In this post we will cover the most important Private Blog Network Footprints and how to avoid them. There are many more but I included most major ones along with some general guidelines at the end.
Using One Registrar
It’s a huge footprint to use only Godaddy or namecheap for your entire network.
Solution: Mix it up, use this list of iCAN Accredited hosts and sign up for few dozen.
Who is Privacy on all domains
You should not use privacy on all your domain names. Real business sites use proper address and name.
Solution: Use privacy 10-20% max, and use fake name and address on others.
Same Who is Email providers
Do not use only Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo across all of your domains.
Solution: Use brand email (name @ yourdomain.com, contact@, info@, etc.)
Same Registration and Renewal Dates
It can be a major footprint to register a bunch of domains on the same day or even hour. One other thing is that if 100 of your sites expire within a week of each other, it can look very fishy.
Solution: Spread your registration over several days and register some of them for 2-4 years if the domains are good.
Using custom nameservers too much
Try not to use custom nameservers (ns1.domain.com ns2. Etc.).
Quick fix: Use default NS provided by your hosting company (us102.hostgator.com, ns1.digitalocean.com, etc.)
It can easily become a footprint if you have 99% of your link profile from .com domains
Tip: Register net,org,tv,info and country TLDs like .co.uk (if you can) and so on.
Goes without saying that using SEO hosts is a no go these days. Not only that the IPs are spammed to death and in a bad neighborhood but you will suffer from insane downtime and 20 seconds load times.
Solution: Use Premium cPanel hosting or Easy Blog Networks.
I made a complete guide about pbn hosting Here.
Having multiple sites within the same cluster is a clear indication of a blog network. You can learn about clustering and how to protect your PBNs while using the same IP in our first chapter.
Solution: Isolate or Cluster your network linking to the same money page. Or just buy more servers or IPs.
Server Location Diversity
Servers can be scattered all over the globe. If they are all in the same datacenter and state, it becomes a problem.
Solution: Invest in servers in US, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. US and EU will usually do the trick.
Using Same Hosting Company
Forget about using a single company for all your hosting needs. As much as we all love Godaddy (sarcasm), we can’t use only one host.
Tip: Download the List of all Premium Hosting Companies that we use and mix it up. EBN uses premium cloud platforms, so you are good to go if you sign up with them.
Cheap Hosting Companies
I know it’s tempting to use cheaper hosts, but they are in 95% of cases abysmal. Loading time is slow, they have huge downtime and crappy IPs.
Tip: Just don’t use them.
Some hosts show SOA records when performing DNS check. It’s usually information you used to sign up with the company. Having multiple sites with same SOA records is a major footprint.
Solution: Make sure that you change this info in your cPanel.
Using Cloudflare to mask IPs
Back in the day you could host 1000 websites on a single Dedicated server and use CloudFlare to mask the IPs. It’s no longer viable although you can still use CF for other functions.
Solution: Don’t count on CloudFlare to mask your IP
Setup and Backend Footprints
It was a common practice to redirect all 404 pages to home to preserve link juice. Now days it’s considered a quick way to deindex your PBN.
Solution: Recreate original URLs and put wayback content or write a new one if necessary. If you have to, redirect only the best 10% of pages to home.
Blocking bots and crawlers
Google can see if you are blocking crawlers like Majestic and Moz. Think about it, how many real websites do this kind of stuff? Not many.
Quick Fix: Don’t block crawlers unless you have to. If you do, make sure that you block only a few most important ones.
What are the chances that 50 sites will have same plugins? Close to zero I bet. Note that this does not mean that you should not use W3 total cache or Yoast SEO. Those are widely used and are not a footprint on its own. It’s the combination and pattern of plugins that is.
Solution: Diversify Plugins with the same function (yoast, all in one SEO, squirly, etc) and add some that you don’t need, just for the sake of diversity.
Even though some frameworks are very popular (Elegant Themes, Genesis), you can’t rely on a single framework and theme to do the job on large networks. If you cluster carefully, you can easily use these two for a huge number of sites.
Tip: Grab some 3rd party theme from Themeforest or others. The more popular, the better.
Using the same author multiple times
This goes without saying. If you use the same author name and image on multiple sites, it’s a clear footprint.
Tip: Use different images and author names for every site.
Tracking or Affiliate IDs
If you use tracking IDs (Analytics and Affiliate Links), you need to make sure that they are unique. You can’t use a single Google Analytics account on all your sites. Same goes for affiliate links.
Tip: Sign up for a new account every time if you need Google analytics that much. Jetpack and Clicky can do the trick.
No contact form and legal pages
A clear sign of a low-quality web-page, and guess who hates low-quality stuff? A quick way to deindex is having a thin site with no contact form and legal pages.
Solution: Do it, it’s not that hard, and make sure they are nicely formatted.
I’m a big advocate of good design for PBNs. If it looks good, it will pass manual review and visitors will have some kind of value if they ever visit your site, and they should.
Solution: Invest in making your PBNs look good
Design and Layout Pattern
Having 10 blogs with blue/red color scheme and same layout can quickly turn ugly if manual inspection visits your website.
Quick Fix: Take some time to diversify layout and look & feel.
Poor Silo-ing and Categorization
If you have 1 category (Tech) and 4 pages (about, contact, privacy, terms) it doesn’t scream authority, does it? Another clear sign of a thin website.
Tip: Create Multiple categories and subcategories along with pages (request a quote, testimonials, our clients, etc, etc.)
Too many homepage outbound links on all websites
Google pretty much hates homepage outbound links. You can get away with some but having 20-30 across your entire network is a quick way to penalize your main domain.
Tip: Use inner page linking on your best domains and limit OBL on your homepage.
Full posts on homepage across all sites
Few years ago, many blogs had full posts on homepage. These days it’s just plain ugly, and 99% of bloggers use a different layout. Try to avoid having 100% of your blogs with full homepage texts.
Tip: Use different layouts (Business, Magazine, Masonry, etc.)
Not enough Pages or Same Pages on multiple sites
Try to diversify legal page names as well, like About, About me, About us, About the author, etc. It is much more natural.
Tip: Add more than 4 legal pages. You can add events, our location, signup and so on.
Too many general and unrelated sites
Niche relevancy is not a big ranking factor (at the moment), but you still need to be somewhat in the niche to pass a manual review.
Tip: Avoid too many general type blogs. Go with a mix of general (City Portal), wide niche (Health) and narrow niche (Dentist).
No Social Profiles
Imagine a blog or a website without social following? Although you can get away without social profiles for some business layout pages, it is considered a good practice to create them no matter the niche.
Tip: Use IFTTT on some of your sites to automate and syndicate content.
No real authors
Have you ever seen a blog with author’s name being “Admin”? How bad is that?
Solution: Get a proper name, picture and social profile for your author.
Content And Linking Out Footprints
Using Spun and Duplicate Content
Spun and garbage content is your #1 enemy, after cheap hosting. Google detects and penalizes sites with spun content within few months.
Solution: Use handwritten content, you can grab a decent article for $4-5/500 words.
Every post links out to your money site
If you only link to your money pages without any filler content without or with links to authority sites, Google will quickly realize what it’s all about.
Solution: Post 1-3 filler articles with after each money site post.
Using only Wikipedia as an authority site
Wikipedia is not the only authority out there. It’s easy to uncover huge networks just by reverse engineering Wikipedia pages.
Tip: Get a list of other smaller blogs that are not your main competition and link out to them too.
No Internal Linking
Interlinking your pages and posts is a common blogging practice. If you do not do it, visitors will have less value, they will bounce from your site more often, and nothing good comes out of it.
Tip: Spend some time to interlink relevant posts and pages.
Same Post Length
“Every blog post has to have at least 500 words”. You heard that one before, right? Not really, a minimum amount of words for Google news is 250, and why should it be any different for us?
Tip: Mix it up with post length (250-1000 words)
Posting on the same day on multiple sites
10 bloggers decided to post AND link to your domain at the same time. How unlikely is that?
Solution: Use WordPress schedule feature to spread your posting date and time.
Interlinking PBN Websites
It’s common sense. Don’t do it.
Same Link Type
All PBN links are contextual do-follow links, period. If you want to avoid this footprint, try to mix some no-follow ones and some sidebar or nav-bar ones, just for the sake of diversity.
Not enough rich media
If there are no images or videos, your visitors won’t be happy and nor will Google bot.
Solution: Add 1+ images and occasionally some videos.
These are not directly related to footprints but still worth mentioning.
Traffic is an indirect ranking signal. Although this is not a footprint, it’s still an indication of the quality of these sites to Google.
Tip: Try to rank some long tail keywords with good onpage and you will get some small traffic.
No social shares and interaction
You can’t have a social share without traffic. Don’t just blast 1000 social shares to your network if it doesn’t have any traffic.
Tip: Get initial traffic, then send a drip feed of social signals.
Broken CSS and Code
WordPress or some plugin updated and broke the code and CSS? It happens. It’s just a matter of fixing it and not leaving it for 6 months.
Solution: Do a weekly overview of all your websites and fix any errors.
Closely related to hosting. Downtime can get your site deindexed, and if your network goes down at the same time, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s all connected.
Solution: Use premium hosting
This is the key. Your PBN doesn’t provide any value, and that is what Google is all about.
What is the purpose of this site? Is it to provide information, capture leads, to make a sale? If you can take a look at your site from a perspective of your visitors and think about it, does it provide any value? If the answer is Yes, you are good to go, if it is a No, you should invest some time to make it look good and to provide some usefulness to potential visitors. For example, our team now takes approximately 300% more time to finish a single site than 6 months ago. That't the level of detail you should aim for.
I hope that this list helped you prevent or fix issues on your network. If you invest just a bit of time and care into these sites they can even rank for long tail keywords, generate leads, make affiliate commissions and rank your main site along the way.
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The Definitive PBN Guide - Our main hub containing all guides and resources (Management sheets, our favorite themes etc.)
37 PBN Footprints Checklist by Daryl Rosser
Cloud Income's Checklist by Lewis Ogden
Avoiding Hosting Footprints by Steve Rendell from PBN HQ
Let me know if you have suggestions or if I missed something that you think should be on this list.