This first article is going to touch on a sensitive topic; it will cover the topic of blog networks, private content networks or whatever you feel like calling them.
What Is A Blog Network?
Don’t worry – I’m not going to explain all of the specifics of how a network works. I will, however, explain, briefly, what it is. In its simplest form, it’s a network of websites that you use to send link juice to your ‘money’ sites.
These days, most people use self-hosted blogs, which run WordPress, but technically, a blog network could consist of web 2.0 blogs, as well. When I say blog network, I’m talking about the bare minimum that is needed to efficiently transfer link juice to your money sites.
In my case, that is an authoritative blog that has a few articles on it with links to money sites. You can get really fancy and create networks that would be very difficult to discern from legitimate websites, but the majority of people won’t do that.
Let’s Get Into It
Since I actively build and use private networks, it’s very important for me to know if they’re worth my time and money. You can read all of the articles from popular SEO websites, and they’ll say private networks are dead, or Google did this or that.
The thing is – I don’t like to listen to anyone. How many articles actually show you hard evidence about a topic? I like to get my hands dirty and check the SERPs for myself.
The primary monetization that I use for my money sites is the Amazon Associates Program. I’ve never had any issues with them, they always pay on time and provide decent compensation for my efforts. To see if blog networks are dead, we need to go deep. Let’s take a look at a well-known niche that was invaded by Spencer from Niche pursuits.
‘Best Survival Knife’
Looking at this picture, I counted at least four ‘niche’ sites in the top 20 results of Google. There is something propping up the rankings of those sites, so let’s take a deeper look and find out what is going on. I won’t say exactly what site we’re going to analyze, but I will choose one of the four sites.
After plugging the site into the free version of Opensiteexplorer.org, from Moz, we can see, at a glance, the site’s domain authority and linking root domains. It didn’t take me long to spot, what I believe to be, numerous private blog network sites. Here are some examples of the sites linking in:
You can already see three sites that appear to be blog network sites, and here’s a couple more:
What do most blog network sites look like? Here are a few:
That is your basic blog network site. Nothing wrong with them because they obviously work — plain and simple. I wanted to see if I could find a link back to the money site from one of the private network sites, and I did. Here it is:
Here is another example of a live backlink to the money site from another of the private network sites:
Opensiteexplorer.org isn’t the best tool in terms of analyzing backlinks, but it makes it very easy to see, at a glance, if a private link network is being used to increase a website’s rankings. We don’t have to do any more research to see that this site’s rankings are clearly the result of a private link network.
Let’s look at the other obvious ‘niche’ sites in the top 20 for the keyword ‘best survival knife’. Here are some more private blog network sites that are ranking some of the niche sites.
A few of the blog network sites shown above have been deindexed, as OpensiteExplorer.org shows historic links, which means it’s still reporting links that were deindexed many months ago. The bigger picture here is that several niche sites are currently ranking for the term ‘best survival knife’, and their primary method for ranking is private network sites.
So far, it doesn’t look like blog networks are dead, but I can’t draw any conclusions after looking at only a single niche or keyword. Let’s look at another popular niche that is targeted by Amazon Affiliate marketers.
Behold, ‘best adjustable dumbbells’
Here are the top 10 results for the keyword:
Right from the start, I can spot at least two sites that I know are ‘niche’ sites. After clicking on both sites, they’re both obvious Amazon Affiliate sites. Let’s quickly comb over their link profile to see if private networks are being used.
I could go on all day posting pictures of private blog network sites, but I think you get the point.
I’ve performed this research across hundreds of ‘niche markets’, and the conclusion is almost always the same. In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to find sites ranking in the top 10 that don’t have blog network links. Also, keep in mind that link research tools like Majesticseo, Opensiteexplorer and Ahrefs don’t always tell the truth.
They can only report to you what they’re able to see. There are many ways to ‘hide’ blog network sites from these tools. In fact, it’s become quite a common practice among blog network owners. There are even plugins made to automate the process of hiding your network sites from these tools.
So, if you find a set that, according to one of the link research tools, is ranking because it has a few blog comments and a cool name — you’re being deceived. There is a network hidden behind the veil.
I could go on all day showing you examples like the ones in this post, but I want to encourage you to do your own research. Yes, it takes time, but it’s crucial. All you need is an account at Opensiteexplorer.org, and you can examine sites in any niche and see for yourself just how much Google is dominated by Private blog networks. By doing your own SERP research, you will always know what is working in Google and who to believe.
What About The Massive Blog Network De-indexing?
As you might already know, during September, 2014, Google eliminated what amounted to thousands of private network sites. There were few marketers unaffected by the update. Personally, I believe some of the well-known bloggers were hit harder than they had you believe but that’s besides the point.
It’s quite obvious that Google manually attacked all of the affected sites. Maybe they have an algorithm to help them, but it’s unlikely, and an algorithm would only be able to spot the most obvious private network sites. So, how are we doing as of March, 2015? I would estimate that 90 percent of the sites I checked are ranking primarily with links from a private network.
What do I find even more interesting? About 8 out of the last 10 percent of sites ranking in the top 10 are ranking with pure comment spam. It’s possible that all of the sites I checked have spam comment links and have hidden the links from a private network, but it’s unlikely. Want to take it a step further and gain even more insight into the use of private blog networks and how they’re doing in today’s SERP environment?
Pay someone to sift through hundreds of niche markets and check websites ranking with PBNs. Have them compile a list of thousands of PBN websites. You can throw the list into Scrapebox and check to see what sites are indexed every day or week, so you can gain a top-level view of what is going on. With this list, you’ll have more data at your fingertips than even the most well-known bloggers on the topic.