7 Best Practices for PBNs in 2019

By: Rob Rok

7 Best Practices for PBNs in 2019 Cover Image

Welcome to the first blog published here on Rank Club. I wanted the inaugural topic to be something you could put to use right away, and what better toolset than the techniques that allow you to get better utility from PBNs in 2019?

As you probably know, PBNs are our specialty.

We do an extensive amount of research at Rank Club to choose, nurture and build PBNs better than anyone else. At any given time, we have 5 or more tests running involving hundreds of PBNs.

We’re prepared now to reveal some of the results of this research and testing to the world—Some of our own data, and some that our clients have shared with us.

First, we’re going to look at finding the right balance in your link profile.


1) Find the Right Balance of PBNs and Outreach

A balance of PBNs and outreach links is now necessary in nearly all cases. There are a few small niches where a high proportion (75%+) of PBNs is still viable for a site, but those are niches where PBNs are mostly the only strategy being used at all.

The biggest problem with PBN links is that they are mostly placed on the homepage.

Homepage links are considered more authoritative by search engines, yes, but they’re also typically rarer. That’s why a profile over-saturated with homepage links will be too suspicious to be sustainable.

weighing PBN and Outreach

You need links from inner pages in order to round out your profile, and the best way to get a plentiful, diverse set is to pursue them through outreach.

By outreach, I mean you’ll have to do the legwork of finding other website operators in your niche and reaching out to them to exchange page links, guest posts or some other valuable placement.

To understand the weak spot of PBNs alone, it’s important to understand the two different characteristics that a link provides. The power of a link is divided between the short-term boosting strength (what PBNs excel at in volume) and the long-term benefits of links with sources that will continue to mature in trust and authority.

There is a lot of power behind a good combination of the two, and that’s what the first case study will demonstrate. Below is a graph of the improvements that one of our customers saw with an expanded link profile that included a blend of PBN and other types of outreach.

graph of the improvements from PBN and Outreach

Impressive results, and that’s with only one of these techniques applied. In addition to outreach, there’s also plenty you can do onsite to optimize. Start with improving your anchor texts.

2) Improve Your Anchor Text Selection

We have a client who has achieved amazing things (we’ll get to his results in just a second) just by applying very strict standards to anchors. It’s true that you can lose a lot of the power of good links by choosing the wrong anchor text.

His results came from using the anchor text optimization guide of Matt Diggity, a former colleague of mine. It’s worth going through the whole thing, but I’ll provide some cliff notes here so that you don’t need to pause to click a link.

The most important thing is to make the anchors coming from your backlinks look natural. That’s not possible if each one is crafted exactly the same way.

Think about it.

If you have 40 links pointing back to your site, and all of them are using the exact same anchor, no one reviewing that profile could confuse it with a natural one. 40 different webmasters didn’t all randomly decide to link to another website using the exact same language (or even URL, necessarily).

Anchor word illustration

If you only ever use Target + City ( for example, “Roofing Chicago”), you are probably not getting the most out of your anchors. You need a mix of different texts, including what are called pillow anchors.

Any link that isn’t a target anchor can be considered a pillow anchor.

It could be just your brand, related words to your product or even just completely unrelated language. To use some examples covered in the guide, a diverse set of incoming anchors should include some or all of the following types…

• Target Anchors
• Brand Anchors
• URL Anchors
• Topic Anchors
• Miscellaneous phrases such as “click here to learn more”

To do this right, you’ll need to research what type of distribution is the most typical in your niche, and then carefully build your link profile to better reflect the mixture of incoming anchors from top sites.

It takes effort, but as you can see, the effort can really be worth it.

sample graph from improving anchor texts

From our experience, links with target anchor text still highly outperform links with pillow anchor text. But you need to know when to use them.

Target anchors should be used on the best sites that are linking to you. You can only have a few in a good profile, so make them the ones that count the most.

Build out the other pillow anchor types by creating varied anchors when you build links on sites like business directories, guest posts, and PBNs.

When there’s a good distribution of different anchors, you can move on to other onsite standards.

3) Follow Onsite SEO Standards (Avoid Cannibalization)

I won’t spend too much time on this since it’s just the basics of SEO, but you might be surprised by what we see time and time again with the links we place.

Our PBNs are all tested before put into the network.  What that means is that we build links to test sites to show that these domains will indeed imbue a positive ranking increase on their targets.

Thus, a lot of the time when we don’t see a ranking increase on a live money site, it’s because there’s an optimization problem.  And most of the time, its related to onsite SEO.

silence of the lamb meme

It doesn’t take too much effort to optimize your title tags, un-stuff the keywords or replace a few duplicate text sections. What you need to be particularly vigilant about though, is keyword cannibalization.

Keyword cannibalization is when two (or more) pages on a single site both rank for the same keyword. If two pages come up for the same search query, it’s reasonable to expect that they are both doing worse than a single page would be alone.

This Ahrefs cannibalization guide will be very useful for this step if you want more detailed instructions on how to identify pages that are being cannibalized using their tool.

Another reason to go through the guide is that the results are more than worth it.

Here’s an example of what keyword cannibalization looked like with a customer website, before we assisted with it.

keyword cannibalization

Each color above is a different URL from the website, competing in the SERPS.  As you can see, whenever there were multiple URLs gunning for the same keyword, the rankings suffered.

No amount of links can overcome this.

From this point on, we move onto the more advanced stuff. Let’s start with how PBNs are going to be used for tiered link building into 2019…

4) Build Tier 2 PBN-to-Outreach links

2018 was marked by an increase in the practice of linking PBNs to outreach links such as guest posts.

Boosting your own top best (tier 1) links by linking to them with lower-quality links (tier 2) is a long-established tactic of tiered link building. Naturally, PBNs fit neatly into this strategy because they are a great source for links at all levels.

Choosing high-quality PBNs is vital to getting good links, but there is evidence to suggest even the low-quality PBNs have power.

weighing PBN and Outreach

Not every PBN is built to the quality that it should be used as a tier 1 link. Only reliable networks should ever be used for building tiered links.

As mentioned before, at Rank Club, we test all PBNs before adding them to the network and we often come up with toxic domains.

However, during an interesting case study, we also noticed that even toxic domains (domains that failed our PBN testing) were oddly effective for tiered link building strategies.

In the example below, you can see that we tried sending bad domains to a Tier 1 link that eventually went to a test site. Even toxic sites still moved the needle.

example of Tier 2 PBN movement graph

So outreach links seem to be a very effective filter. I guess you could think of it a little like money laundering. You won’t necessarily get trust and authority with a bunch of links from PBNs to your site, but if those links are pointed at your best link instead of your site, you get the juice without risking your reputation.

That said, this strategy isn’t a good match for our current service. We don’t recommend our premium links from The Link Service to be sent as a tier 2. They’re too good for that.

Very soon though, we’re going to be offering a Tier 2, one-time payment, link service coming soon. When it’s out, it will be a great way to make your tier 1 links even better.

To be notified when that releases:

[grwebform url=”https://app.getresponse.com/view_webform_v2.js?u=h2Ykq&webforms_id=18913002″ css=”on” center=”off” center_margin=”200″/]

After that, it’s important to consider the effect that your link velocity is having on your potential for growth.

5) Keep a Steady Link Velocity

Link velocity is a measure that’s almost as important as the quality of the links themselves. It’s a measurement of how many new links you get per unit of time, and whether that number represents a fast or a slow accumulation.

There has been a lot of debate about what exactly is the right velocity, and how many were enough to make a real difference. One of our recently-completed case studies seemed to suggest that it doesn’t take that high (or expensive) of a velocity at all to see serious results.

For one customer we tracked, a steady drip of 3-4 links per month was enough to result in some serious changes. The following graph shows how much improvement happened with just that velocity over a few months.

steady link velocity graph

Now that we have a good baseline for a link velocity, it’s also important to consider what happens when you hit #1.

6) Recycle PBNs when You’re #1

Your velocity should change and adapt when you’ve reached the #1 position. Link velocity shouldn’t stop at this point (and there are reasons to believe if you just stopped, it would mean being overtaken in the spot).

What people are doing, and what we’ve started tracking with case studies, is the deliberate process of killing one link per week to replace it with another. A more advanced procedure involves going back and forth, adding 2 to remove 1 or adding 1 to remove two others.

recycling PBN

Recycling PBNs has several important advantages that are borne out by case study. First, it keeps the backlink activity looking fresh. Secondly, it does so without seriously changing the character of the link profile. That means you can take your time and keep your velocity up without risking changes that might result in penalties.

Many link builders are wary of just tossing existing links, but our case studies show that it’s anything but risky. It may be the only way to keep your profile fresh once you hit #1

consistent graph line sample for being number 1

In the final section, we’re going to look at how to carefully manage your PBN links during the tricky Sandbox period.

7) Dripping Slow when in the Sandbox.

When your site is at its youngest, that’s when it’s most tempting to go in and grab absolutely everything you can for it. After all, the only direction to go is up, right? Not necessarily. That may just get you stuck in the sandbox.

The sandbox is a popular name for the mysterious trouble that younger domains have trying to get off their feet. Years of testing has shown that even beating all the other top sites in a niche by every other marker (number of links, quality of links, etc.) isn’t enough for a new site to outrank them.

website traffic chart

In fact, the sandbox period could better be described as a probationary period. Your site is being watched for it’s commitment to the rules before it’s added to the general population, and if you’re too good at ranking factors, you may be stuck there for a longer amount of time.

That’s why you need to go slowly with backlinks in the sandbox period. Focus on the whitest hat ranking factors like building out your content and user signals. You can still build out backlinks, you just need to drip them at the right pace to see a speedy end to your probation.

The sandbox period is a time in particular that you want to pay special attention. This Moz guide on link building during the sandbox stage should clear a few things up.

We Want to Hear from You

Now you know how to build the best and make the most of your PBNs in 2019. If have more questions about PBNs and their use, we would love to hear them in the comments or on social media.

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