Newbie explanation needed for some advanced questions.... this should be fun

Hello,

My name is Devin. I am an internet marketer, and I have come here to ask a question to the multi-site experts that traditional marketers do not know the answer to (because they aren't devs!)

I am going to give a very brief intro/background info to my question before I ask it, just in-case there is someone here who is knowledgeable enough to answer but just unaware about the SEO terminology Im about to use.

There are talks in various SEO forums I belong to regarding "PBNs". Private Blog Networks. Basically, creating networks of sites and then using those sites to link to a TargetSite to try and rank it. (totally against Googles TOS, I get that. I am just trying to get a real informed answer about this because I'm sick of all the debates.)

SEOs will create 100s of these wordpress blogs in order to accomplish their rankings goals.
However, managing multiple PBNs (100s) via a spreadsheet is insane. So, a possible solution some people have suggested is using a multi-site manager. Others say this is dangerous becuase it leaves "footprints". Footprints are some type of evidence, or correlation, that Google can read, and thus tie all your websites together, leaving what is known as a "footprint".

If Google can associate that all the websites are tied together, they will de-index all of your websites off their search engine, and penalize them, and potentially penalize all of the websites you have linked to.

One obvious example of a footprint is to put your same Google Analytics code on all of your websites. Another would be putting all of your websites on the same hosting account - Google could see that a high majority of incoming links to the TargetSite are from the same IP or nameservers.

The question I have is in regards to the debate about using some kind of multi-site manager to "manage" all of your PBN sites.

So, my question is ... When using multi-site management, is there any way for search engines (Google) to tie together that all of your websites are correlated - aka, can it create footprints?

What sorts of information is accessible by Google? Only the information able to be read by a web browser?

I don't have enough knowledge about web dev or the backend of web browsers to know what is possible and what is not.

Thank you

    Adam Czajczyk

    Hello Devin,

    I hope you're well today and thank you for your question!

    Let me start with the "tech" part of your question. Multisite would be certainly a handy solution for you to manage all these sites but for SEO purposes you would want to make sure that each site uses it's own, separate domain (which is supported "out of the box" by WP on basic level and we also have a plugin that would provide you with very useful options for this - enhancing core WP feature significantly: https://premium.wpmudev.org/project/domain-mapping/).

    Still though, that might not be enough. The solid rule of building such sites is to make sure that:

    - the are under different domains
    - they are using different IPs (which is why so called SEO hosting was born, offering tens or hundreds dedicated IP "in package" for a single shared hosting account)
    - preferably the are on different hosts

    The reason for that is to:

    a) make it as hard as possible for crawlers to find out that this is a PBN (or, let me say it straight, because it's exactly the same, just "packed up in a nice words" - a link farm)

    b) make incoming links coming from as different sites as possible

    The bottom line is: if I was about to create anything like that, I'd make sure that I setup enough separate hosting accounts from different providers, acquired dedicated IP for each of the site I'm setting up and set separate sites.

    To make it easier to manage I'd use solution such as our own The Hub here.

    At the beginning of your post you wrote:

    There are talks in various SEO forums I belong to regarding "PBNs". Private Blog Networks. Basically, creating networks of sites and then using those sites to link to a TargetSite to try and rank it. (totally against Googles TOS, I get that. I am just trying to get a real informed answer about this because I'm sick of all the debates.)

    I hope you don't mind my advice on this. Before I started working here I was quite deep into SEO, doing it for years as a freelancer together with my partner (in addition to WP related jobs). There was a time when this was extremely well performing. Then Google found out about the practice and they started to "cut it off". I would avoid it at all cost, it's too risky. At least, in a form that all those people "debate" (I see these discussions all around on various "SEO" forums).

    There is a way to make use of that idea but it's quite different and is very time and work consuming: setup up multiple separate site with really, really valuable content. In other words: forget about the "target site" and set up other sites, not connected, just like they were your "sole businesses". Take care of content and quality. Let them work and get well indexed, then "sit there" in Google index for a longer while. Then, over very long time, try adding single, precisely targeted and very well established "in context" links to the target site. That might help. But it's worth a go only if your goal is in a really long run, like a year or three maybe. As a indexing "speed booster" that'd be a shot in the head in the long run

    I hope you don't mind me being that brutally honest, I apologize if I went to far. I hope that helped a bit though and if you have any additional questions, just let me know please.

    Have a great day!
    Adam

    Adam Czajczyk

    Hello Devin!

    I fear that installing a plugin on all of the PBN sites would definitely leave a footprint..

    Well, that would be no bigger "footprint" for Google than e.g. installing Akistmet plugin to fight comment span or using default Twenty Seventeen theme there It's a tool. You could use e.g. ManageWP to manage multiple WordPress-based sites but a their plugin would also have to be installed. WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin doesn't work on "front-end", it's available only for site's admins.

    Best regards,
    Adam

    Adam Czajczyk

    Hello Devin!

    Just to clarify: The Hub is the "dashboard" of your WPMU DEV account. It cannot be detected.

    The WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin is the plugin on site that lets you connect the site to The Hub so you could manage it.

    Yes, with some effort it can be detected, just like any other plugin. That doesn't make the difference though and is completely meaningless to SEO. It's really not important - regardless whether it's WPMU DEV Dashboard, Jetpack, Akismet, Duplicator, Yet Another Related Posts plugin or any other of hundreds of thousands plugins available on the web.

    It might be a bit different if it comes to themes but that's slightly different case:

    - first, the theme is what makes a HTML markup, which is important for site optimization; theme that uses e.g. H1, H2 and other tags in a wrong way can make the site being indexed slower (but won't cause Google de-index/penalize it)

    - second, if you got a thousand of identical sites, with similar content, all linking to the same "target site" that'll surely be detected as a "link farm"; however, the theme is the last factor - if any at all - of that equation

    Best regards,
    Adam