Private blog networks (PBNs) are the go-to link building tactic for grey hat SEOs.

But the question is:

Are they worth building from an ROI (Return on Investment) and a ROT (Return on Time) perspective?

I’ll answer these questions and more, but first, a quick story:

I used to love using PBNs.

But let’s be honest:

I didn’t just love using PBNs… I was obsessed with them.

I would nerd out all day about how I can grow my network, how to find the perfect expired domains, how to build my PBN, how to make my PBN links stronger and most importantly, how to reduce footprints.

And if I wasn’t doing that, I was defending the use of PBNs on forums.

I was all in…

…Until I got nailed by Google.

Not only did Gotch SEO get nailed for using PBNs, but so did several of my clients.

Before that happened, I thought I had complete “control” of my SEO because I was in control of my backlinks.

It’s crazy how wrong I was.

But sometimes you need a rough moment to change your ways.

What I realized about PBNs…

1. PBNs are expensive to build

One of the biggest cons is the cost of developing and maintaining a network. If you’re using auctions, it’s going to cost you anywhere between $40-$400 for a good domain. If you are using domain vendors, the cost will be similar.

As you can image, this can add up.

After you secured your new domain, you have to pay for private WHOIS, get hosting, and add content.

So, let’s say you secured a domain for $100.

  • Domain = $100
  • Private Whois = $5
  • Hosting = $12
  • Article = $5 (a good PBN will have more than one article)

= $112 for ONE site.

You think the cost is high?

Let me tell you about the time investment.

2. The whole process of building PBNs is a waste of time

This was true back in 2014, but it’s even more true now. I can’t believe some of the discussions I see in Facebook groups and forums. The lengths that some people are going to make PBNs effective is astounding…

With all of that effort, you could acquire REAL backlinks from REAL websites and never need to worry about getting penalized again.

Just think about the process:

First, you have to find domains that are worthy of purchasing. About 95% of the domains are unqualified. And that’s being generous.

For my agency in particular, we used expired domains if they met our Topical Trust Flow requirement. That made our research even more challenging, but it was often much more rewarding.

Let’s say you’re trying to build a network of 10 websites. It’s going to take you anywhere between 6-12 hours to find ten qualified domains. A “qualified” domain should have a Trust Flow of at least 15 and a Domain Authority of 15.

A lower metric domain is acceptable if it has relevant Topical Trust Flow Topics.

Now that you’ve secured 10 domains, you now have to set them up. It will take you 2-4 hours to find web hosts and get the sites ready for development.

You then have to develop the site by creating all the necessary pages, finding themes, writing/outsourcing content, installing plugins, and making the site’s look normal. If you want to be extra safe, you may also want to create social accounts for each site.

This process could take 1-2 hours per site.

This equates to about 36 hours invested for a network of 10 websites.

This also doesn’t take into account any type of hosting or hacking issues you may encounter. Cheap web hosts often go out of business without any warning and have horrible uptime.

Dealing with these issues can be a serious time killer.

Now, of course, you can outsource the majority of these steps. But when you outsource, you increase your expenses. Higher expenses will extend how long it takes you to get an ROI.

This brings me to my next point:

Does using PBNs have a good ROI (Return on Investment) and ROT (Return on Time)?

The ROI of Using PBNs

Since both you and I understand the value of money, let’s start there.

For this example, I’m going to use the keyword phrase: “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”.

Here are some quick numbers about this keyword:

  • It gets around 1,000 searches per month
  • The average linking root domains for competitors on the first page is 135

What this data shows is that you will need approximately 135 expired domains to rank for this keyword. This isn’t an exact science. It may take more and it may take less. You also have to keep in mind the quality of the domains. If they competitors on the first page are getting the majority of their links from high authority sites, then low metric expired domains won’t be effective.

With that said, knowing the average linking root domains will allow you to predict the ROI of targeting a keyword.

Here are some other numbers you need to know to predict ROI:

  • Average SERP CTR ~ 3% – 30% (higher CTR for higher rankings)
  • Average Prospect to Lead (PTL) Conversion ~ 5%
  • Average Inbound Lead to New Customer (ILC) Conversion ~ 21%
  • Approximate cost for developing one network site = ~ $112
  • Approximate time spent developing one network site = ~ 1 hour

Different Ways to Invest $28k Into SEO

You can do a lot in SEO with $28,000 +. I remember when I was starting out and all I had was a credit card with $500 limit. Back then, I thought this was a lot of capital to invest into SEO. I was able to achieve a lot with $500, but I also invested a lot of sweat equity. So if you don’t have the capital, you have to make up for it with sweat equity, as Mark Cuban would say. With that said, there are two ways to invest in SEO outside of PBNs:

Content

Content-driven SEO strategies will stand the test of time. Not only are content-driven strategies the safest, but they are actually the most scalable link acquisition model. If you had $28k to spend, you should invest 80% of it into creating link worthy content assets. In short, that means creating valuable SEO content that’s better than industry standards.

Real Backlinks

It’s rare for an SEO campaign to succeed without backlinks. But since you aren’t using PBNs, you must focus on acquiring real backlinks. “Real” backlinks come from websites that have traffic and that you don’t have editorial discretion on. There are three ways to get real backlinks:

  1. Through promoting your content via outreach
  2. Through publishing guest posts
  3. Through buying placement (risky)

Here are some link building techniques you can use: