The word on the “digital streets” in February was that blog networks were getting heavily deindexed by Google. There have been a lot of these private blog networks popping up on the market and a lot of people got stung on the 7-9th and 18-21st of February. Within the last year, webmasters and SEO’s have been debating whether or not external links could hurt your rankings. Now, we can confirm it’s a sure thing as a lot of them are now getting notices in their WMT. For the most part, these warnings and penalties came for blatant and excessive link exchanges. There have always been, and will be private blog networks out there for SEO use, but the amount of paid “private” ones have flooded the market.
It’s no surprise, either, as the ranking rewards from a blast on a few of these networks was, and still is, netting people great results. The problem? Your SERPs are getting bombarded by thin affiliate sites that most likely should have no business ranking where they do. We all know by now that Google’s algorithm was built on links and that there is no shortage of places to buy obscene amounts of them.
The fact is that just about every big player in their niche is going to be buying links in some way or another. The difference amongst those players being whether they get caught or not. I’ve seen my fair share of extremely elaborate private blog networks in my time and I’ve recently seen nothing but endless low quality blog network services popping up. I’m not going to pretend I’m above having links from a private blog network, but the quality I’ve seen coming forth is atrocious. While participating in a private blog network for links is clearly a link scheme and against Google’s TOS, a lot of companies still don’t mind the risk.
I personally couldn’t sleep well at night if my company’s rankings relied on a flimsy blog network or three. With that being said, what happens when, either that blog network your relying on gets the boot, or your site gets dropped? The blog network’s users are more likely the most detrimental factor, not the owners. After their spun content goes up, you can be sure that a dosing of spammy links will be splattered all over these blogs. It’s a recipe for disaster, and by the looks of February, this caused a lot of problems.
A lot of companies are not aware of what they’re getting themselves into as well when buying a link blast on a private blog network. What’s even worse is when a business hires an SEO company and they get back a bunch of links that are really just going to be trouble in the long run. On the other end of the spectrum, big companies are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a well sorted private blog network. These sites are well thought out and don’t consist of spun content and thousands of scrapebox and Xrumer links. All I’m saying is be smart and careful, especially if you stumbled onto this post while making a decision for your business. This commercial, for example, is well produced and makes sense, but to the unsuspecting business owner who doesn’t know much about Google’s TOS conditions or what will eventually happen to these networks, it could spell disaster.
Many Google Algorithm Changes In February
By now I’m sure you’ve read this blog post from Google talking about 40 changes to their algorithm in February. The bit in that article about links has raised a lot of eyebrows within the community. We can only speculate on what that change was and how much of a real impact it has on your rankings. What does this have to do with private blog network links? Well, for one, blog networks are easy to detect and Google can sniff out a pattern in no time. Secondly, I think Google is just going after people who are too greedy in their anchor text distribution. It’s really very easy for Google to detect, seeing as we give them all our data (not that they really need help determining what constitutes as a quality link). This should really make you rethink your link building strategy if you’re relying on blog networks as a big part of the game plan.
We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
You’ll still see tons of spammy websites ranking across the board, and that hasn’t changed much. I do, however, think that if you’re using these techniques, your chances for longevity are now in the toilet and those methods are not going to work for a real business. This is why it pays to do things right and reap the benefits once you establish your business as a leader in its vertical. This is why, as a brand, you should be doing amazing things that stand out. This will attract links, social buzz and all the right signals that get you to that level of authority. If you’ve already decided you’re going to eventually dable in a blog network or two, then perhaps wait until you’ve reached that status….it does work better and since your brand is established, it seems you can get away with a lot more *hint hint*.
So Who Got Deindexed?
Well I don’t actually use private blog networks for our clients so I don’t have any hard data myself. I am, however, very active on most of the webmaster forums and definitely noticed the brewhaha in February. I’ve never seen so many unnatural link warning messages go out. I also saw more speculation threads about blog networks getting deindexed although, I didn’t happen to see anyone admitting it outright. We’ll go over actual threads I’ve been keeping my eye on and dig a little deeper into what’s going on in the world of black hattery!
Like I mentioned before, there are dozens of public “private” blog networks currently on the market. I’ve had my team try their hand at most of them with certain niche sites we own. We knew from the get go that just about every single one of them (BuildMyRank, ALN, LAN, DiamondLinks etc etc etc) would provide us low quality content on sites that had nothing to do with our vertical. Every single one of these networks was easy to spot and the content wrapped around yours was not my idea of a delicious sandwich. We don’t use services like these for our clients EVER, however, I see why there is such a raging market for them. It’s hard to build links and if you’re rocking a thin affiliate site, the chances of getting hundreds of natural links isn’t going to come easy. There’s too much money to be made out there and if people can exploit something easily, then it cannot be stopped. Just remember that if you’d like to have a thriving business that benefits from free organic Google traffic, take the slow and steady road.
While the public blog networks are easy to pick apart, so are a lot of amateur SEO’s private for-their-use-only networks. An example of how a Warrior Forum member Mark spoke out about how his private network was sniffed out by Google and completely deindexed.
Yesterday my network of 165 blogs was nearly completely de-indexed by Google. I’m not complaining about this as, hands up, I was posting spun content and selling links. The point of this post is rather to let others know how I think they uncovered my whole network.
I was posting spun (paragraphs spins to 60% uniqueness and 20 spun titles) articles to a random selection of 40-75 of the blogs in the network. That spun content was the only thing linking the blogs together.
None of them had Webmaster Tools, Adsense, etc. installed. None of them were linked to each other. Nearly all of them were hosted on different IP addresses. The only 2 sites not to get de-indexed were 2 that had been hacked a few days earlier and so the content on those couldn’t be found via a Google search.
Goes to show that, even though you may be hosting them on different IP’s, low quality networks are easily caught by Google and that you have to be smarter than your average bear these days if you want to play dirty. While we won’t usually see another private blog network owner come out and admit they got dropped, we can look at the mayhem PBN users saw in February. We’ll start by looking at BuildMyRank.com because they’re one of the biggest and most well known networks. They happened to close their doors on the 19th which, also happened to be a day of major ranking loss for thousands of websites across the IM world. I’m not, however, saying this was the reason they closed their doors; they clearly state they grew too fast and needed to grow some more. Regardless, they’re on Google’s radar for sure and will eventually get their users smacked down in the rankings.
Blog Network Woes
BuildMyRank(BMR) is perhaps the most well known and largest network that was open to the public. They offered thousand of low quality, high (artificially inflated) PR blogs for your link whoring and it came at a cheap enough price. While you cannot get an example of what a site looks like before you buy, they do offer this tidbit of information from their FAQ (sadly, it doesn’t mention that this service is against Google’s TOS):
To protect the integrity of our network, we do not release domain info to the public. However, once you begin using our network, you’ll find your links easily enough with tools such as Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, or Ahrefs.
So how much do you want to bet Google has an account on there? There were easily over 100 threads across the popular webmaster forums all speculating that a huge chunk of BMR sites took a dive and dropped off the map. A lot of users experienced a huge drop in rankings while some others did not. I’ve tried my best to put together the most discussed threads on the topic here:
- http://www.warriorforum.com/adsense-ppc-seo-discussion-forum/459920-sites-using-bmr-just-dropped.html (while thread OP calls his 30+ pages of unique content site an “authority” LOL)
There are tons of other public networks that I’ve mentioned here, but I’ll just mush together all the threads that had a good discussion and may interest you folks here. I’m also open to hearing what you have to say so don’t be shy and let us know what you think below. In the mean time, however, here is some reading that should keep your busy for the better half of your morning.
Lessons Learned and the Future
There will always be people gaming Google’s algorithm in the link department, so I don’t expect to see a drop in private blog networks. There will still be, and are currently, dozens of open-to-the-public networks to blast thousands of links on. While it does work well, Google is quickly learning how to spot these and, even quicker, how to devalue your link juice. If you’re a legit and serious business, stay as far away from blog networks as you can. If you must dabble, then prepare to eventually get stung in the long run and you’ll be right back to square one.
I know a lot of you are going to be thinking that anyone who got caught up in Google’s algorithm smacking in February must have been foolish and only relied on PBN’s for links. Either that or they got too greedy and didn’t diversify their links, whether it be the anchor text or a multitude of links to internal pages. In the end, it doesn’t really matter when you’re spamming for blog comments, forum/user profiles, wikis, article sites and the like.
Keep in mind that damn near every form of link building goes against Google’s TOS.