

Most of the sites I built are private, on different registrars, obtained from different sources, on different hosts, with quality content.

Before this penalty became public and stepped into the spotlight, I published a post/podcast episode called The Truth About PBNsYou can read that here; I stand by what I said, specifically:

The truth about private blog networks is that they are not easy to create.  If they were, they wouldn’t be as effective.  Part of the power in having a PBN is derived in part because the sites look and act like “regular sites.”  Think about someone that creates a food blog, a site about sports, or an ecommerce website selling tshirts.  (For the most part) there are no auto posts, no spun content.  These are sites whose creators are putting in love and sweating the small stuff.  Even if they are done poorly, you can see the passion and the effort the webmaster puts in.

It’s still early in the algorithm update, which is why I usually wait until lots more data comes up, but as far as I can tell a lot of things people were penalized for were things I did not do/advocate

Why Were Sites Penalized?

There’s a lot of  fear that comes with each Google algorithm update.  When guest blogging as an SEO method was targeted, did Google go after a bunch of small offenders, no matter how poorly and transparent a job they were doing?  No.  They went after the most public and most popular option, MyBlogGuest–which you can read about here.  Many sites received penalties that did nothing wrong.  That’s called collateral damage.  What Google (very effectively) did was to give every an unhealthy dose of FEAR at the thought of guest blogging.

Is guest blogging dead?  No.  Guest blogging works reeeeeally well still.  SHITTY guest blogging is dead.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time speculating on what specific things Google was targeting, because–as I said, it’s really early still, but they did hit Spencer Haws and NoHat Media (who jointly own the annihilated PUBLIC network called RankHero) pretty hard.  Why?  One opinion: Spencer and Hayden were some of the most popular bloggers talking about PBNs.  Hell, it’s where a lot of people first DISCOVERED the idea of building out their own network.  On top of that, their network, RankHero, was very public in that the people getting links on the network KNEW the URLs of the network sites.  Multiply this over hundreds of sites and customers, and even if your best practices are the very very best practices, the position is weakened by being public.

Google is very good at targeted strikes intended to do the most damage to SEO philosophies.  There’s a TON of people who are going to give up on this SEO tactic, and move on to the next easy/effective thing that will work for a little while, until it doesn’t.  But the truth is that getting high-quality backlinks from relevant domains is the currency of the SERPs.  And while it would be search engine suicide to try and devalue the usefulness (see below for a Matt Cutts quote on this), a more effective tactic is to scare the masses away from trying a certain, particularly effective tactic, AND to make it one level harder.

Here’s Matt on if Google will ever value something more than backlinks in ranking sites:

The quality looks much much worse.  It turns out that backlinks, even though there is some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality for search results.

Looking For Common Threads

Probably the hottest discussion around this penalty is taking place on Spencer’s site NichePursuits.  In the post, he talks about how hard he was hit, and throws in the towel.  It sucks that he got hit as hard as he did, and sucks even more how much he is contributing to the fear around this issue, but I get it.  This isn’t the first time he’s been slapped.

The biggest thing that stood out in his post was this:

…in my webmaster tools account, I have 9 sites.  Five of those sites received the “thin content” manual action.  All five of those sites used private blog networks. – source

Nine sites in the same Webmaster Tools Account, with five of those sites using private blog network links.

That is a TERRIBLE idea.  There are some pretty severe bad practices going on here:

  • using a Google product on sites that are using PBN links
  • having money sites using PBNs linked together in an obvious way

Spencer reiterated several times that it was not just his public RankHero network that got hit, but also his private network.

If the private network was linking to sites in a WMT account, and that individual/sites is targeted, then that network is dead.  It’s very clear.

I like Spencer a lot.  He’s been a guest on my podcast, and is a smart, generous, and generally awesome dude.  But perhaps he was not as paranoid about PBNs and Google as he should have been?  I was really surprised to read he had all his sites in one WMT account, and not very surprised to see that this led to penalties.

Go and read that post.  There are 344 comments at the time of this writing.  If nothing else, look at how the fear spreads.

Jon Haver (who I’ve also had on the podcast) runs a PBN network with a bit more of an emphasis on the P(rivate).  You should absolutely read his post, but here’s the REALLY interesting bits:

Other similar services such as RankHero were unfortunately completely wiped out. Luckily my service (Lightning Rank) has only experienced a 30% deindexing rate (still painful but far from a death-blow).


These 797 smaller “silo’d” PBN sites seemed to hold up well. Out of the 797 sites that have been built only 83 sites have been deindexed (EVER).

These are lower powered sites than LightningRank but are truly private with ONLY the customer using them.

With a little under 10% of sites ever getting de-indexed within the last year it is a solid vote of confidence that I am on the right track with my niche relevant, quality site truly private PBN strategy.

Also check out the comments.  While is less comments, there is more information sharing and less fear-bandwagoning, such as:

Andy (from the comments) says:

My sites use mostly LR links….and they got hit with the thin content penalty.

Also, I think they looked at my WebMaster account to see which sites belong to me, as they all got hit on the same day at roughly the same time.

Chris (from the comments) says:

All three were from Godaddy auctions, but I have others from godaddy auctions that are still live; so I would agree with your point about that not being the problem. All my PBN sites have private whois, are on separate hosts/IPs and are not linked to any WMT or analytics.
The one thing that I did find is that those three sites are probably the most obvious PBN sites. I slightly deviated from the main topic and also the sites contain the most OBL.

Quinton (from the comments) says:

Most of my PBNs that were hit had low-quality, copied, or no content

See what happens when you get over the fear and start to think?  I say this from experience.  When I started reading about this, I got anxious.  But you breathe deep, eat a pizza or something, and start using your wonderful brain to piece together what’s going on, and what to do about it.

Probably the most popular post of all is from the NoHat guys, which you can read here.  It was refreshing to see the guys that took one of the biggest hits keep their heads about them:

It still sucks (sometimes it really, really sucks), but it’s an opportunity for growth and innovation as well. The sky’s not falling. Hayden and many other top SEOs and online entrepreneurs of today have bounced back from a dozen updates. Panda and penguin caused chaos, people lost entire incomes overnight with both and also with the EMD update. The cold, hard reality is that SEO is a changing game and it comes with risk (that’s probably part of the attraction!).

In the end, they are moving in a different direction, movement that started before this algo update arrived.  They’ve done some great work and will continue to do some great work.  They had a ton of data, so be sure to read through that post, and don’t miss the comments.

You’ll see a great, smart discussion taking place.  Their best theory of why they were hit so hard relates to using who.is data.  Take from that what you will.  Greg Nunan (a NoHat team member) is all over the comments, dropping some great info, like:

I would strongly suggest NOT building money sites on expired domains moving forwards. The fact we lost 6 money sites that were build on expired domains is a big warnings sign. It’s as though Google just pulled the trigger on expired domains with certain characteristics. I’m sure we’re not the only ones that lost genuine sites that somehow appeared to G as PBN sites.

Cool, that’s something I didn’t think of.

Think For Yourself; Do Your Own Research

Hopefully it’s coming through in this post that you should gather as much data as you can, and make decisions on how to go forward based on something else besides one blog post.

Obviously I’m biased.  I love PBNs.  I love searching for domains, I love building awesome, relevant sites.  I absolutely still recommend PBNs.  But you’ve got to step up your game now.  And I hope you’ll take my bias into account when reading my report and deciding what to do for yourself.

I really loved Glen Allsopp’s two tweets:

 Conclusion, and Moving Forward

PBNs still work; shitty PBNs don’t work as well

The bar has been raised and the low hanging fruit plucked.  If you were trying to stay two steps ahead of Google before, you better jump ahead a couple more spaces, because Google is a giant, and they don’t take small steps.

I’m still going to offer a done-for-you private blog network.

I’m still going to offer to teach how to build a PBN masterclasses.

But I am also going to change some of my tactics.  To not change anything would be irresponsible.  As always, I will publish some of my information publicly on Visible HQ.  Other information will only appear on my upcoming membership site, and the most special information will be taught in my PBN Masterclass (which is currently in closed beta– sign up for the waiting list in the side bar >>).

One question I will be asking: at what point does building sites NOT become a PBN.  If you build up three related money sites which links naturally to another money site…is that a PBN?  Is that linking solely to manipulate rankings?  Where’s the line?

In addition to focusing on PBNs, just as I have been doing before, I will continue to focus on how to build authority sites using natural links in my niche analysis case studies.

SEO changes, and we must change with it.  Or we must give up and find other things to pursue.  Both are reasonable decisions.

More on the PBN Update:

Travis Jamison on the PBN Update – Visible HQ (podcast episode)

Why I’ll Keep Growing My Private Blog Network After Google’s “Crackdown” – ViperChill

Have You Heard?  The PBN Sky Is Falling – RankFoundry

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, and on PBNs in general.  Were your sites hit?  Did you escape unscathed?  Talk about it!

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