Are Private Blog Networks (PBNs) Worth It In 2018?

Private blog networks (PBNs) are the go-to link building tactic for grey hat SEOs.

But the question is:

Are they worth building from an ROI (Return on Investment) and a ROT (Return on Time) perspective?

In this post, I’m going to give you all the information you need to make an educated decision.

Exclusive: Download the expired domain vetting checklist to avoid spending money on bad domains and to find the diamonds in the rough.


3 Reasons NOT to Use a PBN

I’m going to be a “Debbie Downer” and start the post off with the cons of using a PBN.

1. Cost

One of the biggest cons is the cost of developing and maintaining a network. If you’re using auctions, it’s going to cost you anywhere between $40-$400 for a good domain. If you are using domain vendors, the cost will be similar.

As you can image, this can add up.

After you secured your new domain, you have to pay for private WHOIS, get hosting, and add content.

So, let’s say you secured a domain for $100.

Domain = $100
Private Whois = $5
Hosting = $12
Article = $5 (a good PBN will have more than one article)

= $112 for ONE site.

You think the cost is high?

Let me tell you about the time investment.

2. Time Investment

Creating a quality PBN can be a serious time-suck. First, you have to find domains that are worthy of purchasing. About 95% of the domains are unqualified. And that’s being generous.

For my agency in particular, we only use expired domains if they meet our Topical Trust Flow requirement. This makes our research even more challenging, but it is often much more rewarding.

Let’s say you’re trying to build a network of 10 websites. It’s going to take you anywhere between 6-12 hours to find ten qualified domains. A “qualified” domain should have a Trust Flow of at least 15 and a Domain Authority of 15.

A lower metric domain is acceptable if it has relevant Topical Trust Flow Topics.

Now that you’ve secured 10 domains, you now have to set them up. It will take you 2-4 hours to find web hosts and get the sites ready for development.

You then have to develop the site by creating all the necessary pages, finding themes, writing/outsourcing content, installing plugins, and making the site’s look normal. If you want to be extra safe, you may also want to create social accounts for each site.

This process could take 1-2 hours per site.

This equates to about 36 hours invested for a network of 10 websites.

This also doesn’t take into account any type of hosting or hacking issues you may encounter. Cheap web hosts often go out of business without any warning and have horrible uptime.

Dealing with these issues can be a serious time killer.

Now, of course, you can outsource the majority of these steps. But when you outsource, you increase your expenses. Higher expenses will extend how long it takes you to get an ROI.

This brings me to my next point:

Does using PBNs have a good ROI (Return on Investment) and ROT (Return on Time)?

The ROI of Using PBNs

Since both you and I understand the value of money, let’s start there.

For this example, I’m going to use the keyword phrase: “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”.

Here are some quick numbers about this keyword:

  • It gets around 1,000 searches per month
  • The average linking root domains for competitors on the first page is 135

What this data shows is that you will need approximately 135 expired domains to rank for this keyword. This isn’t an exact science. It may take more and it may take less. You also have to keep in mind the quality of the domains. If they competitors on the first page are getting the majority of their links from high authority sites, then low metric expired domains won’t be effective.

With that said, knowing the average linking root domains will allow you to predict the ROI of targeting a keyword.

Here are some other numbers you need to know to predict ROI:

  • Average SERP CTR ~ 3% – 30% (higher CTR for higher rankings)
  • Average Prospect to Lead (PTL) Conversion ~ 5%
  • Average Inbound Lead to New Customer (ILC) Conversion ~ 21%
  • Approximate cost for developing one network site = ~ $112
  • Approximate time spent developing one network site = ~ 1 hour

To make this easier, I’ve created a Google Sheet:

roi-pbns
Click to Enlarge

These are generous calculations, but it gives you an idea of the ROI potential of using PBNs. The Lifetime Value (LTV) of a personal injury client is high. There aren’t many niches that will have an LTV this extreme, which means it will take longer to get a positive ROI.

The month #1 – #3 calculations are based on ranking on the first page for “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”. Keep in mind that this is a competitive niche, so you likely wouldn’t reach the first page for about 6-12 months (if you’re good). That means you will be in the hole until you get there.

Different Ways to Invest $28k Into SEO

You can do a lot in SEO with $28,000 +. I remember when I was starting out and all I had was a credit card with $500 limit. Back then, I thought this was a lot of capital to invest into SEO. I was able to achieve a lot with $500, but I also invested a lot of sweat equity. So if you don’t have the capital, you have to make up for it with sweat equity, as Mark Cuban would say. With that said, there are two ways to invest in SEO outside of PBNs:

Content

Content-driven SEO strategies will stand the test of time. Not only are content-driven strategies the safest, but they are actually the most scalable link acquisition model. If you had $28k to spend, you should invest 80% of it into creating link worthy content assets. In short, that means creating valuable content that’s better than industry standards.

Real Backlinks

It’s rare for an SEO campaign to succeed without backlinks. But since you aren’t using PBNs, you must focus on acquiring real backlinks. “Real” backlinks come from websites that have traffic and that you don’t have editorial discretion on. There are three ways to get real backlinks:

  1. Through promoting your content via outreach
  2. Through publishing guest posts
  3. Through buying placement (risky)

Not that you know the ROI of using PBNs and also some alternative for investing capital, let me explain the last “con” of using PBNs.

3. Risk

Let’s face it. No matter how well you develop your network, you’re always going to be at risk of two things: A) your sites get deindexed and B) your site lands a manual penalty for “Unnatural Inbound Links”.

In seconds, both your cash and time investment can be worth nothing.

Then you realize, you could have invested all that time and money into something more evergreen.

Okay, okay.

I’ve been hatin’ hard on PBNs in this article, but they aren’t all that bad.


3 Reasons Why You SHOULD Use a PBN

Now that I’ve scared the living daylights out of you, let me explain the pros of using a private blog network.

1. Control

Having control in SEO is powerful. With a network, you can dictate the anchor text, the links, and test like crazy to see what works. No other link building strategy allows you such freedom.

Let’s say worst case scenario, you DO get a manual penalty. Since you have control, you can simply remove the links and the penalty will be revoked.

Getting a manual action removed is nearly impossible if you built GSA links or bought links on sites you didn’t own.

2. Instant Authority

Private blog networks are powerful because you’re leveraging the authority of an aged, trusted website. And as you have probably experienced, it’s challenging to get these types of links through outreach or naturally.

3. No Outreach/Relationship Building

If you rely on private blog networks, you won’t have to spend any time reaching out or building relationships. While this isn’t a good thing, it can definitely save you time.

So, since there are both pros and cons of using a PBN, is there any solution?

The Ultimate PBN Strategy

I see too many SEO’s relying way too heavily on private blog networks and they’re making a big mistake. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you should never put all your eggs in one basket.

This is true for ANY type of link building.

Year-after-year Google has destroyed SEO’s who haven’t diversified and relied on a single link building method.

So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine…

I think of link building the same way I would my retirement account.

First, I evaluate the risk of a link building strategy. Then, I decide how much capital and time to allocate to that strategy.

For example, I may invest in “riskier” stocks because the potential return is higher. But overall, the riskier stocks would only compose a small percentage of my overall portfolio.

This is exactly how you should approach link building and private blog networks!

Link Diversity

If 100% of your inbound links are coming from PBNs, then you’re playing with fire.

PBN’s should supplement your other link building efforts. They shouldn’t supersede other important authority building activities such as building and cultivating relationships within your industry, content promotion (via outreach) and creating content assets.

If you keep your PBN links between 5-20% of your overall link profile, then you should be pretty safe.

PBNs are always risky, but it’s reduced when they’re only a small percentage of your link profile. The other 80-90% of your links should come from internal pages like editorial links, business listings, branded properties, or niche blog/forum comments.

You can also use this White Hat alternative to PBNs if you want to avoid them altogether.

So, now you have to ask yourself:

Are PBNs worth it to you?

That’s for you to decide.

If you follow the 90/10 rule of link diversification, you will be forced to spend time on acquiring real backlinks.

At the same time, you’ll get the benefits of PBN links with decreased risk.

Keep in mind:

Marketing is all about ROI. If you believe you can get a return on investment using only PBN links, then DO IT.

For most people, it’s best to take the safe route and use more evergreen tactics.

This is a controversial topic in the SEO space, so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Thanks for reading!

– Gotch