Give me a second while I put on fireproof clothing for the flames that may ensue.  I’ve been contemplating for a while as to whether I should write this piece or not.  On one hand, it can provide people not in the know some valuable insight as to why they shouldn’t be scared of PBN’s.  On the other, it could gather many negative comments from people who either don’t believe in them or have been burnt by them in the past.  I’ve decided to go ahead and write it anyway in the interest of learning.

So, for those who haven’t heard this term before.  What is a PBN you ask?  It stands for “Private Blog Network”.  It is essentially a series of websites, that are blogs created by digital marketing agencies or individuals.  Kind of like the naughty little brother to blogger outreach strategies.  The sole purpose of these PBN’s is to manipulate Google’s ranking algorithm to increase the exposure of their client’s websites i.e. Increase their ranks.  The reason they are “looked down upon” is that they can get you penalised by Google, and can thereby reduce your entire site to a useless pile of code floating around in cyberspace.

Why They Aren’t As Bad As You’ve Heard

There are plenty of articles out there that tell you to steer clear of anyone using PBN’s. There are also many small businesses that have been burnt by a Google penalty.  Yet here I am telling you that they’re not that scary.  Here’s why.  Our role as digital marketers is to push the boundaries.  If all we did was follow Google’s vague guidelines, none of our clients would be better than anyone else’s.  First off, how boring would that be?  Secondly, that’s just not how competition works.  The very essence of getting to the top in anything is to push the boundaries where possible.

Penguin 4.0 has made the use of PBN’s more forgiving.  Penguin, in a nutshell, is a Google update to its algorithm that tracks manipulative links.  This recent update has stated that the penalty will no longer be site wide, but per page.  This is great news to people with fresh sites or underperforming pages.  It essentially allows you to free-roll using a PBN.  If you do get penalised, only that specific page is going to catch the penalty, not your entire site, meaning a page that wasn’t performing, goes back to not performing again.  Hopefully, you picked up a few sales while your PBN was up though.

What makes it even better, is that this latest update now runs the Google algorithm in real time, which means, if you do get penalised, you can remove the links, and that page should be back to normal within a few months.  As you can see, this is almost a license to play a game of trial and error using PBN’s.

Why They Get A Bad Wrap

Companies have been flinging around the words “white-hat SEO” for years now.  It is their own marketing strategy to seduce small businesses who have been burnt by PBN’s (which are known as a black hat tactic) and those who aren’t accustomed to the various terminologies of SEO.  Here’s the thing, Google’s guidelines specifically state that manipulative strategies are considered black hat SEO, when pretty much anything you do to try to increase rank is manipulative, see how vague they are.  Funnily enough, you’ll find those very same companies deploy PBN’s of their own.  The customer just doesn’t know about it.  When you do shop for an SEO specialist, just make sure they tell you the truth.

This is the problematic part.  Small businesses, essentially have been lied to, and when things go sour, they blame the SEO company, which I believe in these instances they have every right to do.  I prefer the route of advising the client of what it is I am actually doing with their website and advising them of the risk vs reward.  We are grown-ups here, we all understand there are risks in almost every facet of the business world, and not advising a customer of those risks is just bad business.

Had the marketing companies had just been forthright from the beginning, the client is more inclined to see this as a setback to their business, not the end of the world.  In saying that, for many online stores out there, PBN’s are part of the reason they got sales in the first place.

There you have it, let us know what you think below, and remember digital marketing is a game of managing risks, it’s never as straightforward as you think.  Bye for now.