Update: Turns out I was right! Skip to the end if you want to know the secret.
You’ll have to pardon me if this post sounds a bit like a rant because… well… it pretty much is. However, I think it’s both necessary and addresses an issue many of us have dealt with at some point. Rather than jumping right in, I probably should provide at list a bit of background info so I don’t leave you wondering what the hell just happened here.
For those of you who don’t know who John Chow is, he’s a self proclaimed “dot com mogul” who has earned millions online. His personal blog, johnchow.com, has become a sort of case study on how to earn money online and has become quite popular. In fact, his site now ranks #1 in Google for the phrase [make money online] beating out some pretty hefty competition. One of the most visible methods John used to obtain that ranking was his review exchange program. John leveraged the popularity of his blog (highly ranked in Technorati and currently a PageRank of 6) to generate reviews of his site. The rules were pretty simple; you review johnchow.com and link back to the site with the anchor text of “make money online” and John would link to you and 9 other sites in one of his review batches. The offer was very successful and garnered John at least 780 links with ideal anchor text.
This is where the problem starts. Since John ranked #1 for his target phrase, hundreds of his loyal followers began to do the same thing. Then, tragedy struck. John dropped out of sight for the phrase for a few days (I think it was a total of 4 days). John commented on the drop in his post about Google Updating their Algorithm. In it, John states:
I can only assume the changes are designed to discount all the waves of review for linkback, technorati trains, alexa trains, etc. Google didnâ€™t get to be the number one search engine by staying still.
Despite the fact that John is admittedly not an SEO, his readers took his assumption and ran with it. The review craze was over! John Chow got caught Google bombing! Google decided to bomb him back! And these are just a few examples. People on blogs that I normally love to read, had suddenly become instant SEO experts. The fact that Google bombing involves ranking a page for a term that’s not on it (miserable failure is the popular example) didn’t seem to matter. The fact that John uses the phrase “make money online” in as many posts as possible and has it no less than a dozen times on his home page didn’t phase them.
Then, just as quickly as he dropped off, John was back atop the rankings and was going to tell everyone how he did it in a later post. Of course, in typical evil (that’s a compliment in this case) fashion, John decided NOT to disclose his actions and has stirred everyone up once again. To be honest, it was a brilliant marketing move and is no doubt great linkbait (I’m linking to him aren’t I?) however, it’s had some unfortunate consequences. By not revealing what actions he thinks got him back to #1, John’s left the door wide open for speculation. In fact, one supposed search marketer has already claimed to have “exposed” John’s “secret”. According to Hamlet Batista, John’s problem was that he had TOO many links with the anchor text of “make money online”. He states:
I guess he emailed several of the reviewers and ask them to change the anchor texts.
The changes look very similar to what I suggested he do. It is also interesting to note that in the latest batch of reviews he is not asking people to link back with â€œmake money onlineâ€ as anchor text. I guess itâ€™s better to let people link to you first and send the back an email with the specific anchor text you want.
Sure… that makes sense… John emailed several of the reviewers (none have mentioned receiving any such email), they changed their links, Google crawled them and updated their SERPs accordingly all within 4 days. I hope you’re catching the sarcasm because I’m laying it on pretty thick. The best part is, this guy proclaims to be a search marketer himself! Not only is John still offering the review exchange with the same instructions (link to his site with the anchor text of “make money online”) but he has since published another batch of reviews! Also, no reviewer has made any mention of John asking them to change their links nor would John be foolish enough to think he could keep something like that a secret.
So, what DID John do to get his rankings back? To be honest, I have no idea. The possibilities of what caused the drop and what he did to remedy it, are nearly endless. Without having studied his site or followed his rankings before this I can only speculate as to the problem. Issues with his robots.txt or .htaccess file jumps to mind, but again, that’s simply speculation. However, I’d be more than willing to bet it had nothing to do with his review exchange offer and I’d certainly never give out SEO advice on guesses based on assumptions.
Look people, I’m not saying I’m the top dog when it comes to SEO. I’m also not saying I’m never wrong or that I never speculate or make and educated guesses. My point is, if you want expert SEO advice, go to an expert. John was smart enough to contact Aaron Wall when his rankings dropped, so if even the dot com mogul himself has to ask for expert advice, what makes you think you’re any different? A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing and there’s a reason people say “I know enough to be dangerous.” This is a perfect example.
UPDATE: Found it! Here’s a cached version of JohnChow.com’s robots.txt file as found by Google on May 30th (right around the time of the drop).
Here’s the file as it exists today… See any differences?