Over the last few years, many SEO experts and larger website owners have taken on the task of creating private blog networks, or PBNs, to help support their SEO efforts. In case you are unaware (???), a PBN is a way to support website search engine optimization by mimicking the real world, if you will, but with the ability to control what happens. For example, almost everybody with any SEO expert will tell you that the best thing you can do for your website is to get good quality links to your website from other relevant websites. But that's not easy to do, as you can imagine. So many people have taken on that challenge by creating a network of sites that they control that can be used to build links from in order to support their primary websites. It's like having a whole group of friends you can call on at any moment to say "Vote for me!". And, it can be a very effective tool if used properly and cared for well ongoing.
Let's start by assuming that your private blog network is currently in good shape and that it is helping you achieve your SEO goals, at least in part. If that's true then congratulations are in order. That means you've been able to survive the Penguin purge and, so far at least, still have a useful asset on your hands. Going forward you will want to start considering the ways that Google will continue to root out PBNs, and you know they will. It's always in their interest to maintain control over rank. It's how they maintain their value. Google sees PBNs as a grey area, and as such, will forever be on the prowl for people trying to game the system.
Even if following a pattern of realness is your practice, there are many ways that we can unwittingly out ourselves to Google. You should consider yourself like someone standing in the middle of a minefield. One unconsidered move can be a disaster. For example, let's say that you have 30 websites set up in your PBN. You've kept them up to date and have followed up with getting a good quantity of relevant links to them. They're in great shape and working well for you. But, then one day you notice that the rank for all of them has suffered dramatically and without apparent cause. Nothing stands out to fix and you're in a pickle about what to do next. This is a real disaster that SEO marketers face every day.
How could a disaster like this happen? It can happen because while you were working too hard to take care of your network, you forgot that thought you had a few months ago that you should probably be using a good proxy to access your sites. You meant to and kept thinking about it, but somebody said proxies are slow and so you put it off. You kept accessing all your sites from the same computer and IP address, thereby telling Google that there was a likely relationship between them. Furthermore, since you kept doing it for months, Google has lots of evidence that their suspicions are true and that you are trying to game the system. They will then begin to devalue your network, and, probably weight your main sites as well. Your network sites drop AND so do your main sites. Without meaning to, you showed Google your hand and now you're going to pay a penalty for it.
Many PBN owners and managers will find that some or all of their sites are hit by Google manual actions and that their rank has been dramatically affected across the board. One area that is often a source of problems for network owners is their source of inbound links. Let's face it, if you're trying to get links to tens or hundreds of websites and differentiate them, that's a really tough job. Many people will try to cut corners and get at least some of their links by purchasing them or by placing multiple link anchors on the same off network sites. This is probably the single biggest mistake SEO marketers make with their PBNs. This type of link structure looks like a spider web to Google. They can see that the links are all originating from the same or similar sources. If you purchased them in groups, they can see that too. Once again, all of these outs the interrelationship of your websites and tells Google that they are one big happy family.
One of the great things about Google Docs is that it's free. That makes it an attractive option for many techies. The interactivity and accessibility of Google's tools are the perfect answer for maintaining your network data. Where are my sites, their database info, domain names, hosts, IP addresses and so forth are all easily stored on a Google spreadsheet in the cloud and shared with your other managers anywhere in the world? This reality also means that Google has your network data and the ability to see, without even violating your privacy, that there is a relationship between you and your sites and a relationship between all of your websites themselves. Once again, this common scheme can out you to Google as an SEO player and put all your hard work at risk.
Your investment is as close to irreplaceable as can be. If you out yourself to Google and ruin your rank, recovering is a daunting task. The importance of playing the game with a healthy dose of paranoia cannot be overstressed. If you have a working PBN, then you own a gem. Consider it that way and use tremendous care with everything you do. Never touch your network without assuming that Google suspects you. Be careful considerate and cautious. Use proxies. Always. Stop buying links from the same sources if you are buying them at all. Make sure that you use every tool at your disposal to maintain effective distance between you and your websites and your websites from each other. Remember, you're attempting to appear as though your sites are real-world sites. There should be no detectable relationship between them. Let paranoia be your friend, in this case, and assume you're being watched and that the slightest mistake will give you away. It's simply good policy whenever you're trying to bend the rules.
Good luck and tread lightly!