It sucks, doesn’t it?
You spend hundreds of hours on auctions and domain mining looking for the best domains.
You filter link by link, to guarantee your chosen domains are spotless.
After all that you slave away finding the right hosts.
And that’s just the start.
You still need to set up your WordPress themes, plugins and all those pesky settings.
And one day, it finally happens: 5, 10, 50 or even 100 domains, de-indexed overnight.
Your heart plummets into your stomach and that sick feeling engulfs you.
I know the feeling.
I’ve been there more times than I’d wanna’ remember. Especially the time I woke up to 60 de-indexed domains.
Countless hours and thousands of dollars swept away in a blink.
You know it doesn’t have to be that way right?
I’ve gone from getting 60 domains de-indexed overnight to not having a site de-indexed in the past 5 months.
How would I do it?
By reverse engineering 55 footprints out of 2500+ de-indexed PBN sites.
And you can do it too. Pretty easily.
Let me walk you through my “once private” PBN footprint list and you’ll never have to worry about de-indexing again.
Use as many as you can and ignore them only at your own risk.
1. Duplicate SOA Records
Almost no PBN owners are updating or changing their SOA records.
SOA or Start of Authority is usually set by your host and it defaults to the email you used to set up the hosting account.
If my email is: [email protected], SOAs are usually recorded in the following format: pbn.gmail.com
So if you do an all-in-quotes search in Google for your SOA (for example “pbn.gmail.com”) all your hosting accounts and PBN domains could show up.
To avoid your SOA showing up, you have to change it in 2 places, your host and your registrar:
To change your SOA entry on your host follow the image above. Go to: Cpanel > Update Contact Information
To change your SOA entry on your registrar, go to Update DNS Records > Update SOA
2. Crawlers & Spiders Blocked on All Sites
On all the popular SEO blogs and forums there’s a recurring theme of everyone blocking crawlers and link discovery spiders. Very few people realize it’s a footprint.
You’re duplicating your Robots.txt across tens or hundreds of sites.
The problem gets even worse when you’ve picked up the public code from a forum to block the spiders. Now you’re sharing the same sketchy robots.txt with possibly 1000’s of other sites.
Don’t do it.
A temporary workaround would only be to block select domains for example 1-5% of your network.
3. Too Much Unrelated Content
We all want to rank 100 sites at the same time. I get it. Building a network is hard and you want your hard work to pay off but…
When the first post on the homepage is about Dog training and the last post is Mesothelioma, we’ve got a problem on our hands.
Don’t dilute your topics that much. I’m not saying you have to be 100% laser-focused but keep topics somewhat relatable.
4. Too Many CDN Hosts
One of my business associates had 300 sites on Cloudflare. Recently he lost 40+ in a week of de-indexing.
Now I’m not saying Cloudflare was the reason he got de-indexed but it’s never a good idea to follow the herd is it?
I know there are hundreds of thousands of sites on Cloudflare but I really don’t want to take a chance and neither should you.
5. No CDN Hosts
Everyone and their mom is using Cloudflare and you can too just not for your entire network.
Always keep a threshold.
And better yet, try out some other CDNs.
I’ve actually found 4 awesome CDNs that allow multiple domains at a really good price.
6. Poor Site Categorization
WordPress doesn’t automatically create relevant categories for your posts.
So if you stick to the default setup everything’s going to fall into the “Uncategorized” tag.
Mix it up a little. Don’t make the mistake of putting the same handful of tags on every domain.
Tags have to match your site’s content or topic. Relevancy is key.
7. No Whois Privacy
This is a pretty newbish mistake but sometimes we tend to slip up.
Just remember not to have all your network sites under your name or limited business names.
Namecheap, Godaddy and InternetBS have free WhoIs privacy as mentioned above and they’re great registrars.
8. Only Whois Privacy
In the real world, people actually do use their own names or company names to register domains.
Which is exactly why you should have some of your network sites registered under personas. Personally, I keep the majority of my sites this way.
An easy way to do this is going to http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/
Generate a full persona and lock those details to that domain for further use.
Saving these personas comes in handy when you want to develop the site too.
That way the registration details can match the on-site author details.
9. Duplicate Nameservers
You might have a server with non-sequential IPs but have you checked your nameserver?
Use either custom or well-known nameservers for all your PBNs.
If you’ve spread out your hosting on several hosts you probably won’t have nameserver problems since each host usually has their own nameserver.
10. Duplicate WhoIs Domain Emails
Your Whois data usually has a contact address when privacy isn’t enabled.
Try to switch it up as much as you can. Here are some alternatives:
11. Same Registration & Renewal Dates
I’ve found a little trick that’ll show me all the domain registrations by email for a particular date and if I can, I’m sure spam engineers can too.
If you’re re-registering expired domains for your network this is especially important.
If you’ve mined tons of domains, try not to register them all on one day.
12. No Hosting Diversity
I see IXwebhosting, hostnine, and a few other hosts thrown around as the best hosts for your PBN because they give you a number of IPs free with your shared or reseller hosting.
What most people don’t realize is that these are easy pickings for the big G.
Your IPs are going to be crowded with tons of other PBN sites. You’ve been warned.
Not to mention, some of these hosts are really terrible. IXWebhosting is notorious for being hella’ easy to hack.
The WHT forum should get you started but remember, Web Hosting Talk gets recommended for PBNs a lot too so stay away from the $1 hosts.
13. Too Many Cheap Hosts
As explained above, don’t rely on the $1 hosts. They very quickly become PBN farms and you’ll lose all your hard work just because you wanted to save a few bucks.
Save cash in more sensible places like using free whois registrars and coupons for your domain registrations.
14. No TLD Variation
If all your links are coming from common TLDs (com, net, org) domains you shouldn’t have too much of a problem but if your network is full of .infos, .us or any other lower level TLDs you’re asking for trouble.
If you know you’ve been focusing only on 1 TLD, make sure to mix it up a little.
15. Only One Registrar
Not all the world’s websites are hosted on Godaddy and neither should your network be entirely on 1 registrar.
Make sure you have your PBN divided into a few reliable registrars.
Examples: Namecheap, Namesilo (the personal favorite) or InternetBS. All 3 of these have free Whois Privacy.
16. Don’t Use SEO Hosting!
Using SEO hosting is probably one of the absolute WORST things you can do.
You’re openly using a host that’s exclusively full of PBNs.
You might as well pack up and leave the PBN game altogether.
Steer clear of seohosting.com, indianets.com, seohost.com and anything else in that category.
17. Poor IP Diversity
You probably know that IPs are formatted like this: AAA.BBB.CCC.DDD
For PBN diversity and security you need to spread your PBNs out on different C classes at the very least.
If you can get a ton of different A & B classes that’s even better.
If you’re using the lists of hosts that I’ve provided, you’ll be getting plenty of different A classes because most of those hosts are not only in different cities but different countries too.
18. Same Server Locations
Mix up your server locations: Texas, NY, California, Florida and whatever you can find.
If you want to take it a step further go international too.
The majority of popular hosts are based in the US but if you look around you’ll start finding hosts in European and Asian countries too.
Spreading out sites to these locations will help build a much more natural linking setup.
No need to overdo it though.
19. Too Much Downtime
Bad hosts come with horrific downtime. So do faulty plugins and unsecured sites.
Although you may think downtime has no relation to de-indexing, I’d rather err on the safer side.
If you’re on a host that’s cheap and has a lot of downtimes, that means a lot of PBNs are going down at the same time as yours. We need to distance ourselves from that.
Also, if you’re using a buggy plugin across your PBN you may find all of them going down when WordPress updates.
Avoid plugin repetition not only for footprints but for downtime too.
20. Only Using WordPress
Now, a lot of people have the opinion that WordPress is XX% of the entire internet. I agree entirely.
The real question is how many SEOers are using platforms other than WordPress for their PBN?
Based on my personal experience it’s less than 10%. Probably closer to 1%.
When you’re setting up your PBN you’ve gotta’ think like a 1%er. You NEED to distance yourself from the sheep.
There are tons of alternatives to WordPress for PBNs and although some of them are a little tricky – they go a long way in keeping you under the radar.
Just incorporating a few alternatives like Joomla, Drupal, GHOST, etc will go a long way.
21. Not Re-Creating Some Sites
If every single site in your network is a WordPress blog or similar that doesn’t seem very natural.
Remember even though WordPress is an estimated 20% of the internet, there’s still that 80%. Tons of sites are static HTML, PHP or some other code.
You can use WaybackMachine ripping services like WaybackDownloader to restore some sites in their original design/code.
A lot of people worry about copyright infringement with this technique so let me shed some personal insight into that.
I’ve restored over 100 Wayback sites and I’ve never received any notices like that.
If someone didn’t care enough to renew their domain, they’re not gonna’ sue you either.
Moral of the story: try recreating some sites for your PBN.
22. Not Enough Theme Diversity
If you’re using WordPress on all your sites the least you can do is change those themes up.
There are plenty of free themes you can download straight from the WordPress dashboard.
Be a little careful with some of those free themes from outside the WordPress dashboard. A lot of them inject some malicious code or drop links in your footer.
23. No Custom Logos
Good sites usually have original logos. Getting a logo will go a long way in making your site look legit.
The best part is, good logos don’t cost $100 anymore, not even $10.
There are kickass designers on Fiverr willing to do really good logos for $5.
24. Duplicate Plugins on Entire Network
A lot of us are installing plugins like Link Juice Keeper on our PBNs but most of those things can be applied by just changing your .htaccess directly.
Cut down on the use of plugins and keep a number of optional plugins for each task.
For example, for security, you can rotate between AIOWP, Wordfence and Bulletproof WP.
A good rule of thumb is for every task you want to automate VIA plugins, choose one of the top 3 plugins (randomly).
That way you’ll have unique plugin combinations across your entire PBN.
25. No Authenticity or Originality
You know as well as I do that it’s usually really easy to spot out a PBN.
It doesn’t take us more than 5 seconds. How long do you think it’d take a manual reviewer who’s seen 1,000’s of ’em?
Create originality in places like:
- Colour Themes
It’ll take a little while longer but you are extending your PBN life considerably.
26. No Linked Social Profiles
Most established and legit sites have at least 1 social media account linked if not more.
Go the extra mile and build out social accounts for your PBN sites.
You can even use them to ramp up indexing and tier 2 linking by using free setups like twitterfeed.com
Remember not to go overboard and put all the social profiles on every single site. You don’t need to.
27. Same Name for Every Author
Your author names shouldn’t all be your name or admin. Give your sites personas based on their topics.
Remember not to put a male author for female-centric sites and vice versa.
If you really want to keep things looking authentic, use the same persona name you generated for the site via fakenamegenerator.
28. Not Deleting Sample Pages & Posts
Remember to clean up the sample posts, pages and plugins that come with fresh installations of WordPress or other platforms.
29. Mystery Authors
Giving your author a face or some kind of background will go a long way in making your PBN site look like it’s being written and managed by a real person.
It doesn’t really take much either, just head over to one of the royalty-free stock sites and pick up an avatar.
Then, write a short unique bio based on the site content. Add the two together and you’ve got one hell of a real looking site.
30. No Legal Pages
Adding: Privacy, Terms, Cookie and other legal pages make your site look official and well updated.
Don’t make the mistake of using the same template for each website. That’s worse than adding them in the first place.
No 2 legal pages across your network should look or read the exact same.
If you’re using a handful of templates, remember to switch out the contact information, site name and other site-specific details.
31. No Contact Page
Make sure you add a contact page or contact information on most of your PBNs.
Not having a contact page screams spam.
32. No Communication Address
Having an address on some sites really adds to the authenticity.
You don’t need to have one on every site but putting addresses on the sites you really care about is a smart move.
I do this for my PBN sites that are PR5+, after all, they do cost a couple hundred bucks.
Again, you can take the address from your fakenamegenerator or use the address of well known virtual office locations like Regus.
33. Majority Content Linking to Money Site
There is little value in linking to the same money site several times from the same page so you should avoid linking to your money site repetitively.
- Link to non-competing authorities in some posts.
- Link to internal pages of the site in others.
- You can avoid links altogether in some posts.
- And you can use a combination of all the above too.
34. All Links Using Exact Match Anchors
Anchor text is one of the top giveaways for your private blog network.
Time and time again I see PBN owners back to their money site with the same exact anchor text or a few combinations.
Spread out your anchors considerably and be very conservative when using exact match anchors.
A better idea is to add your anchor to your posts in a natural, editorial way.
I was Googling around and found “a site that sells those blue widgets“.
Buy “best blue widgets“.
The first link is way more natural.
A good habit is to add your money site into existing content that you’ve written in a way that makes sense to a reader (even though there are none).
35. OBLs (Outbound Links) to Authority Sites
You should be linking out to helpful sites and non-competing authorities in your niche because that’s what real sites do.
Good examples of sites you can link to are: Wikipedia, CNN, About, etc.
36. Internal Linking
If your PBN site’s got 100 articles and not one of the links to the other I’d say that’s extremely unnatural.
At the very least they could link back to your home or static pages.
Add at least some element of internal linking.
37. Don’t Interlink Your Network Sites!
This is pretty straightforward.
Don’t link any of your PBN sites to the other.
38. Same Number of Links or Posts on Homepage
If every one of your PBN sites has 50 OBLs on the homepage that’s a dead giveaway.
Especially since the chances of these 50 OBLs being the same across your entire PBN are high.
Don’t set exact limits on the number of OBLs or posts. Keep a large range and randomize the OBL count on each homepage. For example 1 – 100
39. Same Number of Links in Each Post
If you’re using automated methods to post your links you’ll notice each post will probably have the same number of links.
You need to mix this up since it’s a massive footprint if you’ve got 100’s of posts with 1,2 or 3 links in every post.
For some posts, you should be skipping links entirely.
40. Same Linking Mechanisms Each Time (i.e. contextual)
Contextual isn’t the only way you can link to your money site.
You should be using image links and RAW URLs occasionally.
41. Not Enough Rich Media or Too Much Rich Media
Having every single post just a wall of text with no images is a huge red flag.
Blogs with images, video and audio will really help improving authenticity.
Again, as with most of the items on the list, don’t overdo a good thing.
Use images, videos and other rich media sensibly.
42. Spun or Garbage Content
Risking your PBN with spun, totally unreadable content is really stupid.
I’ve never done it and I never recommend you do it.
The moment a manual reviewer lands on your site and sees garbage content you’ve lost your PBN instantly.
43. Duplicate Content
Don’t re-post your PBN content several times. Don’t use the same articles for other link building either.
Make sure the content on your PBN is unique otherwise this is a glaring footprint.
It’ll probably even get your domain penalized too.
44. Duplicate Images
I used to have a really bad habit of repeating images across my PBN since there weren’t too many images for some of my niches.
I realized this is pretty harmful so I started to take screenshots and edit them. That way I didn’t have to buy images or repeat across my network.
You can do that or try one of these royalty free image sites (that are actually free):
45. Duplicate Video
Businesses usually don’t have many videos. Don’t make it a point to repeat the same video on every single post.
Actually don’t repeat the video more than a couple of times.
46. No Traffic or Interactions on Your PBN
This one is for the detail devils.
The vast majority of PBN sites won’t ever get traffic.
Just sending Google referred traffic to your PBN and furthermore through PBN links to your money site could be one hell of a way to simulate a very high-quality editorial link.
There is also some anecdotal evidence here that suggests this may increase your link value as well.
I really recommend you try this if you have high-quality PBNs and all your other footprints are covered.
It might just be the future of PBN security & effectiveness.
47. Broken Posts or Code
The majority of the time this is caused by having the same buggy plugins across your entire PBN.
When WordPress auto-updates your plugins might crash and a broken code will be all over your network instantly.
Try to avoid this by using reliable plugins and not adding any special code to your PBN sites.
48. Same Posting Dates & Times For All Posts
This is a really sneaky one.
At one point I was doing a number of posts per day.
I realized that the same “type” of the article was going on to my entire PBN at the same time. This could possibly give me away if someone did a rough check VIA AHREFS or Majestic.
I realized I had to start randomizing my posting dates and that helped bring down this footprint.
Remember not to post all your content all in one go.
49. Identical Advertising Code
If you’re putting any kind of monetization code for example Adsense, Chitika, etc on your PBN sites you really need to stop.
All those codes come with unique identifiers and repeated strings.
A simple all-in-quotes search can uncover your entire network.
50. Identical Analytics Code
Most of us probably don’t have or need analytics for our PBNs. But if you do have analytics on your PBN remember to use separate accounts.
Stay away from Google Analytics.
51. Identical Custom Application Code
Whatever other apps you may have on your PBN probably also have identification code on them.
It really isn’t a good use of your time to see which apps have or don’t have that code so as a rule of thumb avoid custom apps on your PBN.
52. PBN Management Software
I’ve seen a few PBN management software like CloudPBN, I highly recommend you STAY AWAY from them.
They may say they’re “footprint-free” but the reality is that code is quite repetitive and easily reverse engineered.
Don’t use these under any circumstances.
53. Using Chrome & G Products for Your PBN Data
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got 5 or 500 PBN sites, you shouldn’t be exchanging any of your PBN data through Gmail or G-Apps.
Keep your PBN data 100% local.
54. Limited Word Count Range
Above 90% of PBN blogs are using the standard 300- or 500-word articles.
If you want to squeeze into the safer 10%, vary your article length considerably.
Try experimenting all the way from 100 – 2000 word posts.
You can occasionally compile just images for some posts.
55. All Sites Displaying Full Posts on Homepage
After seeing the data on over 3,000 PBNs. I can tell you the vast majority of WordPress PBNs are displaying full-length posts on their homepage.
Most of them are displaying 10+ full-length posts.
That’s approximately 5,000+ words of content on every homepage.
Avoid it. Mix up sites with snippets and randomize the number of posts on the homepage of each site.
Wrapping Things Up…
I truly hope you found some nuggets in there.
Those are a hell of a lot of footprints but the reality is you only need to cover the most important ones to steer clear of de-indexing.
To make things super easy for you I’ve created a cheat sheet and divided the footprints into:
- 26 Absolutely Essential
- 22 Recommended
- 07 Non-Essential
After having my team set up my PBNs with this new cheat sheet my de-indexing rates have dropped from losing 30% of my PBN to not having a single site de-indexed in the last 5 months.
I Could Really Use Your Help,
I really hope you enjoyed this monster resource. It took me over 70 hours to put together.
The only thing I ask for is your motivation to keep me going so I can put together even better SEO & marketing experiments.
Please share this post (or even comment below!) to help keep me motivated.
Thanks for all your support!