08 Nov Private Influencer Networks, a new SEO technique for 2017
Private Influencer Network, A new Hope for Link Building in 2017
A product of ‘digital’ nature, ViperChill has come up with a new Link Building strategy combining aspects of PBN’s, Influencer Marketing & Black Hat.
What I’m going to reveal in this blog post is a strategy that will likely weed out a certain section of the ViperChill audience. In other words, I’m fully aware that this blog post will make a particular type of person unsubscribe from ViperChill and likely never return. It’s certainly not going to end up on the homepage of Inbound.org.
If you are loyal to Google guidelines, the teachings of blogs like Moz and love playing by the book, then you’ll probably realise with this article that we possess a very different perspective.
When I first started my internet journey – where I spent day and night trying to make a living online – I tried and tested more website ideas and angles than you would believe.
Today, I’m still pushing the boundaries to see what works. These boundaries most often pertain to SEO, since it’s what I’ve enjoyed the most over the last 11 years.
I’m in the fortunate position that my business it not tied to some employer who dictates how I have to do things when it comes to promoting web properties. As such, I’m always willing to ignore everything I previously thought about marketing and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.
This blog post details one such opportunity, but I realise it will not be for everyone. Not everyone is the position to implement it for their online business, and even if you are, you may question the ethics of what is coming up.
With that disclaimer out of the way, today I’m going to introduce you to the world of PIN’s. Just before I do that, I want to talk about why I think they’re necessary.
I Predict We’ve Got Four to Five Years Left to ‘Do SEO’ As We Know It
This isn’t some “SEO is Dead” article you see go viral in the SEO blogosphere every six months, but a genuine prediction based on how Google search results have evolved over the last few years.
Google make all of their money via ads so quite simply want more people to click on them (and more often). The less success people have with SEO, the more likely they are to move to Google’s advertising platform.
Long gone are the days when we’re presented with just 10 blue links on a page.
The White Space Between Search Results Has Increased
It’s known that the higher up the page a search result, the more clicks it will receive. Therefore, when organic search results are pushed further down the page they’re going to be receiving fewer and fewer clicks. Not only are they lower down now in mobile results due to spacing, but the change is being tested across desktop results as well.
The search result on the left includes the new extra spacing with the ads taking up far more vertical space than the search result on the right (graphic via SEMPost).
There Are More ‘Featured Snippets’ Than Ever Before
There isn’t much to say on this one besides feature snippets are to be found for millions of search queries in every industry imaginable. What, when, how and why questions are often answered with a featured snippet box.
This not only pushes ‘organic’ search results further down in search results, it also attempts to give you the answer right from the results page. We can argue whether or not it’s useful for searchers, but for SEO’s, it gives new meaning to having the top result in Google.
‘Map Packs’ Completely Changed Local Search Results
Some call them ‘map packs’, some ‘the local pack’ and some even call them the ‘snack pack’. Whatever your term of choice, after being introduced a few years ago SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to get themselves and their clients into the pack to compensate for a lack of expected search results.
After all, these local listings take up a large portion of screen real estate.
I’m not complaining about this change; I’m simply pointing it out. There’s no doubt it makes search results more useful and that is Google’s aim (usually) after all. While Google did reduce the listings from seven to three back in August of 2015, the redesign of the listings with adding spacing means not much changed in terms of organic results being seen.
Those Map Packs Now Contain Ads, Too
We’re not going back to Google updates of a few years ago to make a point about Google evolving. Just last month Google announced that the map / local / snack pack would now include ads, as shown below.
This image is a mockup by Barry Schwartz, though the real thing looks very similar
It’s interesting to follow both PPC and SEO guys on Twitter and see the difference in reaction. PPC guys are over the moon since it gives them more traffic opportunities for their clients and SEO guy’s, well…I’m sure you can guess the reaction.
Based on how Google’s past, it’s not one of surprise.
They Have All The Answers
The knowledge graph was released in May of 2012 and it’s almost disappointing when you don’t see it for queries when looking for quick answers. For example, when I want to see how my football team, Newcastle, have fared against Liverpool, I literally don’t have to click anywhere.
Whether you want to learn about how old someone is, what 12 x 56 is or who discovered Radium, Google has the results right there for you. As a searcher, I love these quick answers, but as an SEO, it’s just one more thing which has lessened the likelihood of people clicking on my website if it doesn’t appear in this box.
They Continue to Make People Scared of Link Building
Google are great at making people fearful of performing any type of SEO. After all, this was the company that introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute so we could link out to websites without giving them “link juice”.
That isn’t the real headline for the article – I’ve got to have some fun in these serious posts – but Google have publicly cracked down on pretty much everything when it comes to link building. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Guest posting for links
- Using directories for links
- Utilizing private blog networks
- Adding links to website themes
- Adding do-followed links to widgets
- They literally created a ‘no-follow’ tag
That’s not all; they openly share how much human intervention is involved in finding people abusing the guidelines, rather than algorithmic. This tweet speaks volumes.
Anglo Rank was a small network being promoted on the Black Hat World forums.
Just think about this for a second. One of Google’s first employees (and former Head of Web Spam), worth millions of dollars, dedicated his time to actively targeting a tiny little network on some private forum just to scare other people away from doing the same.
The simple fact is that Google can’t figure out with absolutely certainty which links are earned, or bought, or manipulative, very effectively.
Now I’m not taking anything away from Google here. Their company is worth hundreds of billions and mine, well…isn’t. They have undoubtedly created the world’s most sophisticated search engine.
But as I said earlier, it’s far easier for them to get us to police ourselves than it is for them to police us.
Big Brands Dominate the Long Tail
As SEO becomes increasingly difficult and searches are more and more dominated by big brands, the long tail will be the final frontier of search traffic opportunities.
When I said we only have a few years left to do SEO as we know it, the long tail will be where the majority of SEO’s focus their time through on-site SEO changes and content marketing.
While we’ll still have opportunities for SEO to ‘work’, long tail search results just don’t seem to be as diverse as they were in the past. It makes sense to me that Google have some kind of ‘filter’ whereby if they’re not sure what to list for a search result, they simply show more results from an authoritative site to be on the safe side.
Logically, this makes sense, but as an SEO, it could be a worrying sign of things to come. You can see this lack of diversification above in my screenshot of the map packs as well, with Yelp dominating the first three organic search results.
The Lack of Diversity in Search Results Will Only Get Worse
If you’ve only found ViperChill recently then it was likely because of my recent article, How 16 Companies Are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results. It has been shared thousands of times on social media and been read over 40,000 times, making it one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written here.
In the article I highlighted how Hearst Media were using their brands like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day to point footer links to a new website of theirs, BestProducts.com.
That strategy, which would get the rest of us penalized, continues to work incredibly well.
“Just follow the Google guidelines.” Why?
Since that post, I was also contacted by a few people associated with the brands I had featured. One of those people I talked with was Tre who works in the growth department of About.com. I had already mentioned in the article how About planned to spin off into many more verticals over the coming months, which he confirmed.
I admit I’m being a little pedantic with my highlighting, but when you’re Director of Growth for About.com you’re going to share which terms are driving traffic to one site with the team that is in charge of another.
I appreciate Tre’s replies and I’m sure there’s only so much he can say, but About.com’s real goal with their spin-off’s is to no doubt own ten search results, instead of one.
PIN’s: My Version of Fighting Back While I Still Can
When I talked about why I started using private link networks and then continued to use them after Google’s “crackdown”, my primary reason was very simple: Writing quality content and getting ‘whitehat’ links wasn’t working for me. I was being outranked by people with crappy link networks who could build their own ‘relevant’ links on a whim and I decided to fight back.
You could view PIN’s in a similar light. I am utilising them because we’re not competing on a fair playing field, and what is supposed to work is very rarely what ranks, at least in the industries that I operate in.
While I don’t wish to reveal those exact industries, let me give you an example closer to home, with ViperChill.
I will say in advance that this is a search term I really don’t care about ranking for. I have no idea how many times it’s searched for each month and honestly, I doubt it gets many searches at all.
Here are the search results for the query, ‘Future of blogging’.
My site is usually either in 10th or 11th for that term, yet by every SEO standard metric I should be number one.
- I have more links to the page ranking than anyone else
- I have more ‘domain authority’ than most other pages
- My title tag seems more relevant than half of them
Yet in order to get more traffic for this search term, which I think I ‘deserve’ from a 10,000 word article which took me weeks to put together, all I have to do is one thing.
It’s not getting more links. It’s not improving my on-site SEO. It’s not building better connections with influencers.
All I need to do to get my traffic back is to add a sentence to the start of the article which says ‘Last updated: July 25th 2016‘.
This is a search result where how recent an article was posted is more important than whether it’s actually a good page to rank.
I don’t actually have to update the article; I literally just need to make it appear to Google – thanks to that one sentence – that my article was updated recently. This one sentence, this ‘trick’, would bring me back the ranking I feel I deserve. (Though, again, I doubt this even gets searched for. It’s just an example).
This is not theory. If you look at the first sentence of my WordPress SEO guide that’s exactly what I’ve done before, with great results.
This little change is not too dissimilar to what I need to rank in other industries. I don’t need better on-site SEO. I don’t need to build natural links from relevant sites through content marketing. I simply need to add more domains to my private link network and write more guest blog posts.
Yes, these are both tactics that are looked down upon by Google, but they still work incredibly well. In 2014 when I covered Google’s crackdown on private blog networks I did mention that they would now be less likely to care about private link networks.
In my exact words:
What I expect to happen is that Google will ease off looking into private networks. The damage is mostly done.
Why? Because they’ve already made people scared to build them. The best way to deal with people trying to game the system is essentially making us as a community police ourselves so we don’t try to game the system in the first place.
The continued use of private link networks and guest posting for SEO is part of the reason why I will get a lot of criticism from this post. How to implement these tactics more effectively, which I’ll talk about later, will be the larger reason for criticism.
The Approach to Take
One of the first ideas I had when I started out online was to assemble a team of people who could work together to build a huge website. At the time I was following the growth of TechCrunch and Mashable and saw how quickly they were able to grow thanks to having a team of writers.
My idea was to essentially connect a team of people who all worked on one website and in return everyone had a percentage ownership. The logic being that working as a team would result in the site growing faster and even if revenue or a sale price was split, we would have more success than working on our own.
It’s a similar idea a number of ViperChill readers had after reading my last article on the small number of brands dominating Google search results.
While it’s a nice idea, in theory it doesn’t work so well.
Some will want to dictate the direction of a site that others don’t agree with and more importantly, some people will put in far more work than others. If you’re writing more content than others and your articles are getting better traction, you’re going to want to increase your ownership compared to someone barely putting in any effort.
There is another option you can utilise if you wish to team up with others though, and that’s a PIN.
It comes with all of the benefits of creating your own team, without the downsides of worrying about who is contributing what work.
What the Hell is a PIN?
A PIN is a play on the acronym PBN, which is commonly referred to as a private blog or link network.
I’ve received my fair share of critics over the years for talking about PBN’s and their success – and continuing to build them – but there’s a reason I do: They work.
I simply don’t believe that playing by Google’s rules is always going to get me the results I want. In some industries I wouldn’t make the money I do without them. I don’t use them for clients, but do for my own websites.
Going forward, I think PIN’s are going to be crucial to my success in certain industries, and I think they are going to be crucial to a number of people reading this as well.
PIN, stands for Private Influencer Network.
Before you think that just means making some “friends” online and building up your connections, allow me to continue.
I define a Private Influencer Network as a group of people looking to rank their websites in Google in similar industries (but not the same) who work together to help each other reach their objectives.
Essentially, they use any opportunities they have to build links (such as private blog networks, guest blogging, interviews, blogger round-ups) to send backlinks to other people in their network. In return, other people do the same for them.
The end result is that for the work you would do to build ten backlinks, you can get twenty to forty (of the same quality) in return.
A $100,000/m PIN Operating Right Under Your Nose
I first came across a Private Influencer Network a little over a year ago. A few ‘influencers’ in a particular field were using their private blog networks to – quite simply – link to each other.
I didn’t think much of the tactic at the time, until I found another example of this happening just a few months later.
Then three months after that, I found my third example. This time it really got my attention.
A group of just five people (from what I could tell) were ranking in one of the most profitable industries online and undoubtedly making over $100,000 per month in the process. I operate in the niche, which is how I found their collaboration, and know the numbers very well.
This is when I started working on building my own, PIN.
Finally, the idea to write this blog post came to me when I found yet another PIN. One of the members of this network is one of the most well-known SEO’s on the planet and is reading this article. He already “knows I know.”
If you follow the SEO blogosphere, you’ll undoubtedly know who he is.
One of the sites they are promoting also very likely also makes more than $100,000 per month. I’m not involved in the niche, but I know others who are and with the rankings they have, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.
I reached out to the owner of the ‘money site’ they had all teamed up to promote. I keep a private database of paid link opportunities and one of them costs more than $10,000 per year. I found their website there, so sent the main owner an email.
One months revenue spent on link building is a small price to pay when you’re doing huge numbers thanks to gaming Google.
While some would view four to five guys linking to each other to make more than $100,000/m from a one-year-old website as shady and unethical, I’m personally impressed at how well they are crushing a very competitive niche so quickly.
While there is a chance that a PIN could be “outed”, the last two examples I found were so well put together that I’m almost certain I was the only person who connected the dots.
If you’re not trying to rank in an obvious industry that’s constantly monitored by SEO’s – like blogging and internet marketing – the chances of your PIN becoming uncovered are relatively low. Much lower than having your private blog network discovered.
As you’ve probably already figured out more succinctly than I am at getting to the point, members of a PIN use any opportunity they have to ‘link out’ to take care of their whole team.
While I’ve been fairly slow on the uptake to building my own PIN, I have been slowly building them in a few industries over the last few months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
I didn’t want to write this blog post until I had a better understanding of how to build and manage them, because managing them is actually the most time-consuming part.
You have to make sure everyone in the network is pulling their weight and giving (and getting) equal opportunities. Opportunities, of course, is code for links.
A Real-World Example of How a PIN Works
One of the websites I find myself checking for ideas and inspiration is Entrepreneur.com.
I recently found an article on the website, published by a contributor and not a staff member, which could serve as a great example for how PIN’s work.
Let me say it in bold (for those just skimming) that the example below is totally legitimate.
I’m highlighting it because it’s natural, but could have been used in a non-natural way.
While the screenshot below might be the longest ever embedded by me into a blog post, there is something much more important that I have to say about it.
There is no specific reason I have singled out this article. It was simply the first article on Entrepreneur.com when I was looking to give an example for this post. Proof of that is the date. This article is going live on July 25th whereas this article I’m featuring below is from July 22nd.
It just happened to be a great example to see a PIN (or what could be a PIN), in action.
I made the article a little shorter than the original (the screenshot was long enough, I know) but you can see the majority of it here. The first thing you’ll notice is four mentions of Weekdone. Unsurprisingly, these are all links to the company that the author works for.
A good guest article, utilised for a PIN, will link to other recommended resources that are connections of the author. The links should be relevant, but also to other people in your network so that you are ‘owed’ a link back.
Now on the surface (without my large logos stuck over the text) this looks like a totally normal article (albeit with a little overuse of linking back to the authors employer). If you do a little more research, you’ll learn that the other two highlighted companies, Zlien and Mavrck, are actually clients of Weekdone.
In other words, Weekdone likely earn some bonus points from their clients for mentioning them in an article on Entrepreneur.com. I see nothing wrong with this and it’s a one-off occurrence so it’s not done for SEO manipulation; I’m just trying to show how a PIN link looks without actually revealing one.
Essentially everything looks natural until you look under the hood. It’s normal for a client to talk about a company they use, as shown below where the relationship continues.
Once again, I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong here. It was one of the top articles on Entreprenuer.com as I was finishing up this article (the post is only three days old) and happened to make a good example.
The truth is that Entrepreneur.com, along with Forbes and the business sections of the Huffington Post, are great resources to see mini PIN’s in action. The people who write content for these sites generally try to get as much out of writing for them as possible.
They link to their friends, and their friends link to them.
A PIN in Action
I wanted to create a graphic for this section but your understanding of the concept is far more important than your ability to decipher my poor Photoshop skills. Before it gets a little bit crazy, I have assumed that there are just two ‘influencers’ in your private network.
The yellow box is your money website (the website you wish to rank in Google).
The brown boxes are private blog sites you own (optional).
The grey boxes are link opportunities you’ve created through guest posting or similar.
While the graphic is admittedly not the prettiest (I did warn you), the concept is very simple.
Some of your private network domains will point links to the other influencer in your network, as will some of your guest posts on other websites.
In return, the other influencer will do the same for you.
Once you start adding more people to your network, things get a little bit more messy, but the principle remains the same.
When I try to visualise this with four influencers as part of your PIN it gets a little ugly, but here goes.
The golden rule you need to remember is this: If you receive a link from someone from a specific source, you need to replicate the link in kind.
So if you receive a link in a guest post from someone in the network, you need to give them a link from a guest post you write.
Essentially meaning that the work you do for 10 links for yourself gets you 30-40 links in return. This number varies because sometimes it’s a bit risky (such as using blog networks) to link out to the same sites which are linking to you but you still receive more links than you would have without your network, for essentially the same work.
The Types of Links Which Are Shared
I originally tried to write these guidelines as if there were four people in a PIN but it became a little bit too complicated to read (and write). Instead, I’ll assume there are only two people in your PIN and show you what types of links you could generate or other ways to help each other.
If there are more people in your PIN, which I highly recommend, then understand that Influencer #1 will sometimes link to #2, while #4 sometimes links to number #3 and so on. It’s basically just varying the following link opportunities to keep things fair for everyone.
The types of reciprocation that can take place.
- You can tweet or Facebook share an article from another influencer
- You can retweet or publicly thank another influencer for mentioning you
- You can utilize a guest post opportunity to link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
- If you use build private blog networks, you can use some to link to other influencers
- If you find articles where comments drive traffic to your site, you can inform other influencers
- When being interviewed you can link to a relevant quote or article from another influencer
- Sharing link opportunities you find on your site they can utilize for theirs
- Offering website design advice
- Utilizing Web 2.0 properties to give links and get the same in return
If performed properly, there is no reason to hide that you have a connection with other influencers in your niche. The only thing you would have to care about is that the obvious mission for having these connections is to help each others search engine rankings.
If you are outside of the internet marketing world you don’t really have to worry about other people finding your private link networks, but always keep a few rules in mind to avoid footprints.
Ready to Build Your Own PIN? Here’s My Advice
If you see the benefits of utilizing a PIN for your own search engine rankings, and actually getting more than rankings in return, then here’s my advice for setting one up.
A PIN Must Have a Leader
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to write about this topic until I had attempted to do it myself.
My short but relevant experience tells me that there has to be one person (or two at most) who is in control of the group you gather together to make sure that everyone in the team is pulling their weight.
In other words, you need to make sure that the people who are receiving links are doing their part in giving them as well.
The leader must also make sure that members of the team are active. It’s no use everyone playing along for the first few weeks while the idea is hot and then dropping off the map.
Bringing Together Your Team
While some of you may be excited about getting started on this – and some horrified that I’m even talking about it – there’s one important caveat to keep in mind.
Do not bring anyone into your team who has never shown any self-drive in terms of search engine optimization.
- Doesn’t already have a website they wish to rank
- Doesn’t regularly produce content for their own sites or others
- Doesn’t have at least a basic knowledge of SEO fundamentals
Don’t invite them to be part of your network.
I assumed this would be the case from the start of building my own, but I’m even more sure of it after trying to get other people excited about the idea who weren’t actually willing to contribute to the rest of the teams’ success as a whole.
A simple test to see if someone would be right to join your network is to send a candidate over to this article and have them read about this concept for themselves.
If they don’t immediately “get” the idea and they don’t reply with something like “I can see this working well” then it’s not someone you want on your team.
You shouldn’t have to convince anyone to work with you. They should see it for themselves. If they’re against it because of ethical reasons, then that’s totally fine (and understandable) but again, it’s a sure sign that they’re not someone you want in your team.
As far as communication goes, there are a few platforms out there that would be useful.
You could create a Skype group where people get together. I certainly recommend that everyone get on a call together at least some point to make sure you all understand each other’s roles.
Slack is another good option, as you can keep up to date via their mobile app and have a history of previous agreements.
A private Facebook group is another good option.
Both Slack and Facebook allow there to be a leader who can add or remove members to the network.
The platform is really up to you. My only recommendation is not to lay out all your plans in Google Docs ;).
Take One Step Back from Your Current Niche
It should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: You don’t want to work with people who are targeting the same keywords as you.
However, you still want to connect with people who are in a relevant niche (I’ll give you the chance to connect with ViperChill readers at the bottom of this post). For instance, if you’re promoting your real estate website then it makes sense to team up with other realtors, just not for the same region.
If you’re in the weight loss niche then it makes sense to collaborate and grow your audience with other people in that niche, but target different keywords and / or promote different types of products and services.
Whatever niche you’re in, imagine you’re shopping for that specific industry on Amazon but go back one category to find people to work with. Again, I’ll give you the opportunity to find PIN partners at the end of this article.
Footprints are Hard to Find, But Still Be Careful
From the PIN’s I’ve discovered and the ones I’m working on myself, I’ve found you really don’t have to be too careful when it comes to leaving some kind of footprint. After all, it doesn’t ring any alarm bells when Copyblogger keeps mentioning Problogger or Mashable keep linking to TechCrunch. It’s “natural” and something you can expect from the owners of websites who have developed friendships with each other.
Where you have to be careful is primarily with private blog networks and not creating footprints of clearly linking back and forth to each other from the same sites at all times. Of course, you don’t have to use private networks, but remember for each link you give out, you can get three to four back, so it can dramatically speed up the process of ranking your site.
- Be sure to thanks Glen for this FUCKING AWESOME idea and analysis at his blog ViperChill and personal site GlenAllsopp.com