I get it – you want backlinks because backlinks are awesome. They arm your website with much-needed “link juice” that gives you more credibility with Google, and which helps you climb the SERPs. Backlinks are also a great way to drive more traffic.

One snag: PBNs.

PBNs can be pretty nasty things. Known as Private Blog Networks, they’re typically run by nefarious individuals who use them to pass link juice between several of their own blogs.

The thing is that Google doesn’t take too kindly to this kind of thing and – when it spots a bad PBN – will punish it.

And it will also punish those sites the PBN is linking out to, such as yours.

See, when you’re on the hunt for backlinks, you need to put quality over quantity. Spammy sites like bad PBNs won’t benefit you in the slightest. They will harm you and can cause a decrease in your rankings.

And they definitely won’t grant you more exposure to your targeted audience.

Let’s take a look at how to recognize and avoid PBNs.

Bad Website Design

Typically, this is the biggest clue that you’ve got a PBN on your hands.

No blogger who’s creating a “pyramid scheme” of blogs to get rich off quickly is going to take the time and effort needed to create beautiful websites each time. Instead, they’ll take the easy option and throw together a simply – even poorly – designed website that’s low in quality.

It shouldn’t take you too long to figure out when a website looks badly designed. A quick glance will suffice, and if your gut is telling you that this is a PBN, it probably is.

Bad Backlink Profile

If you want to, you can check the backlink profile of any website. How? All you need to do is download an SEO tool that comes with such a feature. SpyFu is one tool in question that lets you “spy” on what other websites are up to, including their backlink profile.

If a website is legit, it will have a good backlink profile. If it’s a PBN, it will have a bad backlink profile.

But what’s a bad backlink profile?

Typically, PBNs are based on recently expired domains. What the PBN is doing is taking advantage of all the old links that are linking to the old website.

And what this means is that there’ll likely be a whole load of irrelevant and broken links in there.

Low to Non-Existent Organic Traffic

What are you looking to achieve from your backlinks campaign? More traffic and more link juice, right?

In that case, you’ll need to guest blog on websites that are driving lots of organic traffic.

Sadly, this generally isn’t the case for PBNs. Instead, PBNs are notorious for having zero traffic.

Sometimes, they have a bit of traffic, but it’s often very low.

How do you find this information out? SimilarWeb is a Chrome extension that lets you check estimated traffic data.

Poor Guest Content

Like you, there are other guest bloggers out there who are looking for more links.

But unlike you, not all of these bloggers will have the same desire for responsible links.

And they might not even be very good at writing. All they want are those links and they don’t care how they get them.

As such, posting low-value content to a PBN that literally offers nothing to the reader is their bag. If you spot a blog where the content is really poor and offers zero value, it’s highly likely that this is a PBN.

And this is key because Google ranks content better when it provides value to the reader.

No Social Media Accounts

Anyone running a PBR racket isn’t going to have the time to execute a gorgeous website design – and they’re also not going to have the time to put together social media accounts for each blog.

Imagine the time and effort involved in that when all you want is cash right now.

As such, if you can’t find a single trace of a blog on social media, you should be very suspicious. Because let’s face it, every legit business is now on social media.

Covers a Wide Variety of Topics That Aren’t Even Related

Let’s imagine I want to guest blog about marketing on a website in order to boost my online profile and cement my position as an expert.

I find a marketing website on Google that sounds good, check it out … and then discover all kinds of topics, from marketing to real estate to gardening.

This will hardly help me reach my target audience, so I bail out.

Legit websites are aimed at specific demographics. PBNs don’t care who comes to visit. All that matters is that they visit

Lastly, I want to point out that a website can fit one of the above criteria, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a PBN. Just because traffic is low, for example, that doesn’t mean the site is a PBN.

A PBN typically has all or most of the above red flags, which means you need to use the above as a checklist as you perform your due diligence. Good luck!