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Since long some people have tried to beat Google in its own game and gain an unfair advantage in SEO. These people in their attempt to outsmart Google invented techniques that flouted the basic rules of SEO, created with the purpose of providing a level playing field to all. Just as doping is still prevalent in sports, black hat SEO techniques are still a matter of concern for search engines. The methods thrive on cutting corners and adapt the best malpractices in search engine optimization.  Marketers who are serious about implementing SEO and believe in ethical business practices have to stay away from fraudulent techniques and unethical marketing techniques.

However, it is important to be aware what the black hat tactics are and how they work, so that you can identify them quickly and refrain from using them, even unconsciously. Google heavily penalizes websites that follow black hat techniques, and it can put an end to your SEO dreams. Therefore, to implement SEO by following the rule book, you must know all about the gray and black areas too so that you can avoid the consequences of doing bad SEO.

The advantages of PBNs

The most prominent black technique in search engine optimization is getting external links with the help of Private Blog networks or PBNs. Creating an inventory of backlinks is very important to earn good ranks in search results, and since the early days of search engines, Google has emphasized the need to acquire backlinks organically.  It needs some very hard work to obtain links organically and the process also takes time and there is never assurance about the returns. Perseverance and patience are required to succeed in creating a link building campaign in the way Google wants it. However, some people want to jump the gun for quick results, and this is when the problems start. To jump-start the process for quick gains, they turn to PBNs for acquiring plenty of external links in a short time.

What are the PBNs?

You might have heard the term PBN but do not know what it stand for. It is a closed network of websites created with the exclusive purpose of supplying links to one main or more other sites engaged in money-making activities. The group of donor websites constitutes a link farm because it keeps harvesting external links and supplies another website that depend on it. This method of search engine optimization defies the principles of Google’s fair business practice and thus is considered a black hat technique that can attract penalties and ruin the quick money-making desires of website owners.

Websites that adopt black hat techniques deploy PBNs. These websites go through a process that involves acquiring recently expired domains rich in third party links and then refurbishing the site with fresh content with the hope that it will benefit from link enrichment and be able to manipulate search rankings.

The risks of using PBNs

Google not only denounces all kinds of black hat techniques but also severely punishes websites that use PBNs. Being banished from SEO is the worst thing that can happen to sites that attract Google penalty for using PBNs. Losing ranks is the most common penalty that Google imposes.

The use of link farms was so popular earlier because at that time the number of links was more critical over link quality to earn high ranks in search results. Things have now changed because the number of links does not matter very much but most important is the link quality.

Google is tightening the belt every day and introducing new technologies to combat unfair black hat techniques and shady SEO tactics. It is now hard for those who want to pull off a smart one for gaining the unfair advantage in SEO by using PBNs.

Ways of identifying PBNs

To know if some websites are part of PBN, you have to look at the technical data of these websites that are often entirely similar. For example, PBN networks may have a single IP address, shared servers, and use the same content across sites besides having the same WHOIS information.

As Google has introduced new technology to fight PBNs, the PBNs too have become smarter and span across different industries, layouts, and topics that make it very difficult to spot.

To avoid the PBN trap by determining whether a site is part of the farm, you should consider the following.

  • Use a tool to identify the IP address of websites and if you see that it is the same for multiple sites, keep away from it.
  • If the site designs are the same for the websites including color scheme and navigation, beware of it.
  • Similar themes with identical source codes are signs of fake sites.
  • Check the site ownership from the WHOIS database and if anything remains hidden, stay away from such websites. The same owner for multiple websites is a sign of manipulation.
  • Check for duplicate content by copying a paragraph into Google search bar to see if the same content appears on other sites.
  • Determine the interlinking between the sites by checking the backlink profile with the help of tools like Majestic and Ahrefs.
  • Chances of using duplicate videos and images on websites belonging to PBNs are high because creating these is costly and difficult. If the videos and pictures exist on other sites that you can check by using Google image or video search, then it is sure sign of suspicious websites.

If many websites have identical backlink profile or link several times to one site that appears wholly irrelevant or unnecessary, you can be sure that these are part of PBNs.  Do not depend on any single finding to draw a conclusion because some companies might own several websites but link it on all website footers to show that these are related and not part of PBNs.  However, if they are repeatedly linking to similar internal pages and there are too many links to the footers, there is every reason to doubt its authenticity.

Ignorance is no excuse for making mistakes

The biggest concern about falling in the PBN trap is that it can even happen due to the ignorance of website owners or marketers especially when you are outsourcing your link building activity from some third party. You should educate yoursefl about black hat SEO tactics in order avoid the lure of quick link building to identify any suspicious proposals such as participating in link exchange programs.

Have active surveillance on the link building activity whether you do it in-house or outsource it. The better you are aware of link schemes and its working modalities, easier it will be to avoid the trap, no matter in whatever manner it comes before you. At the same time, you have to stay on board with the best practices of Google and do your best to follow them.

Maintaining transparency in link building can only ensure that you are on the right path and follow Google guidelines. Remember that the returns from the best practices are long lasting even though it takes time to see them. Hurrying will only increase your worries as the SEO campaign might reach a dead end.