LAST UPDATE: March 2019
There are a lot of myths going around PBNs and footprints. Some give Google god-like powers (knowing your name when registering a hosting account), others assume it lacks basic common sense).
I’ve written this blog post with the help of our expert developers and with SEO experts who bring hands-on experience to the table.
First of all, we need to define a footprint:
A footprint is a unique identifier on all your blogs.
This could be a specific plugin, theme, outbound link pattern, Whois and many others things. Finding most footprints is more complex than running a Google query, so we’ll assume the one who’s looking for it has the knowledge, computer- and man-power to do it.
While something can be a footprint, it is not harmful if it’s used by thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of other (legitimate) blogs. This goes goes for plugins, themes, WordPress itself and anything else that is used on mass scale on the Internet.
So let’s classify footprints into three categories:
- harmful (unique to your blogs),
- neutral (unnatural but not harmful) and
- common (seen on thousands of blogs).
These include the two obvious ones, most probably used in the mass PBN de-indexation at the end of 2014: Whois information (the same owner on all blogs) and outbound link pattern (links only to your websites).
Issue here is when people say “just link out to authority websites and you’ll be alright”. No! It’s REALLY easy to find blogs which link to specific websites AND exclude the top 1000 websites. Always link to other smaller niche websites which are not in direct competition to yours.
SOA Records are seen in DNS reports and include a “hostmaster” email address. If you’re using cPanel it usually uses your email which you signed up with. This is an enormous problem, so go and remove the email by clicking Preferences and Update Contact Info.
Plugins and themes can also be harmful if they’re only used by you or the SEO community. However it’s really easy to hide plugins with a standard 404 error so if the developers know what they’re doing, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Another obvious one would be Webmaster Tools, any kind of Analytics or advertising codes. These have actual unique IDs in source code and are very easy to find even for beginners (hint).
These footprints are not enough to get your PBN de-indexed, however they will not help with ranking because they look unnatural and the links could be discounted.
Having a large majority of WordPress backlinks. While this might look natural in some niches (blogging) and if you have a very small number of backlinks, you’ll still want to create links from other websites. Build some Web 2.0s, article links, bookmarks, social signals etc.
Whois privacy also goes into this category. An average for privacy is around 20% so don’t go overboard with this.
Hosting on only one provider or C-Block providers. If your links’ IPs are the same or too close (as is common with SEO/C-Block hosting), they can be discounted because Google expects links coming from a diverse range of IPs.
Other things that you shouldn’t do but are not really footprints: only short articles, only few blog posts, no general outbound links, no internal links, links only on the homepage, registering bulk of domains on the same day, having domains with only one registrar etc.
Most of these footprints are easily fixed just by creating lots of different backlinks.
Plugins, themes and anything else (like nameserver addresses) that is commonly used by thousands or tens of thousands of other websites. They will not affect your results in any way.
Note: avoid using the same plugins on all blogs since that combination, if specific enough, can be a footprint in itself (and would classify as harmful).
When not sure if something can hurt you – think if it would be natural for a legitimate blog.
For example: some say that you can’t have more than one link per hosting provider. But let’s see – Amazon has 3 MILLION customers which probably host over 10 million websites. Does it happen that websites get multiple links from websites hosted on Amazon? Of course, probably very often.
There are many similar myths coming up on forums, but most often they can be discounted with just a little technical knowledge and common sense.
Hopefully this blog post can clear up a lot of questions that people have when building their PBN.