Link Building
Jun 4, 2024

PBN Backlinks in SEO: Understanding Their Role, Risks, and Reality

PBN Backlinks in SEO: Understanding Their Role, Risks, and Reality

PBN backlinks are not a white-hat link-building method.

But they’re not something you should demonize, either.

This guide explains:

  • What Private Blog Network links are and what Google thinks of them
  • The step-by-step process of removing PBN links (and when to do it)
  • 7 better link-building tactics

And you’ll also find plenty of pro tips and examples – including one from one of our former clients who decided to pick cheaper link-building services.

Let’s dive in.


  • PBN Backlinks Definition: PBN (Private Blog Network) backlinks are inbound links created artificially through a network of websites to boost the SEO of a central site.
  • Risks of PBNs: Utilizing PBN backlinks is risky as it's a grey-hat SEO technique, which could lead to Google penalties like manual penalties, ignored links, poor reputation, and wasted resources.
  • Generation of PBN Backlinks: They can be generated by either buying expired high-authority domains or buying links from an existing network, with each method having its own pros and cons.
  • Google's View: PBN links are seen as manipulative by Google and could lead to penalties if discovered.
  • Identifying & Removing PBN Links: PBN links can be identified through assessing website quality or using SEO tools like SEMrush. Removal can be done by contacting the website owner, creating a disavow file, or using SEO tools.
  • Ethical Link-Building Alternatives: The article recommends white-hat link-building strategies like creating valuable content, link-building outreach, relationship-based link-building, utilizing HARO (Help A Reporter Out), broken link-building, digital PR, and creating linkable assets.
  • Choosing a Link-Building Method: The article concludes by warning against incorrect disavowal of links or choosing wrong link-building methods, and suggests consulting with a trustworthy link-building agency for better SEO results.

What Are PBN Backlinks?

PBN backlinks are inbound links from a private blog network (PBN).

And a private blog network is an artificially created network of websites with the sole purpose of building links for a central website.

Basically, your SEO team uses an entire group of websites just to get more links to your original domain.

These connected sites may be:

  • Newly built, or:
  • Old, authoritative domains

Pro tip: If you have different legit websites and create outbound links between them, that’s not automatically a PBN.

However, this interlinking should be:

  • Logical
  • Relevant for your target audience
  • Natural within the text

And your websites should not be designed just for creating manipulative links.

Warning: Using PBN backlinks is a grey-hat link-building technique that attracts Google penalties.

But more on that in a second.

Why Use Private Blog Networks?

SEO teams use PBNs to build backlinks fast and with full control.

The alternative of earning links through valuable assets, relevant content, and personalized link-building outreach is tedious and unpredictable.

And there’s one more thing:

PBN backlinks give you access to keyword-rich anchor texts.

But most editorial links might feature poor anchors, such as a naked URL or your article’s title. Instead, PBN backlinks mean you can create descriptive and relevant anchors that tell Google exactly what your page is about.

And that helps Google index it better.

In terms of SEO, PBN backlinks have the following advantages that interact with and evolve from one another:

  • You can rank higher in Google SERPs and obtain higher domain authority.
  • Your website gets more organic traffic.
  • You get more buying customers.
  • Therefore, your website ranks even higher.

How Are PBN Backlinks Generated?

You can generate PBN backlinks in two ways (though we're not advising you to do it):

  • Create PBN backlinks: Buy expired domains with high authority to build a network of websites with the single purpose of linking back to your central website. Keep the PBN hidden to avoid Google’s wrath.
  • PROS: More control
  • CONS: More work; might take longer
  • Buy PBN links: In this case, you will buy the PBN backlinks from an existing network.
  • PROS: A wide range of backlinks fast to increase search engine ranking
  • CONS: The PBN network might not be trustworthy. You might expose yourself to a link-building scam or obtain low-quality links.

The Good, the Bad, and the Controversial

To tackle this section, it’s important to understand how Google thinks.

Google wants to promote authoritative websites that produce and promote valuable content.

And Google views backlinks as endorsements: the more high-quality backlinks you have, the more relevant and useful you are.

But not all ways of obtaining backlinks are created equal:

  • White-hat link-building techniques: Entail valuable, natural mentions from authoritative websites in your niche. These websites link to your content or tools because they are genuinely helpful to their readers.
  • Gray-hat link-building techniques: SEO-ers might try to trick the algorithm by getting mentions. For example, they buy backlinks instead of offering high-value content. Or they buy used domains with high authority to avoid building their website’s domain ranking from scratch – also known as SEO squatting.
  • Black-hat link-building techniques: These involve overtly going against Google’s algorithm through sneaky redirects, cloaking, or hidden texts.

Here’s a good, more in-depth explanation:

In this context, PBN backlinks are considered grey-hat techniques.

Are PBN Backlinks Good or Bad for SEO? [According to Google]

Here’s a quote from Google’s guidelines of creating backlinks:

“Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

And PBN links are specifically created to manipulate links.

So, if Google discovers your transgressions, you may face penalties.

Obvious side note: Those penalties are not good for SEO.

Here are other potential risks you may face:

Potential Risks for Websites Using PBNs

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Manual penalty: PBN backlinks break Google’s Webmaster guidelines. If you use excessive gray and black-hat tactics like this, Google gives you a manual penalty, decreasing your organic search ranking or hiding your website from search results. You can see this penalty in your Google Search Console in the “Manual Actions” section.
  • Pro tip: You can submit a disavow file to remove the manual penalty, though your rankings may remain low.
  • Ignored links: Google may deem PBN backlinks as unnatural links, so it may ignore them. In this case, your rankings won’t plummet, but they won’t increase either.
  • Poor reputation: PBN links typically use low-quality content. And publishing that content means your visitors bounce back to Google more frequently. Potential outreach partners might not view you as a trustworthy source of information. Basically, you can’t build your long-term reputation in the niche with PBN links.
  • Wasted time and efforts: These unnatural link-building efforts might get ignored, downgrade your website, and destroy your reputation. That’s the definition of wasted time and money.

PBN Myths

Even if PBN links are dangerous, there are still some myths surrounding them.

Let’s debate them below:

  1. You can’t rank with PBNs.

That’s false. Using Private Blog Networks can genuinely increase your website ranking.

But this is a short-term boost.

Plus, Google may discover your unnatural links and apply penalties. Those penalties will decrease your rankings considerably.

  1. Your PBN is easy to spot.

Unfortunately, that is another mistaken assumption – though, hopefully, not for long.

The truth is Google can identify PBNs if you make rookie mistakes such as:

  • Using the same IP address and web hosts for all websites in your private blog network
  • Buying your blogs from an auction website
  • Blocking link analysis on your PBN

Additionally, Google is constantly improving its algorithms to detect low-quality links – PBN included.

  1. Paid links are PBN

Not all paid links are PBN. For example, sponsored blog posts are not PBN, though you pay for those mentions.

And you can legally buy backlinks from legit link-building agencies.

High-quality agencies like Blue Things, for example, can create high-quality links in very authoritative websites in your niche.

Here are three examples we’ve built for our clients:


Handling PBN Links

Now that you know the risks of PBN links let’s see how you can handle them in two easy steps:

  • Find your PBN links
  • Remove them.

How to Tell If Your Website Has PBN Links

Even if you haven’t bought PBN backlinks directly, you might still have them from:

You can tell if your website has PBN links by:

  • Assessing the website’s quality: Private Blog Networks typically post bad content that looks spammy and irrelevant. They also have numerous outbound links, few inbound links, suspicious anchors, low organic traffic, and multiple redirects. A lack of “about us” or contact details is also a red flag.
  • Using an SEO link-building tool: For example, SEMrush has a Backlink Analytics tool that specifically shows suspicious activity and gives you a spam score. Add your website URL and click on the Network Graph section; if you see many red dots, those are possible PBN links.

Side note: Here’s what we discovered for one of our former clients who decided to use more affordable services.


How to Remove Toxic or Unwanted PBN Links

If unwanted links don’t harm your website, it’s best to leave them alone.

But if you have toxic links pointing to your domain, you can:

  • Contact the website owner directly: Politely ask them to remove the link.
  • Create a disavow file: This is a .txt file with the domains with suspicious links pointing to your website. You can determine these domains using an SEO tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush or by checking your penalties in the Google Search Console. Upload this file in the Google Disavow Tool, and Google will remove these links in a few weeks.
  • Use an SEO tool: SEMrush, for example, can help you send a report to Google with the links you want to remove. You just have to look at your link profile in SEMrush and click “no” on each toxic link. SEMrush then adds these links to a list you can upload to Google Disavow.

Warning: It’s best not to disavow links for which you didn’t receive a manual penalty. Disavowing links can decrease your rankings significantly.

7 Ethical Link-Building Strategies

Ethical or white-hat link-building strategies help you build a solid backlink profile. This collection of authority links ensures better long-term results than any link scheme possibly ever could.

Here’s what you can consider:

1. Valuable Content

Produce content that offers value and knowledge and has the potential to be shared widely. Quality content serves as a magnet for backlinks.

These should be tailored to your audience’s needs, as well as content creators’ interests.

Think insightful blog articles or in-depth whitepapers.

Pro tip: The more shareable the content, the higher the chances of it getting backlinks.

2. Link-Building Outreach

Actively reach out to related websites within your field. This means connecting with sites that align with your niche and proposing potential collaboration, such as guest blogging.

But it can be just a one-off link placement.

3. Relationship-Based Link-Building

Establishing strong relationships with notable content creators in your field can lead to valuable backlinks.

Engage with them through social media, direct emails, or face-to-face events and explore link opportunities.

Side note: Working with reputable creators also enhances your brand’s credibility and visibility.

4. HARO (Help A Reporter Out)

HARO connects journalists with industry experts. After you sign up as a source, you can answer relevant media queries in your field.

Therefore, you can earn a high-quality editorial backlink when the article is published.

5. Broken Link-Building

This method involves finding broken links on other websites, notifying the site owner, and suggesting your content as a replacement.

The advantage is that you help the site owner fix a problem while they offer you a quick backlink opportunity.

6. Digital PR

PR link-building involves promoting your brand and content online through media publications, blogs, and influencers. It’s similar to traditional PR but focuses on online platforms.

Effective digital PR campaigns can result in high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources.

7. Linkable Assets

Linkable assets are mangnets you create specifically for content creators in your niche.

These include high-quality content such as industry studies or relevant statistics for your field.

But linkable assets also include tools, such as calculators or free software, that the creators’ audiences find extremely useful.

If you produce such assets, content creators in your niche will be compelled to link to them.

What Link-Building Method Will You Choose?

If you have read so far, you know PBN backlinks are best to avoid.

And you know which tools and steps to take to remove those links. You also know 7 white-hat link-building strategies you can start implementing today.

Here’s the problem:

Disavowing links incorrectly or picking the wrong link-building methods can ruin your link-building efforts.

A trustworthy link-building agency with years of experience and proven results can help. We already showed you some quality links we have many other success stories.

Let’s schedule a free strategy call, and we’ll analyze your situation to find the right link-building tactics for your SEO goals.

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