What happened to No Hat Digital’s PBN?

No Hat Digital. How did they their PBN penalized?

Was No Hat Digital’s PBN in Google’s sights?

I’m sure you’ve read about it, and were as surprised as I was to learn that No Hat Digital had 40% of their supermassive private blog network hit by Google.

It’s important that we take notice of what has happened to NHD, and ensure we’re leaving anything to chance.

So, let’s take a closer look at what Greg has revealed about their network and find the takeaway lesson.


A Google algorithm, or were NHD targeted?

No Hat Digital aren’t exactly backwards in coming forwards that they build PBNs. Check out a few of their blog posts or listen to the podcasts they’ve been featured on…NHD are clearly quite public about their private blog network(s).

So on that basis, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Google had their own intern track NHD down and sniff them out.

Of course, that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me coming out!


Let’s take a look at what Greg tells us about the NHD private blog network, and what was hit:

8 networks with over 600 domains combined:

Firstly, wow! An average of 75 domains per network?

The first thing which stands out to me is how massive each network is.

Or should I say, how massive each network was?


3 of 8 networks. Now with 37.5% slapdown!

Greg makes reference to 3 of their 8 networks, and then states:

  • 1 network has been completed deindexed
  • 1 network had “a handful” of sites lost
  • 1 wasn’t touched at all.

Wait – isn’t that 2 out of 8? I think the 3rd network Greg refers to is one of the five networks that weren’t hit.

More than one third of their entire network has been hit. It makes you wonder what impact this has had on the income from their money sites!


A new network got hit too?

Wait. A new network, not yet completely built, was also hit.

How does that work?

Greg tells us that the network wasn’t completely built out yet, which is somewhat irrelevant I think.

For argument sake, let’s say NHD had only built half of the network. If you’ve built 50% of a 75 site PBN, what you have is a 37 site PBN. A 37 site PBN. Even if they’d only done 30% of the work, and had 25 sites online. Hmm.

Most interestingly, Greg points out that none of these sites had ever been used to link build another site.

My question is: Were there links to any other sites at all from the sites in this network?

  • No? If the sites didn’t have any outgoing links, wouldn’t that in itself be a signal to Google that there’s something fishy going on? Not even a link to another authority site like Wikipedia? Nah, it seems too far fetched to me that NHD would build a site and not link out to another authority site.
  • Yes? If there were other natural links to more relevant sites, as you imagine there would be – that makes the de-indexing even more suspect again.


6 domains purchased in last 2 months deindexed:

These 6 domains were purchased and used to build money sites on.

Many of these sites didn’t even have links from the No Hat Digital PBN.

Okay, so why did they get deindexed then?  If they weren’t in the PBN, the pattern here is getting quite fuzzy in terms of the PBN.


All of the domains purchased at auction in the last 3 months impacted:

I think we’re clutching at straws now for an algorithmic penalty based on the link structure or this strictly having anything to do with their PBN specifically.

Why would Google pick on sites where the domains were purchased at auction?

Are Google now watching domain drop lists? Sure, why not?!

Domain drop lists are one of the easiest datasets to get your hands on, from any number of registrars. A CSV file containing a complete list of domains to fall out of registration…simple!

Matt Cutts, stroking a cat: “And now we wait for them to be re-registered and built upon, then dump them. Wuuuhahaha!”.


What do No Hat Digital think happened?

Between on-page content, their site hosting, domain drop and age or WHOIS information, they’re leaning on it being based on a correlation in domain WHOIS information.

What is WHOIS?

The WHOIS database is a public accessible list of every single domain currently registered in the world.

It allows anyone to find out who owns a particular domain name.

The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires accredited registrars (like GoDaddy or Namecheap) to publish the registrant’s contact information, domain creation and expiration dates and other information in the WHOIS listing as soon as a domain is registered.


This is actually a perfectly good explanation and based on what we can see above, I completely agree with Greg and/or Lynn.


Were No Hat Digital singled out?

Given the vast array of sites hit with a penalty that were owned (directly or indirectly) by NHD it’s definitely making me curious.

Were they singled out? Yes, because if Google were (are) chasing WHOIS data, then they were looking at who owned the site.

Google don’t care if you own more than 1 web site (because, who doesn’t?!) – but we do know that they care that you own many sites, all or most of those sites point to one or more sites. Any probably most importantly, where these same sites are ranking.

Were NHD specifically targeted? No, I seriously doubt that Google are chasing NHD. Or, maybe they are! Did they want to make a lesson out of someone? 75 site PBN says definitely maybe.


What can we learn from this?

Does this mean PBNs are on Google’s radar? Absolutely. With thanks to the increased publicity and public awareness of PBNs over the past 6 months, Google have definitely put them on their list of things to knock down.

Does this mean PBNs are dead? Definitely not, but it is a reminder that every backlinking strategy comes with a risk. And you need to weigh up the risk vs the reward, and take every precautionary step you can when you’re playing with fire!


Keep these key points in mind when building your new PBN:

  1. Diversify your WHOIS data: Use numerous registrars, invest in the WHOIS privacy option from your registrar (sometimes free, sometimes just a dollars per year) AND do vary your registration details. Pay attention to the email address you use, because this is definitely a single-point of failure.
  2. Keep your PBN small. Sure, size matters…but only make your PBN as big as you actually need it to be. I recommend one PBN per money site, rather than one enormous PBN for 5 money sites. If you think you need a 75 site PBN, think again! I.e. don’t chase money sites in such highly competitive markets – where Google are likely to focus more of their energy.
  3. Avoid buying domains at auction: It’s not wrong to buy an expired domain – but everyone knows why you’re doing it. Since Google can very easily keep an eye on these lists and those who register them (drop list + WHOIS data), let’s steer clear of this potential/future pitfall.


Any questions? What are your thoughts?

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you’re thinking in light of the No Hat Digital penalty. Or if you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask away!

Please follow me now on Twitter @pbnlab, my Facebook page or on Google Plus and then drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

1 Comment

  1. Nice article Scott. There’s so many variables in what has happened that it’ll take a bit of time to work through it all. But for me, the two most interesting aspects are the money sites build on expired domains that got de-indexed and also the new network that had not even been fully launched being hit (the majority of the sites just had a WP install, no content on them).


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