So you have your strategy, you have your domains and you have an idea of how you’re going to build out your sites. All that’s left is finding a place for them to live.
Would you open your office here?
Hosting your domains
We believe the true make or break factor when building a blog network is your choice of hosting. Get it right, and you’ll be hiding in the open, surrounded by other quality websites and basking in their reflective glory.
Get it wrong and you’ll be trawling the sewers with the detritus of the internet. In this neighbourhood it’s shoot first, ask questions later.
Good and bad neighbourhoods
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An age old theory in SEO is the concept of good and bad neighbourhoods. Do you want links from the best sites on the web? The authorities in your niche? Or endless low quality crap? Links are built upon endorsements – if an upstanding member of the community vouches for you, it means something. If a shady drug dealer or gang banger says you’re a stand up guy, does it count for much? Or will you be guilty by association?
This concept goes beyond links alone. When you choose where to host you are effectively buying real estate on the web. Who are your neighbours? Who shares your IP address? And are they good people, fine upstanding members of the community? Or do they leave trash outside their doors, make noise all night long, hack into neighbouring houses and drag the neighbourhood down with them?
Why SEO hosting should be avoided
Private Blog Networks are one of the oldest ‘new’ strategies on the web. Every few years there is a renaissance, every few years Google cracks its whip and takes down a few of the more egregious players.
There has been a need for ‘seo hosting’ for at least a decade, and many of the biggest players have been foot printed by Google. They know their IP blocks, they know their server names, and they know the domains that live there.
Hosting on servers like these is a massive red flag. It may not quite be shoot on sight, but it significantly increases the risk of your domains being devalued or worse still, deindexed.
If you’re investing $100s into each domain do you really want to risk it all by parking your sites in a dodgy neighbourhood?
Most importantly still, this gathering of SEOs in one place makes it easy for Google to spot patterns. Google is a lazy beast – if they can automate the process of penalising people they will, and SEO hosts have given them plenty of data over the years.
This is why a host’s landing page doesn’t need to scream ‘SEO’ to still present a risk. Google knows the profile of servers that host a lot of SEO blogs, and can automatically discount or deindex them at will.
Are 'budget' hosts really an alternative?
With self-proclaimed ‘SEO hosts’ out, many SEOs rush to WebHostingTalk’s Shared Hosting deals forum. Here you can pick up shared hosting accounts for as little as $12 a year. This is something I’ve done a lot of, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
In the space of a year across 100 hosts I’ve had:
- 5 hosts go bankrupt and disappear with my money. My servers were down, no warning or backups available (thankfully I had my own!)
- 3 hosts get bought and sold and thus needed to update all my domains to point to new servers
- 2 hosts that consistently had downtime for days at a time
- 3 hosts that imposed absurd bandwidth limits so my sites would show a ‘suspended page’ announcement by the 15th of each month
- 2 hosts whose setup made running a standard CMS such as wordpress or drupal near impossible
- 1 host whose nameservers never worked – I ended up having to use my registrars after a month of trial and error.
What a mess. What a pain. What a lot of time that my VA and I could have been working building a better money site. Instead we wasted hours managing painfully inept hosts.
Yet all this extra time and aggro – which made the true cost of these $10 hosts an awful lot higher – wasn’t the worse thing. The worst thing was after all the work I was hosting on the same cheap servers as every other tom dick and harry SEO out there.
So despite setting out to avoid ‘SEO hosting’ we’d all found ourselves back in the same place, sharing the same servers and the same easy to footprint hosting profile.
There are services which ease the pain of hosting on cheap hosts without carrying a blatant ‘Seo Hosting’ tag, such as NoNameInternet, PazHosting or even Easy Blog Networks. I’ve used a few and they are quite an improvement on doing it yourself... But you can’t escape the fact that you will always be sharing IPs with other SEOs on these services, putting your blog network and money sites at risk.
This risk can be reduced if you seek out the newest operators, but over time every one of these distributed hosting systems will fill with spam.
We think one of the most reliable ways to proceed is to build your own version of NoNameInternet. Not by using shabby $10 hosts but with quality reseller accounts on genuine, mainstream hosts from across the planet. This way you are only sharing IPs with other real websites not a bunch of SEOs.
Sadly, for most except the in house SEOs with the biggest budgets this is not an option due to the costs involved. So what other options are there?
Hosting in the cloud
Yet as CMS like Wordpress become ever more bloated by plugins, more and more sites are serving their entire website through a CDN.
This is not some niche endeavour. According to builtwith.com there are over 50 million websites using a content delivery network of some kind.
Cloudflare, one of the best known, reports over 2 million websites - builtwith.com sees just 992k. Cloudfront doesn’t publish its own statistics yet Builtwith.com suggests 3.2 million sites are using it. Given the discrepancy in the Cloudflare stats the reality could be higher.
By hosting through a CDN your sites won’t have a fixed IP but a dynamic one. The IP can vary based on the location of the browser, the time of day and the inner workings of the CDN network.
Put simply, when Google sees 3 million sites sharing the same IPs it is near impossible for them to determine if the sites are linked. Host IP stops becoming a factor.
We think this represents a great opportunity for SEOs. Not only does it make it very difficult to claim any two blogs are run by the same people. It also represents a different class of hosting to the $10 accounts above, yet can still be affordable to small business.
People who use CDNs care about their websites and care about their user experience. In general they will serve higher quality sites from a higher class of webmaster.
Hosting using Cloudflare, Cloudfront or any other CDN is a great way to hide in the open. Why share one IP with 100 other SEOs when you can share 350,000 IPs with some of the best sites on the planet?
The key downside of using CDNs is it can be complicated to setup. Serving your site through a CDN is one thing, but there are many ways an incorrect configuration can reveal the host underneath a website. At best this causes duplicate content issues but at worst it can reveal your entire network.
We’ve put years into developing our own cloud-based pbn hosting system to avoid detection while making use of the immense IP diversity available in the cloud. Why not give it a try today?
Diversity is the best choice
The truth is, despite all these options available there is no one size fits all solution. If you want to run a premium network for a premium brand we suggest rolling your own solution. If you only want to host 10 sites perhaps you can group some on more expensive hosts. But the key thing is to avoid patterns.
Use a mix of hosting, a mix of content types and a mix of domain sources for the least identifiable network.
Consider where else you are getting your links from. If you plan to rank using 100% PBN links you will need to consider hosting diversity. If you are only using PBNs are part of your link building efforts a single, strong strategy such as CDN hosting should be fine.
What CMS to use?
One of the most discussed footprints when building a blog network is your choice of CMS. People stress how important it is to have a diversity in your backlinks, that all your links shouldn’t come from one source, CMS or platform. But for the majority of people, this shouldn’t be a major concern.
Two simple reasons:
- Most people rely on a mix of links anyway. Perhaps all their PBN is hosted on Wordpress, but the other links they are building come from forums, HTML based directories, web 2.0 profiles and media mentions. The diversity is already there
- The most popular weapon of choice when building a blog network is Wordpress. Why? Because Wordpress is the most popular CMS when building a website.
If we look at stats from BuiltWith and W3Techs the picture is clear to see. More than 57% of websites don’t use any identifiable CMS at all – ie they are using pure HTML in one form or another. Of the 43% that do, the vast majority are using Wordpress.
So the majority of SEOs are using Wordpress for their blog network. Does this mean you should build your network entirely from Joomla instead? Joomla powers just 2.8% of websites. If we break this down further, Joomla only powers 0.69 % of the top 10k domains on the web. What are the chances of you having 50, 100 links from high authority joomla sites? (unless you run a Joomla plugin site, of course!)
Usually when discussing SEO tactics we’d recommend not following the herd. But not in this case. Diversity is great, and if you can do it with your time and resources then why not. But of all the shortcuts people take in SEO, hosting all your sites on a single platform isn’t the biggest deal. Just be sure to vary plugins, themes, widgets and other settings.
If you do want that diversity, our PBN hosting service allows you to build PBNs entirely from static HTML. This allows us to provide thousands of themes that make your blogs mimic Wordpress, Drupal, or even a site that doesn't run on a popular CMS at all. By using our Wayback restore service you can broaden diversity further by recovering sites with out of date CMS systems that greatly add to the overall diversity.