Back in 2012-2013 setting up your PBN meant slapping a free WP theme, spun article and your links. And it worked well.
After that, in 2014-2015, after a mass deindex by Google everyone started taking more care of their sites which meant using premium themes, making some sort of logo and using handwritten instead of spun content. That worked well too, until everyone and their uncle started using PBNs.
In the year 2016 and most certainly in the upcoming year, you need to take care of your PBN just like you would a money site.
Domains are a scarce commodity these days and the competition is growing every day. You can not afford to have your network deindexed and expect to recover within a month.
In this post, we will go over how to make a good looking website and how to cover your backend and plugins to minimize footprints, maximize the power of your network and stay safe for years to come.
How to Structure, Design and Setup your PBN Websites to Pass Manual Review
Before we go into how to design specific elements, structure and so on, let’s cover few important question.
CMS – Is WordPress Only PBN viable?
WordPress is used by 59.0% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 26.9% of all websites according to w3techs.
WP is not a footprint by itself, and instead of wasting time building Joomla and Drupal sites, get a proper hosting for your PBN, it will have much more impact on your network performance and deindex rate.
One thing you can consider if you want to diversify, is to grab some HTML sites, but that’s less than 10-15% of your network. For everything else, go with WP.
Wayback Restore vs WordPress
One of the frequently asked questions is “Why should you build a brand new WordPress site if you can grab a wayback export and finish in minutes instead of hours.”
While this is entirely true, there are some pros and cons to each setup.
Wayback restored sites
When you find a domain, you can check how the previous site looked like on Wayback machine. If the domain had any history, you can export the files and just reupload them on your server.
I use Blackhat community wayback export tool (you may need to become a member to use the tool)
You can just upload the whole content on your root folder. (This does not work on Easy Blog Networks since they do not provide FTP Details)
Some domains do not have a wayback history and in that case this option is not possible.
“Waybacks” are cheap to deploy. Usually just a basic HTML sites, and you don’t have to add more content to them except few hundred words and your link. On the other hand, they are full of errors, 404s, and broken CSS or images. Not to mention that WordPress nails it performance wise.
· Cheap to deploy
· No additional content needed
· Same look & feel (like the previous owner renewed the domain)
· Low maintenance
· Inner Page Link Juice
· A lot of 404 errors
· Broken images and scripts
· Poor performance compared to WP
· Takes longer to get indexed and crawled
Note: You may run into a problem that the old owners will contact you about the site and request that you transfer the ownership back if it’s a branded domain. If they are friendly and cool about it, I usually return the domain to them after they cover the registration fee (or auction fee if it was purchased at auction). Otherwise, I just ignore it and redesign it in WP.
Complete WordPress Re-design/Re-purpose
Complete WordPress redesign gives you the freedom to change the niche, look & feel and adapt the domain to your needs. Of course, the domain needs to be somewhat brandable to repurpose it.
A perfectly viable solution, and it’s what I use for the most part, or a partial redesign in some rare cases if the inbound links point to specific URLs that need to be restored.
This way you can change everything on your site, from niche to content and the author. No one can question the ownership, and as far as you are concerned, you only bought the domain name, which happens to have some good inbound links.
Restoring Old URLs is still an option, but if you completely repurpose the domain, it becomes a bit weird (Having law related articles on your home improvement blog). It is still possible to re-theme most domains. Let’s see some examples:
- Mikeandrews.com – Previously some personal SEO blog, you can repurpose it to be almost anything you want, from a health blog to construction firm website.
- Etsysky.com – A random brandable domain. You can repurpose it to almost any niche.
- working-mom.com – Previously a site about how to earn money online, it can be redesigned as a parenting advice site for moms with careers.
- Boxerguide.com – Used to be a site about boxing (sport). It can be redesigned as a dog training website for boxers (dog breed).
- ChocolateLoveAndMore.com – Previously a blog about chocolate recipes, it can also be a personal blog and the author enjoys eating chocolate.
I’m not that creative, but you can figure it out. Here are some pros and cons to complete redesign approach.
· Freedom to change the niche, look and feel
· Organize structure and content however you want
· Built on WordPress with all its benefits
· No Performance loss compared to wayback restore and wayback redesign
· You might miss on some incoming links pointed to your deep URLs
· Some domains are hard to retheme
Partial Wayback Redesign
This is a bit unusual approach, and it means that you will take a look at the wayback archive and see how the old site looked and re-design everything in WordPress.
You can follow the same color scheme and layout but build a modern looking site, something most business owners are doing these days.
This way you get the best of both worlds.
· Built on WordPress
· Similar to the old site but with modern look and feel
· Same company/author (or change this, it’s up to you)
· URLs Restored (keeping the inbound link juice)
· You can use some of the Wayback content
· More Link Juice from Inner Pages
· Costs more than building a new website (URL restoration and fixing old content requires a lot more time)
· Similar ownership issues like the wayback restored sites
· The domain needs to be in the same or similar niche
· You need to keep it in the same niche
Restoring Inner Pages for Better Topical Relevance
When you find an expired domain (or auction) you are buying it for its inbound links. Most of the links will be pointed to your homepage, but in some cases the links can go to your domains deep page. This is how it looks like:
As you can see, there are two strong inner page links that you can restore on your new WordPress site to prevent 404 errors and to keep the link juice on your site.
You need to use the exact same /blog or /the-step-by-step-guide-to-creating-a-money-making-blog-in-1-hour/ URLs.
If you can find content on wayback for these pages great, if not, write a good 700-1000 word topically relevant blog post and contextually link out to your homepage or other blog post containing your money site link.
If the topic has any keyword searches you can even go the extra mile and optimize the entire post around that topic, add more support content (reviews, guides etc.) linking to this URL and it will rank naturally due to incoming links and your domain authority.
Organic traffic is a great signal to Google that your PBN website is real and any links from a topically relevant authority site will be worth much more.
If you wish to find out more about this, Matt Diggity wrote an awesome article called "How to Boost your PBNs with Topical Relevance". Another must read post was written by Charles Floate on topical seo not long ago, make sure to check that out too.
Website Design, Layout and Structure
In this section we will go over the design elements, different layouts and structure.
Choosing a theme
For the most part, you want to use Premium themes for your PBN sites. Not only that they look better, but have a much better security and load speed.
Ultimately you should use a different theme for every PBN site that you have, but it’s not mandatory.
Think about it, what’s the chance that a niche site built on Thrive themes will get 2-3 links from other related blogs built on Thrive themes?
I would say that it’s perfectly natural as long as they are not cookie cutter builds and that they provide some value. Thrive has a huge number of clients, and it’s not rare to see many blogs in certain industries built by their visual builder. (This post is build with Thrive visual builder). The X theme, Avada, Elegant themes, they all have a huge number of users and are not a footprint on their own.
If you want to have a diverse, and safe network you need to mix things up and avoid using the standard PBN layout and look. A typical blog network site looks like this:
- Content + Right Sidebar layout
- Full posts on homepage
- Bad or no logo
- No proper structure
- No optins or call to actions
- Bunch of links to Wikipedia (Because Wikipedia is the only authority site? It sure isn’t…)
- No real purpose
It looks like its only purpose is to link out to certain sites and Wikipedia every now and then. You need to break that pattern and think outside the box.
There are three main layouts that you should consider.
For example, PBN Fox has a business layout. It has a clear call to action, headlines and value proposition. It doesn’t have to be as long as our landing page, but you should include several pages and sections on your business layout sites:
- Header (Where your value proposition is)
- Call to action (You can add a button to the contact page or signup for something)
- Our services/What we do/How it works etc…
- Further explanation of the services ( you can add bunch of text about each service and even link out to some of your clients here)
- Our clients / Testimonials etc
You can mix it up and go wild with this, add ebooks, products and so on.
Adding links on a business layout PBN:
Business/Corporate layout can fit less links on the homepage simply because it can look very un-natural. You can fit your links in testimonials, case studies product boxes, featured services or products and so on. You can also add a preview blog section on your home with links in excerpts. Makes it much more natural.
I aim to go with no more than 5-6 links on the homepage.
Most review blogs are built as personal blogs. The author writes about his or hers passion and reviews certain kind of products or services. It can be hard to fit such layout in certain niches, but you can make it work.
A company can also have a blog, not just a person. It gives your PBN more depth with multiple authors, more content, and ultimately more legitimate feel.
You can design the homepage in a classic recent posts + right sidebar, and you can switch the sidebar to the left or go with no sidebar at all to randomize your network further.
Few things every blog should have:
- Social Buttons
- Social profiles
- Optin boxes
- Author box or about us box
- Call to action or subscribe to newsletter
Adding links on a blog layout PBN:
We are all used to this layout, and it’s the easiest out of the three. I do not like blogs with full-text on the homepage. It's ugly, it's not natural, and I don’t do it. It looks much better if you add a 100-150 word excerpt with your links on the homepage with a nice featured image.
Magazine or news layout is what you see on most of the news sites out there. Take a look at the NY Times, Search engine journal, Visibility Magazine and our beloved Huffington post.
This type of layout screams authority if done right. You will most likely need a lot of filler content to make it look nice, and good looking featured images are a must.
Individual posts are similar to personal blog with the exception that there can be multiple authors, teams and it’s much more natural for such a site to curate content from other news/magazine type blogs, saving you some money on content.
Must have elements for a magazine site:
- Good looking featured images
- Large number of categories (5-10+)
- More content than a business site or personal blog
- Social widgets and profiles
Linking out from a Magazine PBN:
It can be difficult to link out from magazine sites. Some themes have limited ability to add links in excerpts or even control the homepage and add custom content. You should choose your themes wisely but most themes with visual builders will allow you to add custom sections.
The most natural way to link out to your site is from the excerpt or make a section called “our top contributors” or something similar.
By far the easiest, you can grab a solid logo for $5-10 on fiver. Nothing fancy, just not something that looks like it was not made in paint.
You can also make it yourself with basic knowledge of Photoshop.
Head over to FreePik.com and grab a vector that you think will look nice in your niche. Here is a good video:
A Font can make or break your logo. There are thousands of fonts out there but you only need dozen good ones for your PBN needs. Here is a list of good fonts on typewolf.com.
Make sure to save your logo in .png format to preserve transparency.
Featured Images and Banners
Images are the most important aesthetic thing for your PBN. Not only that your site will be an eye candy, but to a manual reviewer it will look like someone has made a proper effort and that the site is real.
You can easily create custom banners, featured images and ads with canva.com
You can theme your featured images to follow certain design and color scheme. It makes everything looks much better than slapping some default stock image.
If you are downloading the images from Google make sure they are "free for commercial use" photos to avoid DMCA complaints.
Many people leave the main nav with a link to home, contact, about and legal pages. Most real sites have many more navigation links.
Business sites will have services, case studies, testimonials, FAQ, pricing and other pages designed to sell a particular service or product.
Blogs on the other hand, will have links to certain categories, events, signups, hire us page and many other. Here is an example from Yoast blog:
And the magazine navigation menu from Search engine journal
Daryl from Lion Zeal made an awesome post about website structure and he explains how to create Navigation bar, logo and sidebar ads.
Every blog or a website has a purpose. It can sell something, collect leads or sign-ups. A business website shouldn’t have too many ads or banners, it looks very spammy and low quality. Magazine sites on the other hand can have more banners since renting ad space is how they earn money.
There is a website called Moat (Credit to Daryl for this, I never knew about this site before) and search for ads and banners in your niche. Simply upload the image to your media library in WordPress and use this code in sidebar text widget.
Upload the selected image to your wordpress and grab this link:
Place your Ad in the sidebar or footer of your PBN site with this code:
<a href="https://www.elegantthemes.com/" rel="nofollow"><img src="https://www.pbnfox.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Divi.jpg" alt="elegant themes" /></a>
Authors image and Bio is another thing that can look nicely on your site. I like to use pixabay for these images but there are many other free stock photo sites out there.
When searching for the image for your author try to be more specific than typing “woman” or “man” on google. You can bet your life that thousands of low quality pbns are using those images.
Instead, type something niche related like “playing with a dog” (if its a dog related blog) and you should get something more natural.
Author Bio should be something short but it should also explain who the author is in 50-100 words. From the above example lets say its a blog about a woman who likes to travel with her dog. We can write something like:
"Hey, my name is Lissa. I'm 22 years old and currently living in New York City. I grew up in Boston with my grandmother and grandfather, and they gave me a puppy for my 14th birthday. Since that moment, Buddy and I are inseparable. We visited 8 countries together, and this is our journey."
It's just something I came up in a minute, but you can do better than that.
Popups and Signup Overlays
Popups, overlays, slide-in offers and other sign-up widgets are a familiar sight on many blogs and websites these days. Even Forbes is using a welcome screen with quote of the day and ads.
And here is a popup from Search engine journal that pops up after few seconds.
You can use many free or paid wordpress plugins for this:
- Thrive Leads (Paid)
- Sumo Me (Free)
- Hello Bar (Free)
- Bloom (Comes with Elegant themes subscription)
- Optin Monster (Paid)
Social Buttons and Widgets
An essential design element for every site. Even most business sites have some social profile buttons (like, follow etc.) these days. I use Monarch plugin from Elegant themes on this blog and you can check it out at the bottom of this post or on the left hand side of the screen.
Here are some good plugins that you can use:
- Monarch (Elegant themes) - Comes with share and follow buttons
- Easy Social Share buttons (Paid)
- Sumome (Free)
- shareaholic.com (Free)
- Simple Share Buttons Adder (Free)
- Metro Style Social Widget (Free) - Good looking follow buttons
Mix it up, there are many other social buttons that you can try.
Must Have Plugins
Google can crawl and see some of your plugins, and it’s important that you diversify as much as possible. Plugins are also an essential part of your PBN setup.
Have in mind that having plugins such as Akismet and Yoast SEO are not a footprint, as they are widely used.
To break the pattern, just install some random plugins on every site.
Here are some plugins for specific tasks that you can shuffle.
- W3 total Cache
- WP Super Cache
- WP Rocket (paid)
- Yoast SEO
- Google XML Sitemaps
- XML sitemaps (Different than the above one)
There are several important settings that you need to take care of before going live with your site.
Settings > General:
Shuffle your Timezone, Date Format and Time Format.
Settings > Discussion
Here is my current setup. you can tick to automatically close comments 14 days after you publish a post.
Settings > Permalinks
I usually switch between these three but you can also include a custom structure like domain.com/category/post-name
There is no question about this. You need to use quality handwritten articles. No PBN with spun content will live to see the next month.
We can use pages for more static content such as contact, about, events and similar and posts for news, blog posts and useful information or guides for your niche. Let's start with pages.
Your PBN sites should have basic legal pages such as Disclaimer/TOS/Privacy, About and Contact page. After adding those pages decide if you can add any additional pages to the setup, and it largely depends on the niche.
For example, you can add pages such as:
- FAQ (questions and answers for your industry or niche)
- Events (for example a restaurant can have a page with upcoming events)
- Start Here (explain what your site is all about and have some useful links and pages)
- Our friends/Recommended services
- Case Studies (It can also contain links to your money sites)
- Coming soon ( software, event or something similar)
- Waiting List Page
- Advertise page (magazines or blogs)
- Write for us (for blogs)
- Affiliates Page (for business sites)
Contact and about pages can be 100-200+ words, and you should take a few minutes and make them look nice, not just slap the text and call it a day.
As for other pages, you can make them as long as you want but I recommend that you do not go below 300-400 words if you do not have a lot of other media (images, videos etc.)
Your PBN sites need to have a minimal amount of content to start with, and in most cases 1500-2000 words of text should be enough to start.
In general, you should add 1-2 articles (500+) words to all your sites per month. One article/month is perfectly fine, and it’s what I do for my networks. Here are some types of new posts and content that you can add to your sites/blogs.
To break the pattern and randomize, don’t use 500 words for every single post. Place a 1000 word post and next time grab a video + 200 words of text and use that.
What is Filler Content?
Having only the articles containing links to your money site can be a disaster. Instead, drop a filler article with no links or links pointing to some other sites in your niche that are not your competitors. (Seriously, don’t just use Wikipedia).
This way your PBN will look natural and pass manual review with flying colors.
Adding more content is very expensive, especially on large networks.
Here are some strategies that can lower the cost of adding new content and still remain safe.
You can use curated content from authority sites in your niche and add your editorial notes after each paragraph that you are quoting. You can add 300 words of unique text and end up with 1k+ word article that is perfectly fine to use and will get indexed. There is no reason that Google will slap you for using this strategy, just make sure that you add some value to the post.
That’s how the entire news world works. You grab an article or a paragraph, and you quote it. Make sure to add a link to the source with the no-follow attribute. (You won’t lose much of the link juice since its going from a deep page and Google wants to see attribution links if you are quoting someone)
Explaining an infographic
A good solution would be to share an infographic you found on some other site (make sure to credit the author) and add your opinion about it. You can also hire a VA to transcribe and add editorial insight about the topic with the link to a client or your site.
Transcribe a video
Find a video in your niche and transcribe it (You can usually find such a service on fiver). Make sure that your writer or a VA adds an editorial opinion (few hundred words is usually enough) and place the link somewhere inside the article.
Adding 5-10 images with caption or description for each of them is a good way to diversify your post types, and you can add a link pretty naturally in such posts.
Social Profiles Strategy
Social presence is a must for any blog or business in 2019, no way around that.
Since we aim to make our PBNs look like real websites, we need to make social profiles as well. Its not just for show, these profiles play an important role as a signal to justify traffic and links. It just makes everything more natural.
In most cases, you can just make a Facebook Page and Twitter Profile for your site and call it a day. Hell, I don’t have more than that for this blog.
But for the sake of being safe, and to get more social signals for your PBN you can create several or even dozen social profiles for each site.
To get the most out of these profiles and to provide your site with free social signals you can utilize IFTTT.
Using IFTTT with PBNs
IFTTT provides a great way to automatically syndicate your new blog posts to twitter, facebook, google + and other profiles.
Most bloggers use some sort of social media automation so this strategy is pretty white hat. The idea is to automate sharing on multiple profiles as soon as you release a new blog post.
Here are some of the most popular social networks that you can integrate with your setup:
- Google + (I try to avoid using Google + these days but you can use it on a small percent of blogs)
You can just add 2-3 of these profiles or you can add all of them. But try to mix it up and don't go overboard. It can be a footprint to have 50 PBNs with exact same social profiles.
If you want to learn about IFTTT check out an awesome article on SEMRush by Hernan Vazquez. You should also check out SEMantic Mastery course called IFTTT Seo Academy.
Going the extra mile to create beautiful websites that have a real purpose and provide value will allow you to pass any manual review and even rank for certain keywords, generate traffic and social shares which will, in turn, make your websites even more powerful.
How did you like this article and do you think it covers everything as far as PBN design and setup goes?
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