PBN’s not working anymore? Sorry Spencer, Im not convinced..(Controversial Post)

Filed in Blog by on September 26, 2014 18 Comments

If you closely follow the world of SEO and you don’t live under a rock, then you will have heard a few SEO guys and web masters talk about a very recent Google update that is detecting PBN networks and therefore giving sites that use PBN’s a good old slap!

Ok, I am exposing myself in what could become a very controversial post. But I don’t care, I am just here to give my own views on recent the current situations!




The gloves are off! I’m not buying it

Jason Chesters (DoSEOyourself)  V Spencer Haws (Niche pursuits)

I recently read Spencer’s detailed post on his recent experience with a number of his niche sites. Unfortunately for Spencer his sites got hit with a penalty, and Spencer has put this down to Google discovering that the sites that were hit were actually using PBN links.

Before I start I would just like to say that I totally feel for Spencer and anybody else who have seen their profitable niche sites wiped off the search engines and their profits plum it. I have had it happen to me, and it’s not nice! I empathise with you.


Round 1 – Jump on the band wagon 

What actually grabbed my attention  when I read this post was not the opinions that were published about PBN’s. Spencer knows what he is talking about and he has clearly state that he will no longer use PBN links for his sites.

His exact words being….


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.44.16


What really got me was the shear number of comments left by his readers that that had read the article and then also vowed not to use PBN links again, just on the sole basis of this 1 post.

Come on!!

This is exactly what Google wants. Propaganda,  snowball affect, sheep following Shepard or however else you see it.


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.58.36


Remember a few months back when everybody was saying that ‘Guest posting’ was dead?

A lot of people stopped using guest posting to build links.


Guest posting still works, in fact. How can Google actually determine what is a guest post and what isn’t a guest post!!!

It’s still a contextual link within and article, there is no way a robot can identify if its a genuine link to a site or if the link is manipulated by a guest post.

Matt cuts releases a statement saying guest posting is dead, so everybody believes him and they start talking about it on social media. In not time the SEO world is in turmoil!!

Exactly what Google wanted.

They have no accurate way to stop it, so they just get everybody to believe it doesn’t work anymore!!

Anyway, there is a whole different time and place for that topic.

What I am trying to get across here is that you shouldn’t jump on the band wagon. Try it out yourself and make your own judgement.


Round 2 – Thin content cover up!!!

Spencer claims that it was his PBN’s that caused his sites to be hit (and other Internet marketers). But he published this screenshot of his webmaster tools that indicates his sites suffered a ‘thin content’ penalty.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.11.54


No mention of dodgy link building, spam links or PBN’s. Now I know that Spencer clearly stated this, and he believes that it’s a PBN problem because it’s only happened to his sites that use PBN’s. And that is a fair judgement to make.


Why would google not just state this??

I mean, if you opened your webmaster tools and you had a manual action that said “Private Blog Network links detected” or unnatural back links detected from suspicious sites, then you would think ‘Holy Shit’….

PBN’s are really dead. The news would spread like wild fire and the sheep would follow, just like what happened a few months back with the whole ‘guest posting’ dilemma.

Here is an interesting comment left by one of the readers:


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.58.07

A fair comment and certainly open to debate!

So this has me wondering, was it actually a penalty for thin content or was it a cover up for the detection of PBN’s?


I have had the exact same manual action myself!!  :-0

A couple of years back I received the exact same manual action in my webmaster tools account for one of my niche sites. the site was all about cold sores and at the top of the page I had an affiliate banner to a click bank product.

Although the site had great content, I still got this penalty. It turned out that the problem lied with my affiliate banners. Google didn’t like it.

They saw my site as a way of getting people to click the affiliate links and not offering valuable information.

To remove the manual action I simply rearranged my affiliate banners and toned it down a little (especially above the fold 😉

Now all of Spencers sites are obviously affiliate sites. So maybe it would have been a good idea to try one or two things first, before jumping to the conclusion that it had something to do with PBN links!!

It would be very interesting to see what would happen if you removed the affiliate links for a while

Don’t bite my head off…. I’m Just saying!!!


Check out this thread on BHW. This guy also received this same manual action, except he didn’t even build any back links!!

This points more towards Google not liking aggressive affiliate sites, rather than a back linking issue.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 13.14.00




Round 3 – How can Google detect PBN links!

Next thing that I noticed was Spencer’s thoughts on why or how Google found out about his PBN links. Here is what he quoted:


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.34.47

Spencer makes it clear that he does not know, he puts it down to ‘No one knows except Google’

True in a sense, but you can do better than that!!

It was then suggested that an update to their algorithm has detected link patterns used in PBN’s!!

What exactly are these link patterns that are used in PBN’s??

If done properly, links will be drip fed (different times) using various anchor text and look totally natural.

How can it be possible to detect a link that has been added by a PBN or a link that has been added naturally by some college kid who has started a new blog??


What happens when somebody else links to your site from one of there blog network sites because they have have read about SEO and decided its best to add 1 or 2 authority links to their PBN site just to make it look authentic





What if that site happens to be yours??

Are you going to get a ‘thin content manual action’  (sorry, I shouldn’t be referring bak to round 2)

Here is an interesting comment left by one of the readers:

One good suggestion that was mentioned was the possibility of Google detected back links coming from domains that were once expired. This sounds fairly logical.

Here is an interesting comment left:

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.55.15



the bell is about to ring for round 3, no real reason why or how Google would detect this (apart from Spencer sharing some of his niche sites on his actual blog!!)


Round 4 – Only sites with PBN links got hit!!

From 9 of spenders sites, 5 of them got hit, and those were the 5 sites that happen to use PBN’s. So it’s pretty clear why he would come to the conclusion that private networks no longer worked!

Here is what was quoted:


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.52.47




Spencer made it clear that the 5 sites that got hit had cost him about 5k per month in lost revenue. My question is..

Were the other 4 sites affiliate sites? My point being, was Google targeting affiliate sites rather than PBN links?


If these 5 sites that  were using PBN’s on were good money makers, why were PBN links not used on the other sites!!

Or looking at it the other way. If the other sites were ranking without PBN’s, why did the other 5 sites require them? Content not as good maybe?

To be fair, Spencer does state that he builds a portion of his sites without PBN links as he did predict this would happen sooner or later.

I maybe clutching at straws a little in this round as it would be one heck of a coincidence as Only the sites with PBN links got hit!!


Round 5 – Public link networks will get hit

As I stated in the last round just before I got a left hook in the side of my head. Spencer did predict this a while ago, and here is what he stated months ago:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 00.08.22


Here is the killer blow, Spencer states that he ‘extensively’ uses Rank Hero on his own sites. Now every man and his dog knows about Rank Hero.

Im sure it wouldn’t be long before Google did!!

We have heard Google shutting down link farms and public networks, but maybe this is there way of attacking from a different angle.

Instead of just shutting down Rank Hero, they go about punishing the sites that use Rank Hero in a sneaky way, like pretending its a thin content action! or maybe not, that’s just a wild opinion I’ve thrown out there!

But back to a more serious note. Using Link networks that are well know to the public are always going to carry huge risks!

In the comments section, Spencer does go onto say that ALL networks are targeted, public and private. But having personally built PBN’s for clients I have not had any signs of them getting penalised!

I apologise if I missed it, but I saw no mention of Spencer using only real private networks on some of his sites, I mean carefully built out networks used only for his personal use!!


Round 6 – I’ll keep on building PBN’s

Im going to go a little defensive now!

Spencer is a great guy and he runs a great blog, I have certainly learnt a lot of valuable information from him. This post was by no means a dig at him or anybody else.  Just a bit of light hearted banter!

I hope I have got my point across that we need more real evidence before we can completely banish PBN’s.

Maybe that post was written just for the sake of creating content and generating interest in his blog, maybe this post you are reading now was written for the sake of adding fresh content.

Now that’s got you thinking!!


So are PBN’s dead?

Absolutely NOT. I have used and am still using Private blog networks with great success. If done properly, It is very difficult for Google to detect. Im not saying they will live on forever, but at the minute, we have no reason to stop doing what we are doing!

Are Google trying to crack down on it? highly likely.

Just as I was about to close up this post I came across an interesting post by Glen at Viper chill. Glen explains how he will keep growing his $150,000 network!  http://www.viperchill.com/private-link-network

Here is a quote he made in his post:


Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 08.55.06



And the winner is……




I will let you decide!!

The whole topic of PBN’s still working is something that is open to many opinions. Spencer, Hayden and others may well be onto something here, but for now we will keep monitoring and I for one certainly won’t be putting a stop to building PBN’s!!

Please feel free to leave your comments below and express your opinions!


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Comments (18)

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  1. Brad says:

    Amen bro, exactly. Of course everything was manual, right?

    Hmm, if I was Google and I wanted to scare the SEO community away from PBNs, what would I do? I’d go to all the famous SEO blogs that talk about PBNs all the time, check their backlinks, and manually look for pbns until I’ve gathered a big collection.

    Then I’d deindex them all at the same time and cause all the famous SEO bloggers to panic, so they write about how scared they are and their readers join them in the panic.

    Bam. PBNs officially gone from mainstream SEO. Pat each other on the back and get back to working on the next Penguin update.


    Jason Chesters

    Jason Chesters Reply:

    Nice view on things Brad!!!


  2. Marc says:

    Hi Jason,
    I don’t use PBNs but I find the situation to be pretty interesting. There is a very big difference in using a service like Rank Hero and creating your own truly private network, and I think that is really the issue here. People are talking about PBNs but not really talking about the same thing.

    I do read Spencer’s blog but don’t follow it extremely closely. If I’m not mistaken Perrin has written in the past at Niche Pursuits about using Rank Hero for his niche site that got hit with this penalty. I always wondered why anyone would publish that and make it public, especially for a site that was making a nice income, but I guess that is because it was a case study. So no surprise that one got hit.


    Jason Chesters

    Jason Chesters Reply:

    Hey Mark, totally agree, I think a truly Private network is far less likely to get a manual penalty. Openly stating that you use Rank hero is going to lead to problems somewhere down the line!


  3. Don Modekali says:

    Hey Jason.

    Fair analysis.

    I believe the deindexing of Rank Hero network was a manual action rather than an algo update. It was G’s PR of getting SEOers scared. How do you win a battle? Kill the general and the knights will retreat.

    Don M


  4. Markus says:

    Honestly, when I read that post from Spencer, I first thought it was meant as irony, then I thought he was bribed by Google or somebody has threaten him. Very strange.


  5. Hin says:

    I think this line you said pretty much sums it up! “This is exactly what Google wants. Propaganda, snowball affect, sheep following Shepard”

    I know a ton of people that have been hit, but I think it’s still too early to claim they’re dead and give up on it. With that said, I think Spence is smart to invest in other areas so you’re not putting all your eggs into one basket (PBNs), though I wouldn’t completely abandon them just yet. Good read!


  6. James says:

    Funny how IM bloggers follow suit after a little attention.


  7. Aaron says:

    Great article. I was reading and reading it and then “bam” you circled the problem. His PBN’s were not private..more like public lol. I do not see how Google will ever be able to detect a true Private network that you buy the domains and set them up for yourself with different hosts and whoisguard so that no trace of the same person is making them. I just don’t see it being possible UNLESS all those domains have crap content, using the default theme, look similar, and just look thrown together for a quick link. Other than that, impossible.


  8. Anurag says:

    I agree with you..especially the point about snowball effect. Its the same all over again..what happened after BMR and ALN got de-indexed. The point about the penalty on WMT is well explained by Charles over at godofseo blog. The site mentioned in Spencer’s blog post is not at all a thin site..it has 100+ pages indexed. So G sending out thin site notice does not make sense. Any who PBNs work and probably always will may be not as we see it..but looking more like money sites.


  9. David Longacre says:

    I was waiting for your take on this. I agree completely. This is why I followed your tutorials to a tee about building Private Blog Networks. Anybody who thinks they dont work still are just playing follow the noob seo blogs. This is why I have never purchased a single link from a Public Blog Network like Rank Hero. It’s funny that they sat there and said there blog network were so much different? How is it different? Build My Rank got shot down. Now they did too. These scared SEO blog posts are exactly what Google wants. Hit the big blog networks they know all the noob seo’s will fold and give up. The real SEO guys who wanted to not take the easy route and know that quality SEO takes times and effort. I really discredit the niche pursuits blog now and think that was very foolish to out yourself and your blog. Pretty sure he should of just outed Rank Hero and that should of been the end of saying dont purchase links from us anymore. Anyways thats my take on it. Great post though. The SEO controversy show will go on!


  10. Ted says:

    very interesting post, I have learned a lot from spencer’s blog but this time I don’t agree with him. Many people claim that they will “build an authority site that attract natural link” which I think it is bullshit. in most cases they will fail for obvious reason: lack of knowledge so they can only rewrite or re-edit to post some rehash content which arent real high quality content, and it hard to insist when they aren’t really interested in the topic of theirs “authority site”. The only reason we build niche sites is making money, we should only focus on ROI, not other bullshit, we are not build website for just interest. I personally will still build PBN until the day that ROI isn’t good to me.


  11. Jack says:

    I think its obvious Spencer has underlying motives for that post he made. No experienced person in SEO takes that much of a complete 180 overnight unless he is hiding something.

    This is just like the crap with PR becoming worthless. Its all just horseshit.


  12. I hear you guys. I too have been a follower of Spencer blog for some time, and I was not truly convinced on his statement of PBNs no longer working, it seems to me as a sort of scare tactics and can’t shake the feeling of a underlying motive. And I do agree with a way to truly scare the masses is by making an example of one of the two biggest IM sites outhere – Spencer’s and Hayden’s. If this was truly (algo, which I don’t believe) then why are there are just as much people in the net saying that their PBNs are still working? I think its because a couple of things: 1. They didn’t participate in any Public Blog Networks (Rankhero) etc. 2. They truly are doing a great job of hiding their PBNs. 3. Not selling any of their links and only using it for themselves. 4. They use it ONLY for themselves and don’t mentioned it anywhere on the net.


  13. Scott says:

    I agree with you Cesar.

    There’s no way Google can detect a PBN which has been implemented correctly using any algorithm.

    There’s also a lot of evidence out there to suggest that the algo update has targeted affiliate sites, where it’s clearly just a site to link people out to Amazon etc.

    The people who are saying “Yeah well, I have a private PBN, and my site has received a thin content penalty” – and are putting it down to the PBN. They’re the same people who have the sites purely linking out using affiliate links.

    The thin content penalty has nothing to do with backlinks. The penalty for shady backlinks is “Unnatural links to your site”, which would surely be the message you get from Google if they’d detected a PBN.

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Does anyone really know what Google are doing? Or are we all just joining in on the propaganda?

    – Scott


  14. Number 4 from Cesar’s comment above has me a little worried – especially because I just spilled the beans on my use of a PBN that did not get taken down in my latest post. Since I talked about it on my main blog, there is the very rare chance that a manual reviewer could look at my post, then see a few of my other sites in the same WMT account and clearly see that they are Amazon affiliate sites and take them down too. But luckily I never used Rank Hero and all of my links are built legit and look natural.


  15. It’s simply unbelievable how so many “gurus” and “influence marketers” in the SEO community fall for Google’s psyops and propaganda over and over again. We’ve seen this during the first launch of Penguin, we’ve seen this with manual actions against big public blog networks and now this. They even claimed to have taken SAPE down. I mean.. seriously?! Do people have any clue what SAPE actually is and why there is no possible way to stop the evolution of the link buying industry unless you TOTALLY remove links as one of the most powerful factors in a ranking algorithm?

    Now, if you take some time to analyze what’s really going on, you notice this is nothing more then a false flag SLAP designed by Google’s web spam team to scare the shit out of newbies, please note, while our good old friend Matt is on vacation.. And they did that because PBNs are freaking efficient these days and also because if you do it right and make sure P stands for PRIVATE, not public, then chances of getting in trouble are really small.

    But you have to do it right.

    And using your real WHOIS information across a network of several hundred PBN sites is NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT. And there is no excuse for that. I mean, with all do respect, but the guy was teaching beginners how to rank using PBNs and he did a PBN mistake which dates 2006. That’s unacceptable.


  16. Kevin says:

    The only thing that doesn’t make sense to me about pbns, is that the sites in the network that are linking to your money site will get no traffic at all. even if they have great content, unique themes, and the whole pbn is set up perfect so it leaves no footprint, isn’t it easy for Google to devalue links from websites that get no traffic?

    If someone could explain this to me it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks


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