Private blog networks aren’t dead – They are just private

 

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If you look on a lot of SEO forums you will inevitably see a selection of forum posts from two camps; one that says that private blog networks (PBNs) are dead and the one that is shouting that they are fantastic and still going strong.

The camp that is proclaiming that they are dead are probably the people that also often shout about how SEO is dead too. These people could have garnered their opinions based on the high profile de-indexing by Google of several high profile blog networks in recent times.

The camp that are proclaiming that private blog networks are alive and kicking splits into 2 sub-groups; There is the group that claims how great these blog networks are doing so well, and so strongly do so with mixed motives, as many of them are selling links on blog networks which are supposedly private. The other group know the truth – that private blog networks are not dead; they are just private!

What?!! Private blog networks aren’t dead!

Private blog networks are very much alive and kicking and still a very strong tool to promote your website. This almost mythical SEO tool causes quite a stir in the community because so many people have misconceptions about what they are and how they work.

The wrong type of private blog network

The wrong type of private blog networks are the ones that you see posted all over SEO forums. Normally they will claim to have zero footprint, the link authority of Google itself and be yours for $9.99! OK, I would love to be able to say that I was exaggerating but I am not sadly. I have one thing to say about these networks. If you are thinking about buying links on one to your business/brand websites don’t! If you can pay twenty dollars or whatever for a link on a blog, so can Google. These people’s networks will eventually get burned because they are being too blatant about it, and your relevant link may be among 5 or 10 non-relevant links. These sites will often have really thin content and are usually built from expired domains that have a bit of legacy authority.

The right type of private blog network

The right type of private blog network is one that you have built for yourself; it doesn’t even have to be just blogs. This network of sites doesn’t have to be huge in number, just really high quality. Why high quality if it is just for SEO you might say? The secret is to make the sites authoritative in their own right. This means that they are not spammy and can still pass on plenty of link juice to your main business website. This may take a lot of hard work, time and potentially money but it is really the safest long term solution. The better you make these websites the more authority they can pass to your main websites. A good natural link from a strong website can often be more powerful than 5 lower quality links.

If you don’t want people to know that these websites are linked you can block the crawling of all of the tools such as Moz, Majectic and ahrefs etc, but don’t block search engines! This will mean that when people do link research on your main website, and they will do if you are in front, they won’t see your private websites in their lists.

What if I am promoting churn and burn websites?

If you are creating churn and burn websites the rules change to some degree. If you are blatantly churning and burning a money making website then the decision of spending loads of time on your own private network of websites isn’t as critical. Likely you will have multiple websites in different states of progress. In this case anything is game, of course at some point churning and burning becomes a grind of building a high converting website and promoting it to see it be dead and buried by Google, sometimes within weeks.

Are private networks worth it?

If you are willing to put the time and effort into building a few really high quality websites to have in your network it is most definitely worth it. You can use these to link to several of your own related websites, and if the blogs/sites become successful enough in their own right you can monetize them too! Just don’t advertise them on forums.

Image credit: Peter Lee.

Should you be complacent with a mobile friendly badge for your website?

mobile devices

On April 21st Google will heavily impact search results for mobile users leaving many website owners scrambling to tick the mobile friendly box, but the question is that is having a page that passes as mobile friendly enough and should you be complacent?

Google has dropped a few pretty big hints that the speed of your website could become really important:

The slow tag in SERPs

Google has been testing showing a slow tag on its search result pages for mobile users. This could be really useful for people who are trying to find information while browsing on a mobile device via their mobile phone network. I expect that this could come into effect on or soon after April the 21st. This may not be a penalty but could severely impact click through rates.

Google launches a new light version of its website

Google sent a clear message about their dedication to mobile users by launching a lighter version of their website that will show for mobile users with slower speed connections. By showing for only people on slow connections it is clear that they are measuring user speeds and it is not unreasonable to expect that they would not show websites that they (Google) deem as slow to these users.

So what should you do?

Well the first thing that you should do is not to be complacent. In the past people have often ridiculed SEO’s asking for speed improvements to websites, and in some cases it is just stupid to fret over 0.03% improvement on some issue to improve a Google page speed score. But you should definitely look to make sure that your website is as mobile friendly and efficient as is practical to do so.

Common issues that seem to slow websites down significantly are:

  • Images that are not optimized for mobile. A full size image reduced to size to fit still needs the full file size to be downloaded. Ideally you should set up your website to show smaller file size images for mobile and tablet devices.
  • Remove any unused tracking scripts. Often it is third party scripts that slow down a website’s load time. It is easy to add a few for tracking, and then one for usability studying etc. It is important to look at reducing these, especially if they are no longer being used. You may look at one and think “Oh it’s only 150ms that it is adding to the page load” but that multiplied for users on a ropey mobile connection could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
  • Minify and concatenate all of your JavaScript and CSS files. This can make websites load much faster and require less data. Lots of websites neglect to do this which is a shame as they are crippling themselves.
  • Enabling compression – This can be done easily with plugins or by editing the htaccess file.

My website doesn’t get a lot of mobile traffic why should I care?

If you don’t get much mobile traffic you may need to worry less about the update on the 21st for the immediate future but if your website relies on traffic that comes from search engines you need to ask yourself this: Where do you think it will stop? It won’t be too far into the distant future when a website that is fully responsive and mobile friendly will be deemed as higher quality than an equal site that isn’t.

So should you be complacent with a mobile friendly badge? No, I don’t think so unless you have done all that you can to ensure that your website is as fast and friendly as possible, or you could find your sit being beat by others who have similar quality content websites that have gone the extra mile.

The SEO royal big three your website needs to rank well

 

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As complicated as many SEO people would like to make it sound, SEO still boils down to 3 main areas which I like to call my big 3 of SEO. Just like a royal family all have their place and without one they can’t perform all of their royal duties. Hopefully I will be able to give you a good understanding of the areas you need to cover.

I know some people like to work out that you need to mention your keyword 3.63 times per paragraph and tell you to hop 4 steps to the left while crying “no Bing, Google is my queen!” but this isn’t really the case. Here are my royal family big 3 of SEO that you should work on to improve your website.

Your Content

Content truly is king and if your website doesn’t have any good content it just isn’t going to last. Good content doesn’t have to be long content. The best content is often the most relevant and useful content possible for the term that someone has searched for to land on your site.

So what is good content? Having 9,000 words is no longer an ideal solution, as it just isn’t a good experience for a user. On many occasions a quality landing page will have a wealth of useful information accompanied by quality imagery or videos.

Spun content and sending 3,000 shitty links from your super elite blog network provider may get you to the front pages but you will soon get penalised. Of course, this plan works for those that rely on turn and burn websites for profit. There is more to it than that of course!

Your Website’s Structure

If content is king then the structure of your website is queen. Your website platform is as important as the quality of tyres on a car in an emergency stop manoeuvre. Good quality content is useless if it is almost impossible for search engines to read and understand it. I have seen clients reap huge benefits from implementing changes to their website that I have recommended. For a lot of websites, the initial on site recommendations can bring a huge early win for you and your clients. So what do you need to consider?

Is your code clean and complete? Make sure that your website’s code is semantically sound. Ensure that rich snippets are used where possible, that your code isn’t bloated and that your website behaves as expected. Clean code isn’t going to make you rank at the top, but it will allow search engines and other bots to understand as much as possible what your website and its’ content is about.

Is your structure good? Make sure that you make a good use of your headers. If you use images make sure that the files have legible descriptive name, just like the ALT text. This can help search engines to know what the image is likely to be a picture of. Don’t focus too heavily on one keyword in your copy, having a good mix of keywords and terms will look more natural and fluid to people and search engines.

Is your site fast? Google has made a lot of noise about how a faster website offers a much better user experience.

Can a search engine tell what your page is about? Does your entire content match what a user would expect to see when they visit your page?

Is your website mobile friendly? Google has recently started to label mobile friendly websites and is likely to give preference to these to a large degree in mobile search results. Check to see how mobile friendly your website is with Google’s tool here.

Endorsement of your website

The prince and princesses of your website are endorsements. The prince is links and the princess is social media (or the other way round if you prefer).

Links

People linking back to your website and its content is critical if your website is going to rank anywhere near the front pages. Every link to your site is seen as an endorsement. Not all links are the same though. 10 amazing authoritative websites linking to yours can be more powerful than 200 low quality ones.

Social Media

A website that is popular on social media often ranks well in search engines, although this is more of a correlation than a cause. The benefits of social media are often not fully recognised by people looking to increase their website rankings and traffic.

The more liked, tweeted and shared etc your website is the better. This provides signals to search engines that your content is popular, which in theory means that it is great quality.

Social media is also a great source of traffic so it can be well worth choosing the right social media networks for you and your website and engaging with people on them. This doesn’t mean just posting your content from your website once a week. To get the best out of social media you need to dedicate plenty of time to it and engage with others in a genuine way, as spammers are as transparent as glass.

There is no fixed formula for the above, but most websites require a mix of them all to rank well at the highest that they possibly can. So make sure you try to improve all 3 on your website.