Today we discuss and research how Google would set about making an algorithm to uncover a site using a PBN by just using the domain registrars of its inbound linking domains. We use market share data to find out why and how you can increase Domain Registrar diversity on your PBN.
Some people don’t give Google too much credit in terms of how they could uncover your private blog network or detect if a site is utilizing one to manipulate PageRank. On the other hand, some people don’t have the technical insight to understand how a http connection works or how the internet is structured, and therefore wrap up PBN detection in a paranoid form of mythical status.
Depending on who you talk to, Google varies from a hapless idiot easy to mislead, to an all seeing omnipresent being that will find mention of your PBN in random Google Docs.
We sit somewhere in the middle and take a pragmatic approach. We look at what’s practical in terms of Google’s crawling and comparison abilities, while also avoiding obvious patterns that a human could detect if asked to analyze a backlink profile. On the former it’s worth noting that detecting link spam isn’t very high on Google’s priority list when analyzing an average site. It’s easy to forget, as SEO’s that color outside of the lines, a lot of the internet isn’t being built to manipulate PageRank. Therefore, in order to sort through billions of pages, it has to make any analysis as efficient as possible.
Putting the separate problem of potential link over optimization issues aside, there are only actually a few ways that Google could algorithmically or manually sort through a backlink profile to establish relationships between links.
However, given the resources and the collective engineering ability of one of the world’s biggests companies, they are to be respected and countermeasures taken where humanly possible. Always err on the side of caution if you want to maximize your link value and stay undetected and unpenalized.
Easy Win For Google?
An easy win for Google, in terms of uncovering if a PBN is being used, is to look at the patterns of between links to a site. We call these ‘client level’ patterns.
Consider where you register your domains. Google isn’t going to pick out 200 domains you own just because you’ve registered them all at Godaddy. As long as they have unique or private whois details, they aren’t going to be able to identify the domains you own amongst the millions of others registered with them.
The issue occurs when Google’s looks at the registrars of the domains that actually link to your site. This pattern is an easy way for them to spot your network with a link spam algorithm or when a human analyzes a site during a manual review.
If 90% of all the domains linking to site are registered with Godaddy, it’s probably unnatural. Google understands that 90% of all domains on the internet are not registered with Godaddy. This is easy to build into computerized link assessment in the form of its algorithm, or easy to spot by a human (web spam team) filtering through the information they hold on your links.
Easy Mistake To Make
Firstly it’s easy for inexperienced owners not to consider the bigger picture when it comes to pattern detection. Many start with only looking at the patterns between network blogs, not considering client level linking patterns they could be creating.
Experienced owners may understand client level patterns, but just become complacent when operating at scale. It’s often easy just to keep the domains where you bought them, i.e. auction provider or drop catch services. Some only register their domains with cheapest provider or wherever is the easiest place to manage them is.
We realized that we had fallen into this trap a few years back while building pattern detection into our private version of ExecPBN. We purchase a large majority of our PBN domains from GoDaddy auctions. We were part of their VIP high rollers club, received great discounts and had an account manager we could call personally. We also had a lot of our standard operating procedures wrapped up around Godaddy’s system, including whois, private whois, nameservers and pointing domains.
Until we opened our eyes, we were totally blinded by the convenience of using a single registrar for our PBN. With the benefit of hindsight, it was such an obvious pattern. So we certainly appreciate it’s an easy trap to fall into if you are suffering from the same issue.
Power tip: You can check your current domain registrar diversity in your ExecPBN dashboard by viewing Patterns > Whois Patterns.
What is natural?
Once we knew we had a potential problem the first thing we did was take a high level look at the issue. Google was clearly whois checking every domain it scanned for registration and expiry date. That’s been considered a major quality factor, both the age and how long a domain was likely to be around for, since the birth of Google itself. It makes sense that they would also collect the other public information on the domain, including the whois ownership and registrar details. It could then leverage that information to help uncover relationships between domains and therefore unnatural, and therefore manmade, link patterns.
If we were assuming that it was collecting the registrar of every domain, it would have a pretty clear understanding of the market share between registrars. Therefore, it could tell what was natural amount of inbound domains from say NameCheap would be, if it only registered 1% of all the domains on the internet. Then Google would be able to consider what quantity of links it would tolerate to a site from a single registrar before it started to devalue or discount links or perhaps just penalize a site.
However, Google are not the only people monitoring registrar patterns on the web. There are a host of domain analysis tools, services and research projects that scan the web and collect this data.
So we went and found out what actually what was the market share between registrars. We could then leverage that information to spread out our PBN domain portfolio and minimize the risk of our efforts being detected or devalued.
We used Domainstate.com to discover the total number of domains registered at each individual registrar. With a little bit of work in a spreadsheet, we were able add them all together to find the total number of domains registered currently on the internet. This stood at around 182 Millions. From this figure we were able to divide against the total number at each registrar to get a market share percentage.
We’ve provided a Google sheets version of the calculations we used, should you wish to review them.
Lets consider the top 10.
|Directi Internet Solutions||5,829,584||3.19%|
|1 & 1 INTERNET||5,592,207||3.06%|
|Wild West Domains||3,532,111||1.93%|
The first astounding fact is that GoDaddy controls nearly 30% of all domains registered on the internet. It also has nearly 5 times the market share over its nearest rival eNom.
What is more staggering, is that after Godaddy, when considering the probability of receiving a link from a domain that is registered with the 2nd & 3rd largest providers. All things being equal, there is only 1 in 20 chance of one of your referring domains being registered with eNom or Tucows. Around 4th – 7th position, you’re probably closer to 1 in 30 referring domains coming from one of those registrars.
Although our Godaddy adiction was very problematic for us, those of you taking advantage of other service could be creating a lot of unnatural patterns to your client sites.
What is Safe?
However, we need to consider that (only) 50% of all domains are registered in the USA, it’s a safe assumption (but it’s only an assumption) that the majority of your links would come from US registrars.
This probably gives us nearly double the wiggle room when considering the likelihood of receiving a link from a US registered domain. So even though Godaddy has only 30% of total internet marketshare, it probably actually has around 60% of US registrar share. We can probably safely use this 50% extra rules with the other US registrars too.
Note: if you’re not from the US and wouldn’t get many US links, you can use your own version of the spreadsheet. Just narrow down the top registrars in your country code and work out the localized market share to get your own workable figure in your region/country.
Where should you actually register PBN domains?
Some of the names in the list above will be familiar, while others not so much.
We researched what some of the less obvious registrar names are actually called and where you could actually register a domain with them.
Powertip 1: Increasing your domain diversity will also expand the standard nameserver you can utilize on your network.
Powertip 2: Consider if you could help balance out your hosting portfolio with some of these providers by taking advantage of a cheap hosting package to grab an unique IP or two for your network.
1# Godaddy – Max 60% of Portfolio
No real introduction needed here. The clear market leader in domains registrations, certainly in the world and by some margin in the US.
Probably the cheapest domains provider all around. They are big enough to be able leverage their brand to discount their domains to upsell small businesses other products like hosting, emails and cloud based software access.
2# eNom – Max 13% of Portfolio
If you’re not familiar with main eNom brand, you’re probably more familiar with a reseller of their domains, NameCheap. Popular amongst PBN owners for the competitive registrar and renewal prices, as well as the first free year of whois privacy.
Although NameCheap domains use eNom as the registrar they also also tagged as ‘namecheap’ with a reseller whois tag. Use eNom.com avoid this tag and a potential footprint.
3# Tucows – Max 10% of portfolio
Old people Veterans of the web will remember Tucows as THE place to download shareware and cool Windows programs in the late 90’s. They slowly moved into providing web services and are currently the 3rd biggest registrar in the world, mostly owed to their 3rd party reselling platform OpenSRS.
This isn’t opening to the public and it can be hard to track down where you can find Tucow resellers. However, after more investigation we found their public facing register service Hover.com. Head there to sign up and start shifting some of your portfolio there.
4# Network Solutions – Max 7% of portfolio
Once upon a time Network Solutions actually had the monopoly on .com registrations. Although it’s power has wanned, it’s still a massive registrar today. Utilize them to help your diversity.
5# Directi Internet Solutions – Max 6% of portfolio
A massive growing conglomerate of internet based businesses, the best source of getting domains under their umbella is from resellerclub.com
6# 1&1 Internet – Max 6% of portfolio
Big players, as well as big advertisers, most of you will be aware of 1and1.com. Head over to register or transfer some domains.
Note: 7 – 10 Aren’t really viable options for us as western PBN owners
7# GMO Internet – Japan’s answer to Godaddy, so not an option unless you’re targeting there.
8# eName – China’s answer to Godaddy, so not…
9# Wild West Domains: Godaddy’s spinoff reselling business. They don’t have any public facing registrars we could find, but believe they are responsible for running Godaddy’s privacy services. Also a lot of their expiring domains end up in Godaddy’s aftermarket auctions. If you’re acquiring domains from there, you may notice that they stay under the Wild West’s registration tags but are paid for and managed under your Godaddy account.
10# Chengdu – Another one for our Chinese cousins.
There are some better suggestions from 11-17:
11# Domain.com – Best domain name award for any registrar.
12# Fast Domain – aka Bluehost baby! Again a big brand.
13# Register.com – Again, another domain that says what is does on the URL.
14# OHV – Big players in Europe. Also have a UK site, so have a nice English interface to register your .coms.
15# Key-Systems – German based company, public access to domains via Domain Discounts 24.
16# Name.com – Solid option and prices.
17# NameCheap – Despite being an ICANN-accredited domain name registrar, in the past NC have preferred to register domains as a reseller of eNom. There are rumors, and their position at #17 should suggest it, that they have started using their own name as registrar on customer’s domains. However, in our experience, recent purchases continue to use the eNon name and have the reseller tag as NameCheap.
Don’t Panic Transfer
If you’ve realized that you need to take action on a plan to increase your domain diversity on your PBN, don’t panic transfer all your domain at once. It is likely to raise a flag at Google if your client site’s links change significantly. Consider a plan that balances out moving new additions to your portfolio to different registrars and a slow transfer of a few of your existing ones each week.
Dealing With The Admin Overhead Increase
Let’s face it, having multiple accounts adds more admin overhead and potential bother. Create a single list of account details and make sure you always have updated payment information with each provider. You don’t want to lose a domain or privacy service because your payment details fail when it’s time to auto renew.
Remember, you can keep an eye on the next 10 expiring domains on your network from your ExecPBN dashboard.
Make sure you update procedure documents, so tasks at these new registrars, like setting up or pointing nameservers can be handled by your team or VA. A little upfront work creating these will ensure you don’t have to get caught up in busy work or have to answer simple questions every time they use an unfamiliar service.
By using a pragmatic approach to what Google could use against you, then analyzing what data points they could use in an algorithm, domain registrars don’t have to be another PBN banana skin. A little more work and research can save you a world of pain. Ultimately giving you the peace of mind that this is one area you won’t find you wanting when Google comes PBN hunting.