Website Income

Risk vs Reward of Using Private Blog Networks – How to Not Let Fear Take Over

Private Blog Networks are dead! If you link to your site from a PBN Google will find you and punish you. The SEO sky is falling.

In today’s post I am going to share my thoughts on the risk vs reward decision we all need to make using PBN’s.

Plus I share how I like to think through my online business decisions using data and not let fear guide my actions.

Here are a few headlines in Google…


Death of PBN's Announced

Death of PBN’s Announced!

Very scary stuff!

“PBN massacre” “dead” “penalize” “bad for SEO” “Completely De-Indexed”

Based on these headlines it would probably make sense to run, hide and never use PBN’s ever again!

But…why is that image blacked out?

Could it be possible that every one of those articles was written over 2 years ago calling the death of PBN’s?

The Death of PBN's Was 2 Years Ago? Glad I Didn't Listen Then!

2012 Was The Death of PBN’s ???

It is very clear that long after this “Private Blog Network Massacre” they have continued to work.


The Google Attack on PBN’s Recently Was Very Real and Very Painful

To everyone that has been impacted by the latest PBN attack(myself included) it sucks! I feel your pain.

Building up a site and seeing it wiped out is incredibly painful. Investing money into a PBN and seeing all the sites de-indexed is incredibly frustrating.

This update was not unexpected, not the first and won’t be the last time Google goes after PBN’s.

The decision we all have to make is…is the benefit of using a PBN worth the risk?

For some the answer may be yes, for many the answer will be no.


Risk-Reward of Using PBN Analysis

How do you make a decision on if the use of a PBN is worth the risk? Here is how I have thought through the very valid question…

Whenever evaluating a decision that involves risk (as all business decisions due) one way to think through it is to try and determine the risk and reward along with the probability of both the positive and negative outcome.

For this decision…using a PBN or not using a PBN I will use the data I have from my 5 site PBN customers.

4 pieces of data are required…

  1. Size of the Risk
    • How big an impact will it be if a site is hit – For the purposes of this comparison I have assumed 80% traffic drop. I believe this is a fair assumption since it is 80% off the inflated numbers the PBN helped drive. (80% traffic penalty will be assumed)
  2. Probability of Risk Being Realized
    • A lot of factors go into this but based on the recent update 8 clients money sites were impacted beyond the typical small movement out of the 81 sites I have tracking set up for. For my money sites I had 0 f my $100+ earning sites but 1 promising site wiped out. Basically 1 out of 20 sites was lost with the rest moving in both directions balancing out. (10% probability of a penalty being applied will be assumed)
  3. Benefit of Using a Private Blog Network
    • The benefit of using a private blog network is increased rankings/increased earnings. Based on some (ROUGH) measuring the sites that used a small, relevant very private PBN saw a 40% increase in rankings. A 40% increase in rankings will result in a larger increase in earnings (source). (45% increase in earnings will be assumed)
  4. Probability of Realizing Benefit
    • Nothing in life is guaranteed! However, based on the PBN clients I measured  (again ROUGH) 75% saw an increase (source). (75%  probability of seeing increase in traffic will be assumed)
Risk vs Reward of PBN's

Risk vs Reward of PBN’s

DISCLAIMER – The data above is NOT perfect. It is the best data I have from making over 800 5 site PBN packages for customers and is basis I will be using when making my decisions. My intention is to show you how I am thinking through when it is a good idea to use a PBN and when it is not! Your decisions will need to be your own.

The bottom line is that on average if I used a PBN for many sites I would expect to see well over a 22% increase in earnings across all sites after all the negative impacts were realized.


Has My Site Building Procedure Changed?

No, I still believe a niche relevant PBN offers great upside with limited downside to sites especially early on. I also still strongly believe that building a very useful site focused on solving a problem and building real links are musts for long—term successful sites.

  1. Problem and Niche Identification
  2. Keyword Research
  3. Buy Money Site Domain
  4. Create Quality Content
  5. Build Authority Website
  6. Buy Expired Domain and 301 Redirect
  7. Monetize Site With Targeted CPA Offers
  8. Build Niche Relevant Private Blog Network
  9. Promote With Blog Commenting
  10. Promote With Guest Posting
  11. Create Niche Dominating Round Up Post
  12. Add Some High Powered Links


About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

Andy says September 30, 2014

Hey Jon,

Will you continue with your Lighting Rank offering? How has that offering been impacted by the “massacre” so far?

I am one of your LR customers and have definitely seen my traffic improve (up until I got penalized), but am a bit weary to use such links on any new sites I might create. My existing money sites all got penalized, however I have to add in that I was using Rank Hero links also.

    Jackson says September 30, 2014

    I’m curious about LR as well. Wouldn’t it be the more prudent to just shut it down? You are putting your clients’ sites — those who haven’t been penalized, yet — at risk by not only keeping it open, but keeping it open *to the public*.

    As Rank Hero showed us, a public PBN is dead in the water. I’m surprised you still have a public sales page for LR.

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    Hi Andy, glad you have gotten results.

    Right now LR is closed to new clients…I am still providing the service to existing customers and have made a couple changes including reducing the saturation rate of customers and not linking to any questionable client sites.

    The future of LR is still being decided and a clean communication will go out to all existing customers so they can make a decision that is right for them.

Dominic Wells says September 30, 2014

I love this, even before the PBN crackdown it would’ve been good to see some risk maths applied! Even more so now.

Like you say, with every business decisions there are risks and it’s great that someone like you is willing to share your data to help the rest of us.

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    Hi Dominic, I am always happy to share data first and my opinion second. Glad the article helped.

Financial Samurai says September 30, 2014


I would definitely pivot your business model now if I were you.
When the risk goes from nothing happens to potentially getting wiped out, it really is going to be harder to sell the PBN service.
Please do keep us updated on client response and results though.


    Alistair Cochrane says September 30, 2014

    The risk hasn’t changed. It was always there.
    The perceived risk has changed more.

      Jon says September 30, 2014

      I think both have increased but perceived risk has definitely outstripped actual risk in my opinion.

      The risk of getting penalized has been around for a long time and is still around.

      Diversifying my business is only smart and I have some plans to continue leveraging my team & systems.

Stephen says September 30, 2014

I’ve used Jon 5 PBN service and my sites are still on page one!!!!

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    Glad to hear it!

John Shea says September 30, 2014

I think there is definitely still value in PBN’s if you can continue to rank clients. Reading Spencer’s latest blog post makes me wonder where you would be if all of your PBN sites were hit?

Do you have any backup ideas for earning income if PBN’s become useless?

I know from following you for a while now and obviously working together it seems that the PBN model is a heavy factor in your overall income from niche site earnings as well as your “Done for you” and Lightning Rank services.

I’d imagine at this point, the public “scare” is going to really hurt your client base (I know I’ve already talked to a few LR customers who are set back by everything) even though I wasn’t hit personally with any penalties I’ve been thinking about removing links to avoid any future issues myself because I’ve got enough money into one of my sites I’d be really pissed if Google just straight up de-indexed the whole site!

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    John, if all sites were hit it would suck…a lot…I hope I have done everything to isolate them from one another but I am sure there is someway if Google really wanted to track down what sites were all mine and take them out. Not sure what I would do but it would involve building back up.

Ron says September 30, 2014

I really like the way you do your reporting. Numbers don’t lie. PBN’s are a tool, but not the only one. If you are going to invest in an expired domain, treat it well. Make it a good site worthy of an audience.

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    Well said.

Steve Turner says September 30, 2014

Everything is a risk, I’m using Jon’s PBN service my sites are doing very good.

    Jon says September 30, 2014

    Thanks Steve…happy to hear the sites are doing well.

Marc says September 30, 2014

You can’t game Google is the lesson. Eventually they’ll catch up to you.

    Michelle Kowalski says September 30, 2014

    obviously that is not true. that’s the whole point. that the risk is not 100% but maybe only 10%. besides, one person’s definition of gaming is another’s definition of a level playing field. I don’t agree with or find morally upstanding a lot of the ways that big corporations ‘earn’ their money yet their vast marketing budgets allow them to take (in my view) unfair advantage in Google rankings. Maybe some of us are just interested in tipping the game back in favor of the small guy.

Craig says September 30, 2014

PBN’s need a “real” (meaning false) whois record. I think the Domains By Proxy model is out. Buy some 5r gmails set up via U.S. proxies. I go a step farther and look at the old contact info on TWM and model my fake address + area code ph# on that info, and change the cpanel contact to that gmail as well. So far so good

    jon says October 1, 2014

    Hi craig; a quick question: what are ” 5r gmails”?


Rizvan Ullah says September 30, 2014

Hi Jon,

I have used some of the strategies you and I talked about when I contacted you. I am running a “case study” myself to find out a solid strategy to reduce the impact now and going forward. I’ll provide an update once I’ve completed a few steps in between.

One thing I do know is try and make these PBN’s look as real as possible. I am sure we all have a personal blog which all have put enormous effort into. I believe this is the key to making sure that our PBN’s stay active. The way I look at it is that if you can keep a PBN website alive, it can produce results for years going forward.

Marty says September 30, 2014

I’ve built around 40 PBN sites in the past. I came to a decision late last year that the effort required didn’t equal that of just making something people would naturally link to. (Brian Dean’s skyscraper method) is a good place to start when it comes to creating something of value.

When I really weighed it up my costs and time spent (sourcing decent expired domains, setting up unique C Class hosting for each site, setting up the site itself, paying for content, posting the content etc. etc. were roughly about the same, with the PBN approach having more risk.

Tools like BuzzStream make manual outreach a tactic that is scaleable.

    Rizvan Ullah says September 30, 2014

    Hi Marty!

    Thanks for your comment! Just a quick question…how about if you changed around the niche you were focusing on? I mean could you have made the money websites more lucrative so that the profit’s are 2X-3X more of that the expense. I know a lot of people use PBN’s to promote wesbites with high converting offers or even 50% commission recurring on something already high priced.

jon says October 1, 2014

Hi Jon!

Thanks for this info; I too think that PBN`s still carry value. I have not yet set any up (financial constraints) but will in the future. I believe that 1) the sites MUST be “real”, ie quality, 2) must be totally hidden etc.

A good eye opener you showing the “PBN clampdown” from 2 years ago; obviously Gargle was running scaremongering again.

The Guy says October 1, 2014

I don’t and never have used a PBN. To be honest I was considering your service in the future for some website plans I have. However my main site was hit with a Google penalty less than 2 months ago. I had to appeal 3 times in the belief over those appeals that I was not contravening Google guidelines. It was only by making every single link from my site “no follow”, even authority site links which were meant to enhance my editorial content that I won my appeal. The time and stress over this appeal was very painful for me. As a result I’m now very reluctant to embark on a PBN (even though I’ve never used one) in the future. The Google penalty is a risk too high for me personally.

At the end of the day it is a personal decision and each person has their own level of risk they are willing to tolerate.

Fair play to you though Jon. I admire the business you have built and the success you’ve achieved. I always enjoy your updates and will continue to do so.

Josh Escusa says October 1, 2014

Great post Jon. A lot of people are afraid of the risks right now… and the ones that are the most afraid are the ones with the least experience 🙂

Nick Eberle says October 2, 2014

I think it was Frank Kern who spoke this great truth: There are two things you need to make money on the internet. Don’t **** off and don’t be a p**sy. You have proven through this deindex that you are a personality worth listening among a bunch of people who have become complacent and revealed themselves as the ladder.

Sunny Arora says October 3, 2014

Nice post Jon. As I said earlier on your post that the best part is to “analyse and move on” instead of admitting that “I won’t use a PBN again”. I have been building my network since March’14 and Now I have 35 sites and increasing. Best strategy I used till now (by luck) was to add quality unique content, separate hosting (thats 35 hosting companies) and most important my money site has 35 network links along with 265 so called old school links like local directories, web 2.0, press releases and almost 35+ Guest posting links and all on Brand and mics anchor tag…..

Now if google attach my network with this type of backlink strategy then it provides an opportunity to throw 35 PBN links on my competitor site as then they will be in the firing line too. Though I will never do that…

Would love to hear your though on this…

Jason Chesters says October 14, 2014

Hey Jon, Read a lot about the recent PBN update and how different marketers have reacted. I actually published a hit back post here:

PBN’s still work great when done properly!!!

Ethan Aiken says October 15, 2014

Thanks Jon the data about risk it is very helpful for making informed decisions about PBN’s.

I also agree that we have to remember that each PBN site is different and depending on how or what you link to with it will drasticaly affect its performance (and risk of being deindexed or hit). I will be using these again in the future, I will just be extra careful to link well and naturally.

If you come across a website that has every article with multiple links to junk websites even I or you could easily identify that as a promotional website only. I would just say to stay away from sites that let you post articles to their PBN’s without having your site vetted. Don’t get lazy with linking, even if it get repetitive.

Joseph ho says October 20, 2014

Google had done it to spread the propaganda of telling people not to use private blog network. While this is good for us who is doing SEO because less competition on buying domain!

Rich says November 22, 2014

Refreshing post and something I have been thinking about a lot recently.

It’s annoying when SEOs and companies think only in black and white.

I still use PBNs on sites that wouldn’t destroy me if they were penalized but I think for clients sites I am still on the fence. Telling a client about the risks and rewards involved could be a good approach.

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