The vast majority of organizations doing SEO should always avoid Black Hat tactics. Not only are Black Hat tactics unethical, they are very complicated and won’t work without flawless, expert execution. For that reason, these tactics require the same investment of time and/or money that White Hat SEO techniques demand — but the risks of Black Hat SEO, delisting or Google penalties are severe and potentially devastating.
Nevertheless, you should be aware of two Black Hat tactics very much in use and, if done properly, very effective. You should be aware of them not to engage in them, but to avoid them. For every private blog network (PBN) and private influencer network (PIN) that gets results, there are 1,000 more than are flawed in design and execution, and would expose your business to needless risk. Trying to build your own PBN or PIN is an accident waiting to happen unless you are a technical expert in SEO White Hat and Black Hat techniques — and even then there is risk.
Private Blog Networks
A private blog network is a group of blogs controlled by a single entity, the purpose of which is to channel links to a specific “money site.” A major advantage of a PBN over standard, White Hat link building techniques is control — control over anchor text, page target, and number and frequency of links to a given page.
PBN setup and maintenance requires a lot of sophisticated work with regard to domain acquisition, hosting, content development and intranetwork link distribution.
The reason PBNs work is that if done properly, they fly under Google’s algorithmic radar and thus elude detection. They have been in use for many years. But detected or not, PBNs are a clear violation of Google’s policies, which prohibit the use of organized systems to “artificially” create links.
Private Influencer Networks
A private influencer network is also a tactic that has been around for years. The idea of a PIN is to formally and secretly create a team of people working for different blogs/websites, where members feed links to each other following a detailed set of rules. Blogger “A” will link to Blog “B” in a roundup post, then blogger “B” will invite blogger “C” to do a guest post, etc., etc., etc.
Informally, people link to other sites they like and respect all the time — in other words (or in Google’s words), naturally. The Black Hat nature of PINs lies in their high degree of organization. But, as with PBNs, PINs are hard for Google to identify if they are executed properly.
This is a big “if,” however. An effective, hard-to-detect PIN requires a technically sophisticated team of participants, careful distribution of links, harmony and equivalent work effort among team members, and ongoing, offline communication. If Google discovers a PIN, retribution will be swift, based on Google’s track record.
When PINs and PBNs work, standard White Hat SEO techniques also come into play, such as creating highly useful and relevant content, varying anchor text and linking between and among relevant sites.
Most organizations will achieve results by using White Hat techniques to create networks of influencers and supportive websites more naturally. By this I mean concentrating on forging real relationships with influential bloggers and website owners/staffers through social media, offline networks and other means.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North,