Lesson 2: Planning your link network

A private blog network is a major investment in both money and time. It’s important to set goals before you start. Decide how you wish to structure you network and links to make sure you don’t make costly mistakes.

Link Quality vs Domain Quantity

The first question you need to answer is will you build a big network of weak domains, or a smaller, stronger network? This can have a major impact on the cost and design of your network.

There are two key factors that go into this decision:

How many sites are you targeting?

If you are running an authority site in a single niche it may be more appropriate to focus on a handful of quality domains with strong metrics. 

If you run a network of mini sites, or aim to boost a range of client websites you’ll want to increase the number of domains you use. Otherwise your outbound links don’t create a footprint.

Do you seek authority or anchor text  diversity? 

 If links with keyword anchor text are hard to source in your niche, you may need a greater number of domains. This allow you to build enough exact or partial match anchor texts to help you rank in competitive SERPs.

Broad sites with tens or hundreds of category pages to target may also warrant a network of hundreds of domains. For example, a travel website may cover 50 different destinations. Each of those category pages will have their own battles to fight in the search results. 

 If your site has plenty of lower quality links you may be looking to raise the trust of your whole site. In this case you may prefer to work with 10-20 stronger domains. Using branded anchors and co-citation can place your site in the same circle of trust as its competitors.

Quality Sites Vs Splogs

The second important decision is how good do your PBN sites need to be? All blogs need to avoid obvious footprints to prevent deindexing. In the worst case low quality PBNs can results a penalty for their target site.

But there is a world of difference between building an automated splog with spun content and building a network of real sites. Real content. Real personas. And real backlinks.

What is your appetite for risk?

If you run a handful of affiliate sites of mid to low quality, you may accept that you will not rank forever. Perhaps it makes more sense to hit your sites hard and fast, building a large network of lower quality domains. This might allow you to ‘rank and bank’ before your sites meet their inevitable doom.

 On the flip side, you may be working with prestigious clients who cannot bear the costs of a rebrand or long term penalty. 

Then you’d be better off building a manageable network using high quality content and top drawer domains. 

This way you can take the care and attention needed to ensure deniability. Even if someone does discover your network they won’t realise it belongs to your client.

What is your capacity for content creation  and design?

In a perfect world all our blogs would be beautiful with custom designs, high quality content and unique photography.   They'd be written by active personas with their own social accounts.

In the real world there is only so many hours in the day and cash in the bank.

This is where an in-house SEO with a huge budget will have a different approach to an affiliate working from their bedroom.

You need to be realistic about your capacity to build sites at the quality level you desire. After all, you’re running a business. It’s not just a question of ‘am I able to build this network?’. You also need to ask ‘is there enough return on investment to justify this much time and money?’ .  ‘Is there a cheaper way?’

In SEO you don’t make money until you rank. Low quality links are a risk to your site. But the biggest risk is going out of business due to being invisible, forever.

Tier one or two?

There is another dimension to the questions of quality vs quantity or risk vs reward.

You may not be able to stomach the risk of building obvious PBN links direct to your beloved authority site.

But a basic tenet of SEO is that links from pages that have links themselves hold more value than links from deep within the archives of a website. 

You can avoid many of the biggest worries of running a blog network by moving your links up a tier. Why not use your network to power up the backlinks you already have.

There’s a huge footprint if you link your  100-site blog network to every single one of your five  mini-sites or clients If instead you use those 100 blogs to send a couple of links each to the guest posts, directory listings or (god forbid!) natural, earned links you avoid a significant footprint.

Disappointed by the impact that awesome link from the Washington Post had? Try throwing twenty high powered PBN links at the article and watch it pop, you may just get a bonus.

To do this right you need scale – a network of 10 domains just isn’t going to cut it. By moving your network further from your money sites you also reduce risk to your network itself. In turn this can help you cut some corners with domain and content quality

Niche relevant or broad topics?

In the quest for more links, it’s often forgotten that search engines strive to return relevant results. Relevance of backlinks hasn’t always been a major factor in how well sites rank. Traditionally quantity and trust of links have played a greater role in the algorithm. 

But there are definite signs that this is changing. Google is taking greater care to evaluate the topic of a site and rewarding the sites that exist within a topical neighbourhood, not an outlier.

When building from expired domains there are three ways the topic of a site can be important:

1. The original theme or topic of a site

Its obvious that it makes more sense to build a financial blog on a site called ‘investmentincomestrategies.com’ rather than 'bestbeautytipz.biz’. Not only are the links more likely to be deemed ‘relevant’ but you are many times more likely to pass a manual check.

2. The thematic neighbourhood a domain exists in

Just because you’re buying an old domain for its links doesn’t mean the previous owner knew what they were doing. Their website did expire, after all! 

Checking the topical trust flow (TTF) of a site in Majestic will give you a clue as to whether your domain has relevant links. Was it collecting respectable links from relevant sites, or whoring itself out to every reciprocal links page it can find?  Does it share backlinks with other quality niche sites, or a range from car loans to STDs to casinos?

3. The content you decide to put on the domain

There is nothing stopping you from buying any domain with strong backlinks and placing content relevant to your niche on it. 

It still works to a degree, and it can be cheaper/easier/lazier than trying to line up relevancy perfectly with your site. 

But do be aware you may not get the same boost – or longevity – from your network as you would if all your sites and links were on topic

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing any backlink works, regardless of origin, because it is true.. up to a point.

We have seen far better results from topically relevant blog networks than diverse ones. By 'relevant' we consider both the content of the blog and the sites it links to.

Keeping to strict topical networks can also help maintain discipline. However hard you aim to keep your network high quality it can be tempting to break your own rules on relevancy to give one of your favoured sites that little extra push.

But there are still cases where a generalist approach will work. Perhaps you’ve picked up a juicy domain that used to be a newspaper or magazine? The links still have massive value and could be used to support a wide range of sites. A site like this could be great to use as a tier two, supporting other relevant links you have built elsewhere.

Like any other aspect of your link profile it is important to maintain a balance – aim for relevancy, but a few strong general links won’t hurt.

Disposable or long term?

This is pretty self-explanatory. Do you hope to build sites that rank forever? Then you need to strive for quality and consistency in every area of your network. Do you expect to build a network that never gets deindexed? Then you know what to do.

Others may see both money sites and blog networks as disposable assets with a limited shelf life. Links, networks and money sites all become a simple numbers game. In this case, there is little to lose cutting a few corners. 

If a domain gets deindexed, just swap it out with a new domain. Copy your old content across and you’re good to go, with no net link loss on your money site. This can be a cheap and effective strategy, provided you don’t get emotionally attached.

Either approach is valid, provided you are consistent. What is crucial is that you don’t mix the two. If you’re spending top dollar on high quality domains at auction don’t treat them like a spammed out web2.0 auto blog. If your money site is a labour of love don’t point your dirty splog network directly at it in a fit of madness.

Visible or Invisible Links?

The default option for most network builders out there is to hide their links. Why would you want your competitors knowing what you are up to? Indeed, it is the default option in our hosting software, though you can turn it off.

But you can’t hide every link – there’s nothing more suspicious than a site that ranks #1 with 10 – or even zero – links! You can argue that not only is hiding your network a signal you’re up to no good, but a lazy approach that leads to bad standards.

If you know your competitor can see your backlinks you will be far more careful with the content you use and the way you link. This leads to greater longevity of your link network and your money sites themselves

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