Julia Logan | ZANGOOSE.DIGITAL
As somebody known for talking a lot about bespoke private networks, I sometimes get asked why it makes sense putting the effort into building your own private network as opposed to just buying standalone links/buying links in somebody else's PBN/doing outreach/digital PR/insert your own link acquisition option here. Before I answer this question, let me clarify my approach to private networks and explain my refusal to use the term PBN for what we do.
When we hear “PBN”, we probably imagine a bunch of domains poorly related to the sites they are linking to, perhaps with generated/spun content, most likely with links to multiple clients of that PBN. This was a popular way to acquire links prior to Penguin and Panda being introduced by Google – and it still often is, due to relatively low costs involved and the benefit of getting links in bulk from one source. PBNs may still be effective for a short time boost to a site’s rankings. But their nature is exactly what makes them a risky longer term strategy.
Building a higher quality, less obvious private network, with as few footprints as possible and serving the needs of one client only is therefore a safer long term approach. Hence, I insist on a different term for this approach. But this requires a lot more effort, consideration, skill, experience and a much higher budget. This may not look viable for some sites. But if you are allocating a link acquisition budget for your site anyway, here are some reasons why it may make sense.
- Better control over your links - you are free to choose when, where and how your links are placed and how long they stay put – in fact, they stay placed for as long as you keep renewing the domains used in the network and the sites are up. You do not need to keep chasing up the owners of other sites / PBN / journalists to get your links finally placed, and you do not need to chase them up again if those links are placed incorrectly/removed after some time for whatever reason. You are also free to change them how you want and when you want it.
- Predictability - if you are building your own bespoke private network, you can have certain plans and expectations as to the number of domains you would be getting each month. Try predicting if your outreach/digital PR campaign won't be a total flop and you will manage to secure even half of the links you planned on getting out of it.
- No need to create unrelated/non-converting content to gain links - with a bespoke private network, you just find suitable topically related domains and link them to the content on your site which really needs to rank. I am aware that for some verticals, creating a how-to guide for doing stuff with your product may very well increase the sales of your product WHILE gaining you links - but try coming up with something topically relevant while still converting for industries like igaming, while also making sure it hasn’t been done to death by others already!
- Competitive advantage - when building your own bespoke private network, you link to your site and not to at least a dozen of competitors. As long as you control the domains in your network, your competitors have 0 chance to get the links from them - unless you decide to give them those links for some reason. When buying individual links/links on somebody else's PBNs/doing outreach, the process often goes in the opposite direction: let's look at our competitors' backlinks and get links from the same places. This may work to some extent/for some time, but generally, with a link profile exactly the same as your competitors', why would a search engine want to rank your site as opposed to any one of them?
- Lower risks - yes I said lower risks and private networks in the same sentence, and I am not making things up or exaggerating. I will repeat what I said earlier about our approach to building networks: a properly built bespoke private network DOES NOT look like a private network i.e. a blatant attempt at manipulating Google with little other excuse for existing. In fact, if you know what you're doing and are being careful about it, it's impossible to figure out for an external observer that you are using a network. Whereas, if you are buying links you can get penalised at any moment. If you are buying links from somebody's PBN they are only good for as long as that PBN is not burnt - which depends on the skills (or lack thereof) and greed of the owner and recklessness of other buyers. If you are doing outreach, how can you vouch the sites placing your links won't do anything stupid and get penalised? If you are doing digital PR, how can you know if the publications don't get slapped on the wrist for some unrelated Google crime? And we’re not even considering link disavows and the “black box” nature of Google’s disavow tool yet: if one or more of the sites linked to from the same sites as yours decide to disavow their links, how will this affect other sites linked from the same sources? This is a question nobody has managed to provide a reassuring answer to so far.
- No struggle over desirability of links – let’s face it, some verticals are a lot less linkable than others. Site owners may be reluctant to link to sites covering certain topics, no matter if your content is relevant or how much you are willing to pay for those links. With a network of your own, this problem ceases to exist.
I realise of course that bespoke private networks may not be a good fit for every single site out there - but more often than not, it's doable and it's viable and often a better option than many of the others. This is especially true of highly competitive, difficult to rank verticals. Just make sure you know what you are doing or consult a specialist, and you are likely to see a better ROI on your linkbuilding budget.