Links are an important part of any successful SEO strategy. A recent study of 1.1 million search results showed that the number of backlinks is still the most strongly correlated factor for SEO success.
Anyone involved in building links in the iGaming niche will know that getting these precious backlinks is easier said than done.
This is especially the case in markets like Finland or Switzerland where media sites are discouraged from linking to non-licenced gambling sites.
In these cases, many iGaming websites resort to using a Private Blog Network (PBN), where they own the sites which link to their money site.
The basic PBN structure looks something like this:
The theory Is that trust is ‘pulled’ from the lower tiers towards the money site, and if you point enough of these tiered links to your money site, it will rank better in Google search.
Of course, the PBN strategy flirts dangerously close to violating Google’s link scheme guidelines. In some cases, it breaches these rules entirely. As Google gets better and better at detecting these schemes, webmasters must play a continual cat-and-mouse game with the search engine.
As we approach the mid-point of 2019, we are going to take a new look at the PBN strategy and see how we can improve on the basic structure.
Specifically, we will discuss: –
- What methods can we use to strengthen every step of the process of building a PBN?
- How can we reduce the risk of detection from Google?
- How can we create a safer structure so that if/when Google does discover something dodgy with our network, the damage is limited?
- Which agencies/software can help when creating/optimizing iGaming PBNs?
At the end, we will transform that tired old PBN flow chart into a concept map fit for 2019!
But first, let’s have a recap on the benefits and risks of using a PBN.
The benefits of using a PBN strategy
- In highly profitable markets like Finland or Switzerland, it’s very difficult to pick up links from local third-party sites, as they are terrified of being fined by their local regulator. Or in the best-case scenario, the site will mark your link as sponsored, which is no good for follow links. In these cases, a PBN can get you the niche-relevant links you need to rank in these territories.
- With a PBN site, you control everything about the link, from the position on the page to the anchor to the overall content to the URL. You even control the internal links.
- The PBN domain belongs to you, meaning this is a link which your rivals can’t get.
- If you ever need to remove the link, you can do so immediately, without having to pester the other webmaster.
The downsides of using a PBN strategy
- Finding expired domains (which most people look for in a PBN site) requires a lot of skill and a fair amount of time. This isn’t the kind of task you can delegate to a junior SEO or a Virtual Assistant.
- To avoid leaving footprints which Google can easily detect, you need to make sure all your sites are registered, hosted and designed in a diverse fashion. For 2 or 3 sites, it’s not a problem to keep a track of all the logins, renewals, themes and plugins. Once you approach a PBN of 100 sites (or more), this turns into a mammoth admin task.
- You need to register each domain in the PBN anonymously so that Google doesn’t see who really owns it. But some ccTLDs (e.g. co.uk) don’t allow you to use privacy protection. And with some ccTLDs, you can’t even fill in some false contact information to the registrar, as you need a verifiable address in that country to buy the domain.
So those are the pluses and minuses of running a PBN. Let’s look at some ways to improve the process of building an iGaming PBN in 2019.
Building PBN’s in 2019 – how to improve each step of the process
1: Finding the expired domains
In most cases, a PBN site will be built on an expired domain name which already has links pointing to it, and some existing link juice.
You can find expired domains using various tools including:
You can filter these domains by several criteria such as age, niche, various SEO Metrics such as Domain Authority (DA) and more.
I prefer TLDs where I have the option of turning on privacy protection. That means .com, .net and so on.
In terms of niches, I like niches where I can easily create a link up to my gambling site – we will look at some of these later.
Although the most obvious useful expired niche is gambling, most of those expired domains will, in fact, be former PBN sites – which I would like to look at further before deciding whether to purchase them.
Once I have the list of potential domains, I run a health check on each one. Here are some things I do: –
Check www.Archive.org – I want to see how the website looked in the past, and how often it was reused – if it was a restaurant site and then, later on, it was a pet site, then that’s going to look odd to Google.
- Check www.Archive.org – I want to see how the website looked in the past, and how often it was reused – if it was a restaurant site and then, later on, it was a pet site, then that’s going to look odd to Google.
- Check SEMrush – I want to see how much traffic it had, if there were any spikes or drops in traffic and if it suffered a penalty
- Check for current backlinks to the domain, and if they are still active.
- Check Ahrefs for the keywords the website was ranking for
This list isn’t exhaustive, but in general, I want to see if these look like they were normal, natural, healthy sites.
To avoid footprints, you will need to stagger the process of buying expired domains. If all your PBN sites get registered on the same date, it’s going to look too obvious. And since the best ones get snapped up fast, you will need to continually look for expiring domains – so I suggest searching for these on a weekly basis.
2: Registering and hosting the domains
Once you find a domain you like the look of, you should buy it before someone else snaps it up – but even this action needs to be done with care, to avoid leaving a footprint.
If you register all the domains with one registrar, that will look unnatural to Google. You should try to spread them out among popular domain providers in the country you want to rank in.
Internationally, the most popular domain registrar is GoDaddy, with around 30% of domain registrations. So, if you insist on only choosing one domain registrar, choose GoDaddy. Other popular domain registrars include Namecheap.com, Network Solutions and Tucows.
Once you have your domains, you will need a place to host them.
Again, you will want to vary your hosts. Also, you need to avoid cheap shared “SEO hosting”, as these data centres are designed specifically for PBN sites – so when Google finds one of the PBNs hosted there, they may penalize all the sites on that IP address.
At the same time, buying separate hosting accounts for each of your PBN sites is prohibitively expensive.
So how can you hide your hosting footprint from Google in a cost-effective way?
The best solution here is to use a service like GoPBN which gives you access to servers from top hosting companies all over the world, all from one cPanel. This works out a lot cheaper than buying individual packages, and saves a lot of admin work.
3: Planning Tier 1
Now that you have the domains and your hosting, it’s time to start designing the structure of your PBN.
How you choose to do this is up to you and depends on your particular needs. But here are some basic principles you should keep in mind.
The domains with the strongest metrics (trust, backlinks, cleanest history) should go in Tier 1.
Sites with weaker metrics (but still acceptable) should go to Tier 2 or below.
That much is probably obvious.
But I also like to put niches which are easily linkable to gambling in Tier 1, as this makes the backlinks look a lot more natural.
If you can get a decent gambling site in the expired domains auctions, that’s great – but usually these are clearly ex-PBN sites and are too risky for a Tier 1 site.
But there are plenty of niches which can link to your gambling money site in a natural way.
Video gaming, film, TV, music and sport are perfect for Tier 1 sites, as it’s easy to find a slot game based around a music band or TV show. You can write an article on the Tier 1 sites which will look perfectly natural (and then link from there to your money site).
Local entertainment niche sites should be your Tier 1 secret weapon
One niche I really like for Tier 1 gambling sites is local entertainment – restaurant review sites, directories of local businesses, things to do in a certain city etc. Having sites like these in your Tier 1 offers some key advantages when you are targeting countries where it’s hard to build links (e.g. Finland, Switzerland, Sweden).
First of all, these sites are clearly going to be highly relevant from a geographical point of view with the country you are trying to rank in, so a link from there is going to help in a big way. If you have a Finnish casino review landing page you want to rank (in Finland), then a website dedicated to entertainment options in Espoo is going to be an excellent place to get a link.
Secondly, it’s easy to create relevant content for these sites. Anybody can make a restaurant or bar review – they do it on social media all the time. You won’t have to invest a huge amount on expert-level writers to get this content.
Thirdly, it’s going to be easy to build genuine links to the site. In fact, most restaurants, bars, cinemas, and shops would love to link to your website in return for a listing there.
Lastly, you will be able to easily create a casino page on the site, without coming across as spammy. In the example of a local entertainment directory in Espoo, you would create a page to talk about the various land-based casino options in the Espoo area, such as outlets of Pelaamo and Feel Vegas.
That then gives you the perfect opportunity to link up to your money site, where readers can learn more about the online options.
If you create your local entertainment PBN site correctly, you can get real human traffic and then provide real value to them. That way, if the site gets sent for manual review – you are going to have a great chance of passing with flying colours.
To further make these sites seem local in Google’s eyes, we could use a local citation strategy – but we will look at that later.
4: Planning Tier 2 and below
You can be a bit more relaxed about the quality of sites in Tier 2 or below.
For example, the content does not need to be updated so regularly.
For Tier 2 or lower, I like expired businesses and hobby sites. Google doesn’t expect these to be updated so regularly. And they won’t be – these will be basically static sites with little need of maintenance.
We are going to be pointing some spammier links at these sites, and we don’t expect them to survive too long.
5: Building the sites
If all your PBN sites look the same, it’s going to be a red flag for Google’s detection teams.
Ideally you should try to maintain the diversity of web design styles.
Building high-quality PBN sites which look different from each other is going to be a challenge for any development team, especially when you attempt to build them on a large scale.
It might make more sense to outsource some or all of this task.
Unfortunately, most PBN providers in the iGaming space produce generic-looking designs, with spun content. If a PBN site designed by these providers ever gets sent for a review by a Google tester, they are almost certain to fail – and if they are Tier 1, this could be disastrous for your money site.
However, I can recommend Costa Rank for this task.
The team there specialise in producing sites for iGaming PBN’s, and include high-quality designs with a custom logo and niche-specific, human-written content.
These look like normal sites, which means you will have a much better chance of passing any Google tester review.
You will need to use different themes and use different plugins for each site.
If possible, try to create some of the PBN sites in flat HTML – you can download some cheap designs from Themeforest for this.
6: Creating content for the sites
When it comes to creating content for the sites, you have two choices:
- Either recreate the old content as it was or
- Write new content
Due to the inevitable copyright issues by angry former site owners, I recommend writing new content. And you definitely will need to replace the pictures, as this is sure to get takedown requests from your host.
However, it could be a good idea to recreate the old URL structure, to ensure that all the former inbound links still work.
Remember, we are keeping to the same niche. We want to create a new page on the site, which is about gambling in some way, and here you would place the link to the money site.
Assuming you have an overall safe anchor text strategy, try to use exact or partial match anchors from Tier 1 to your money site.
There are two reasons for doing this: –
- Running a PBN site is a pain in the ass, so at least get the most out of it
- If your anchor text distribution ever gets unbalanced (too many money keywords) then you can remove the PBN links easily.
Make sure to create a contact page and an about page for so that this looks like a real site.
Write high-quality text on every Tier 1 site, as spun content isn’t going to cut it here. Tier 2 and below doesn’t need to be quite such good text, but you still shouldn’t use spun content.
7: Combining other SEO tactics to boost the PBN
You should also look at integrating other SEO tactics into your PBN to give it some added boosts. Here are some you might consider looking into.
The concept of building stacks of multiple properties on high-DA sites and then linking them to your money site has been around for a few years.
Right now, the focus is on building Google stacks, and you can find plenty of people offering to do it for you on fiverr.
Essentially, the Google stack strategy involves creating content on various Google properties like Google docs, Google sheets and Google slides etc., interlinking them on a Google Site, and then linking that to your money site (or one of your PBN sites).
The theory is that this stack acts just like PBN, pulling link juice from each high DA property and eventually sending it to your money site.
Do these stacks work? Most SEO’s who use them say they do, and as you are using Google’s own properties, then it will probably never harm you.
The Google stack links are nofollow, but as our previous study shows, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They are cheap to build too, costing less than the price of an average outreach link, so I think it’s worth trying.
Every agency who sells you a Google Stack service will tell you their particular stack formulas are the most powerful. But since they are all built on the same public properties, I would focus more on making sure the content that goes into them is as good as possible. Google will forgive most SEO crimes as long as the content is useful.
Google stacks can be pointed at your money site and even some of your high-quality Tier 1 sites. You can then point some slightly less quality links at these stacks to boost them.
The stack strategy can also be applied to Amazon cloud services properties – and some SEO’s do use those stacks to rank in the eCommerce space. If eCommerce SEO is your thing, you should read about this affiliate site which used only Amazon stacks to dominate various coupon SERPs.
Another variant of the stacking strategy is the social fortress.
Here you create several social media profiles for your money site (and/or Tier 1 PBN). These will include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, About.me, Pinterest and YouTube (but of course there are plenty more).
Each of these profiles will link to your money site, and to each other.
You then choose one of the profiles to have a list of links to all the other profiles. This acts as a ‘wrapper’ which ties them all together. Google+ used to be a popular choice as a wrapper, but since that service has been canned, most people now focus on YouTube.
You then either link one of your spammier PBN sites (Tier 2 and below) to one of each of these profiles, OR just link all the Tier 2 PBN sites to your wrapper page.
The advantage of sending slightly spammier Tier 2 and below PBN links to your social profiles instead of your money site or Tier 1 sites, is that the high DA social media sites act as a kind of buffer.
As long as these spammy sites are deemed OK in the eyes of Google, they will pass link juice to your money site, via the social fortress. But if these spammy sites get hit with a penalty, your money site won’t get affected, as they are not linking directly to it.
That’s the theory anyway.
Another way to boost the geo-specific credentials of your Tier 1 local entertainment site is through local citations.
This involves creating a fake address in the location you want to rank in, and then adding that to your social profiles. For example, if you are trying to rank in the Swiss market, citations using a fake address in Zurich will increase the local relevance of that site.
Needless to say, this is deeply black hat stuff – but if you are into using PBNs, to rank this probably isn’t a problem.
You can set up citations from social media and business directory sites which – unlike Google – don’t verify the address in the real world. These include Facebook, Bing Places, Infobel, Foursquare and hundreds more.
Matt Diggity uses local citations directly on his affiliate money sites and the strategy helps him rank in countries like Chile, even though he has no physical base there. He shows you how to set up the fake addresses and where to create the citations.
You can also do this using Google My Business (GMB) through some providers who have addresses around the world. Right now, GMBswarm offers a good service for this.
Due to the sensitivity of gambling in countries like Finland or Switzerland (indeed, any countries where you need a PBN), I don’t recommend creating a fake address for your money site.
That’s the last thing you need to caught doing.
It’s safer adding these to your Tier 1 sites to establish local relevance, and then pass that relevance up to your money site through a link.
Web 2.0 sites
These are sites where you can create free profiles and then link from there out to other sites. Many of these links can be follow links. There are a wide variety of platforms which allow this. Examples include: –
And plenty more.
Nathan Gotch has an excellent guide to the web 2.0 link building strategy. It should be noted that he doesn’t use the strategy anymore, as he deems it too risky.
Personally, I think it depends on the quality of the content you place on the web 2.0. If the content is good and relevant, you can probably link them to your Tier 1 sites directly. If you are spamming it, then send these either to Tier 2 or to the social fortress of your Tier 1.
A “niche edit” is the current trendy name for adding a link to an existing, indexed page on another website. These links are cheaper than guest posts as there are no content costs involved, and ranking effects are normally quicker since the page is already indexed.
This kind of link-building can be a white hat technique, and in fact niche edits are the same concept behind broken link building.
There are plenty of agencies out there who offer this.
The best provider of niche edit links for iGaming in 2019 seems to be Charles Floate, and he handily sorts them by Domain Authority.
In my opinion, the safest use of paid niche edits is to a Social Fortress on a Tier 1 site or to a Social Fortress of the money site – but as long as you keep an eye on these links and can disavow them quickly, you can even try to link them directly to the money site.
Automated Link Tools
Automated link tools allow you to build hundreds of thousands of spammy links to any site.
Popular tools include GSA and XRumer. These bits of software can find sites where you can create content such as comment sections and forums, then allow you to spam the hell out of them with automated (spun) content.
Matthew Woodward’s business model is based around such tools. He calls it the ‘churn and burn’ strategy. It’s not a long-term approach for sure.
If you insist on using automated link tools like these, I suggest you aim them to your Tier 2 sites (or lower) to give them that ‘sugar rush’ to boost their link juice.
But just be aware that any Tier 2 sites (or lower) using automated link tools are going to penalized at some point, so be prepared to delete the links to your Tier 1.
8: Last Step: Monitoring the Network
If an SEO problem (e.g. a penalty) occurs anywhere in your PBN, you need to know about it as soon as possible, so you can act before it affects your money site.
This is especially true if the problem occurs in the Tier 1, as this is one short link away from your money site.
For this reason, I suggest setting up Google Analytics and Google Search Console on all Tier 1 sites.
Obviously, these need to be different Google accounts, so Google can’t see it’s the same person behind all these fabulous Tier 1 sites.
And of course, it definitely needs to be a different account from your money site.
You should also take some reasonable steps to ensure that Google cannot work out that these accounts are linked in anyway.
That means: –
- Separate recovery mobile phone numbers (and a secure place to store all the SIM cards)
- Separate recovery email addresses
- Access to a VPN, to change your IP address each time you login to a new account
- Multiple browsers to login to each account (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Safari, Brave, Epic, Opera etc.)
- Plus, a file which stores all this info for each account.
- And you should login and check Search Console every day.
If this sounds like a lot of hassle, then you’re right. Running a PBN correctly is a huge administrative task.
The good news is that your Tier 2 and 3 don’t need quite so much monitoring, especially if you are sending those links to a social fortress (or a Google stack).
You certainly don’t need to set up Google Search Console on Tiers 2 and 3. But you should still check in with Ahrefs or similar on a weekly basis and see how their rankings for certain keywords are changing. And if there is a problem, remove the link to the next chain in the PBN.
If you want to take things to the next level, you can even monitor the PBN for footprints. ExecPBN offers a suite of tools to detect obvious signs of a PBN, including IP addresses, data centers and name servers.
PUTTING IT ALTOGETHER IN A NICE BIG PICTURE
Below you will find my suggestion of a viable concept map of a modern PBN, suitable for an iGaming website.
PBNs are a lot of work to do right and should be used as a last resort. If you can rank with great content and conventional outreach, then I advise against bothering with the PBN strategy.
But if you can’t rank in your chosen market without a PBN, then it’s worth making the effort to create as safe a PBN as possible.