PBN hosting is a huge topic amongst SEOs these days. With recent news of a major SEO hosting company experiencing a spree of deindexes, many SEOs are looking for more safer solutions. As they should be. Assuming that your PBNs don’t have footprints, the #1 factor when it comes to PBN deindexes is hosting (more on this later).
You may be wondering what types of hosting options are available and how to chose the right one. I’m here to tell you that I have either used or scrutinized most of the popular solutions available today and will share my experience with each.
First, I’d like to state that an SEO who maintains a PBN will likely judge a hosting service a little differently than the average webmaster. My opinion is that the single most important criteria on which to judge a web hosting service is its ability to minimize the risk of de-indexes. Period.
While convenience and cost-reduction are certainly concerns in our business, this article is aimed for SEO’s that are looking for a hosting solution that will last for years and years.
Is it possible to pass a manual review? Is it possible to recover a de-indexed domain and use it for productive SEO? Sure, but the advice shared in this post will give you the best chance to avoid the situation altogether.
How does my choice of web hosting lead to getting flagged for manual review?
Two words: bad neighborhood. In the context of hosting a PBN, a bad neighborhood refers to having other PBNs, thin-content sites, or sites that in any way violate webmaster guidelines, on the same shared IP address.
For a very high percentage of sites that experience de-indexing, the cause is being on an IP with bad neighbors.
How do I know? I have a personal network that I use for testing. This network uses a variety of different hosting solutions (cheap hosts, SEO hosting, dedicated servers, and premium hosts). I host multiple PBNs on the same IPs, because these PBN’s never link to the same money site. Time and time again, when there’s a deindex, it’s not one PBN that gets deindexed… all PBNs on the same IP get deindexed. The only thing in common is the IP.
My team and I have carefully looked at a multitude of factors including: hosting, IP addresses, DNS, content freshness, duplicate content, incorrect grammar, topic relevancy, backlink profiles, out-bound link profiles, and even WordPress plugin footprints. The biggest commonality that we found with de-indexed sites was that they were hosted on an IP address with a large number of other PBNs.
How do I know if I am in a bad neighborhood?
Here’s what you do:
- Perform a reverse IP lookup and download the list of sites on the IP in question
- Run Scrapebox to determine how many of these sites are already deindexed
- Manually check a sample set of the sites to determine roughly how many are PBNs
Let’s define a score “IP Danger Level” (IDL) score as the percentage of deindexed sites we see on a given IP. Anything over 30% should be considered risky.
Check out some of the IDLs from the IPs on cheap hosts. Risk factor = ridic.
Let’s take a look at the most popular hosting solutions, and how they measure up.
1. Cheap Hosts – Usually Costing $1-3/month
Cheap hosting is easily available and is widely adopted for two main reasons:
- The price
- You (should) get a new IP if you simply pick a different company for each PBN
Cheap hosting is always structured as a “shared” hosting solution with many other domains on the same IP. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that many of your IP address neighbors will in-fact be other PBNs.
Take for example, a situation where two test PBNs were de-indexed within minutes of each other:
An important detail to note about this case is that two different cheap-hosting resellers were using the same IP to host the two PBNs. Simply using a different hosting company for each PBN is not going to get you a new IP.
It’s pretty clear that what happens in many cases is:
- An IP address passes a certain algorithmic threshold and gets marked as a hotspot for bad domains
- All of the domains on that IP address are flagged for manual review
- Manual review team inspects each domain individually and de-indexes them in batches
2. SEO Hosting
The goal of SEO hosting is to make it easy to host a large number of domains in one account. Under the same dashboard, you can assign different c-class IP addresses to each of your domains. As you may already know, this is an important feature to many PBN operators because having multiple domains from the same IP address linking to the same money site would be an obvious footprint and a big no-no.
The problem with SEO hosting is that everyone knows it’s SEO hosting. It’s advertized that way, for crying out loud. Therefore, it’s easy to assume that the IP addresses used are easy targets when identified by Google. To add to the problem, the IP addresses are still shared, so we’re back to the same problem of having bad neighbors.
Here is an example where a test PBN was de-indexed while being hosted by an SEO host (IDL = 85.37%). All other domains on the same IP were then closely scrutinized:
Clearly, SEO hosting does not adequately solve the problem of bad neighbors, but in fact it almost guarantees that you’re going to be hosted next to web spam.
Not sure if your SEO hosting solution is risky or not? Look at the data. Simply run an IDL check and take a look at the sites on your IP.
3. Hosting on a Virtual Private Server
One of the more recently popular solutions we have seen for web hosting is the use of a virtual private dedicated server (VPS) in combination with IP address cloaking techniques such as the use of content delivery networks (CDNs) and an IP address provider like RocketIPs.
Initially this seems like a great way to host a large network of sites for an extremely low cost. The theory is to host a large PBN on one VPS ($49/month), then route the IP addresses of each domain ($0.50 per IP/month) through a different service to make them appear to come from various IPs and locations.
In this , I took a look at some of the IP addresses delivered by RocketIPs. I found that the percentage of de-indexed domains were acceptable (IDL=28.6%) for some IPs and unacceptable for others (IDL=84.6%).
As a further investigation, I evaluated the quality of the sites that were still indexed, optimistically hoping to find a mix of so-called legitimate domains. What I found was that the majority of these sites were of low quality and could be easily considered in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.
My conclusion: It’s only a matter of time before the shared IPs distributed by RocketIPs become even more populated with PBNs. If a solution is talked about by SEOs, especially on the forums or Facebook groups, it’s a timebomb waiting to explode. Suggestion: if you find a good IP provider, keep it to yourself.
4. Dedicated (VPS) Hosting
So if having bad neighbors is so important to avoid, why not have dedicated servers for my domains? Having dedicated servers and thus dedicated IP addresses for each domain may be a reasonable solution for your most high powered and valuable PBN sites, but just isn’t practical for hosting a large network. The cost of dedicated servers and the limited availability of IP addresses will destroy the ROI of having a PBN.
Dedicated servers, as a solution, is simply unscalable and is a footprint nonetheless. Imagine how that looks if 100% of a money site’s referring domains are all on their own IPs.
5. Premium Hosting – Ranging From $3-20/month
Since I’ve made the move to premium hosting, I’ve never looked back. All of my test sites on the premium hosts have never had a deindex and the downtime issues that plague other solutions are a thing of the past.
Hide in plain sight
The best way to protect your PBN site is to blend in amongst the millions of legitimate sites on the web by using the most common top-tier hosts. Hosts that real businesses use. I am referring to these commonly used hosts as “premium” because they are well-known hosting companies like Hostgator, Bluehost, etc.
Here’s what an analysis on a Hostgator IP looks like (IDL = 5.07%):
How to determine which premium hosts to use:
- Perform research to come up with a breakdown of which hosting companies are the most widely adopted on the net.
- Make sure that the hosts have services that are critical to your flow. Eg. Linux servers, wordpress support, shared IPs, allows multiple domains, cPanel support, Paypal payment, served in the geo-location you prefer, etc.
- Make sure that the costs are within your budget.
- Based on these factors, come up with a distribution of how you’d like to spread out your hosting. This is what I used:
Getting approved for premium hosting accounts can be more difficult than what you’re used to. Easy Blog Networks (EBN) is a solution that many people are adopting because of their ability to get you on the same IPs that the normal businesses use (Amazon, Rackspace, etc). They also have features like automatic IP assignment and uptime monitors which make it nice for SEOs. I personally haven’t tried this solution as my general modus operandi is to avoid doing what other SEOs do, but to each their own.
After you have decided on which hosting services you will be using, you will then need to decide how to assign domains amongst those hosts. Some key things to remember when doing this are:
- Use multiple hosts and multiple hosting accounts. Getting reseller accounts is ideal if you have a large network. This is important because you want a different shared IP address for each domain to avoid footprints when linking to your money sites.
- The distribution of which hosts you use should mimic the rest of the internet. Just as in the point above, if you were to link to one money site from 100% Go Daddy-hosted sites, that’s certainly a footprint. Mix it up.
- Remember to avoid who.is footprints.
Hosting Solution Testing Results: Final Score
Sure, premium hosting requires more planning, but if you want a solution that will last you into 2017 and beyond, then this is it.