John Chow In Google’s Penalty Box

If you’ve done a Google search lately for ‘make money online’, you know that John Chow is no longer ranked #1. If you do a search for ‘John Chow’, doesn’t come up until page 7, at least on the datacenter that’s pulling up at my house. Where is he coming up where you all live?

He first ran into trouble about a month ago (May 31st) when he first lost his ranking as the #1 ‘make money onliner’. That felt like a fluke to me, especially since his homepage dropped out of the index. He wouldn’t tell how he was able to get it back into the index – I can tell you that he was likely able to do that by setting his homepage as his most important page with an XML sitemap. He probably just made or altered the sitemap, and submitted it to Google Webmaster Tools.

This time it seems to me like he has bigger problems. Since he was the only one of the top 10 that dropped like a rock, this feels like a manual penalty. If it is, John will likely lose most of his Google traffic, even for long-tail keywords.

Why John Got Sent To The Penalty Box

John’s being sent to the penalty box was likely due to one of the following theories:

  • His overly-aggressive link baiting. While his link baiting is masterful, it isn’t a natural way to get links. It’s one of those things that a lot of people could get away with, but John got caught since he got too big. I guess when you’re that big it’s only a matter of time until the wrong person sees how you’re getting all those links.
  • He’s linking to a ton of unrelated sites that add little or no value to his ‘make money online’ subject material. He’s got 15 site-wide, sponsored links and has done 87 batches with his ‘review for a linkback’ promotion. That’s a lot of out-bound links that are pointing to sites. It is a definite possibility that his continued linking to such sites passed over some kind of Google boundary, triggering a filter. His 15 sponsored links are especially dangerous since he has over 3000 pages in Google’s index – that’s 45,000 outbound links that aren’t related to his subject material.

The Sad Truth

I’m not sure if John’s rankings are going to be coming back this time. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look good. Luckily for John, the majority of his traffic doesn’t come from Google anymore. He has a very established readership already. Let me throw out a few ramifications of this penalty though.

  • His advertisers aren’t getting as much value now. Links from him aren’t as powerful since he has obviously been penalized. It’s sad, but if I was advertising there I’d back out now. Those sites aren’t getting PR6 value anymore.
  • His traffic will be hurt to a certain degree. It will be harder to grow – I’m sure he was getting at least 1,000 visitors a day from Google. Now I bet he’s getting a lot less than that.

Does anyone have a theory about why John got sent to the penalty box?

Can anyone think of any other problems this could cause?

Comments 62

  1. My vote’s on the excessive and blatant use of his review scheme. Although, I’d much rather Google intelligently discounted links used in such a scheme from anyone, rather than penalizing one site.

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  2. I tried to look after John Cow and it is true – it doesn’t appear on the first three pages. I think it’s stupid what happened. I always liked that website. It was fool with great stuffs.

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      Ya I read the article. ‘Make Money Online’ is only one of his keywords though and the penalty seems to be effecting all of his rankings.

      As far as Alexa, only time will tell. We definitely wouldn’t be able to see anything yet.

      How many daily searches would you guess he’s getting overall if he gets 150 from ‘make money online’?

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      1. We should be building links naturally, but even if we don’t most of us probably won’t get caught. The reason John did get caught is because his blog is just so big and receives so much traffic and also more links back, which makes its noticeable.

    2. I also joined a couple of viral campaigns and I am reluctant to join any more. It can be a fun diversion, but if you are serious about building a quality destination for readers, I think it is much better to build links organically. I don’t care too much for all the “gaming” & “scheming” that goes on to get links.

  3. Uh oh. I didn’t even have any idea this was going on until I read your post. Like Andy said, it scares me a little too. I’ve joined those viral trains – ViraLinks and ViralTags, and the latter was especially powerful. I hope the users of the viral trains don’t get penalized as well.

    1. If Google had changed their algorithm to discount John’s linking scheme, I’d say you’d have something to worry about. Since they’re just penalizing his site across the board, I don’t think you have anything to worry about yet.

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      Jay is right on this one, it doesn’t seem like it’s a change in the Google algo. It seems to be penalizing just John – I guess that means you have to be extra careful when you have a lot of exposure.

  4. It’s obvious that google found something it didn’t like. We can keep on guessing what happened but evenually we will find out what happened. I wonder if John uses linking statagies like the Reciprocal Review Carousel. The idea is based on few simple and yet effective link-building and blogging techniques.
    I am particapating in this experiment and I invite you to try it also. You can learn more at

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      I’m not sure we even need to guess at ‘behind the scenes’ linking techniques, there are plenty that he does on his site to get him in trouble.

  5. I think his anchor link strategy was wrong. Making “Make Money Online” his only anchor link made the game very obvious.

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  6. John’s blog doesn’t deserve to be #1 for “Make Money Online”. It’s far too specific to blogging. Most people typing in that search term would be looking for something more general, perhaps a list of different ways to make money on the net, e.g. online store, online trading, etc.

    However, losing his rankings for his own name makes Google look stupid. Their job is to help people find exactly what they are looking for, and in this case, they aren’t doing that. Yahoo and MSN, on the other hand, are showing the results you would expect from a search engine.

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      True that, he should definitely be #1 for his name.

      Ironically John just barely got ranked first in MSN for ‘John Chow’. He wasn’t first for a really long time.

  7. Lesson to learn from john choa blog , linking to a ton of unrelated sites may be dangerous at the end , once you are too big and too high , wind will blow stronger and fall deeper .

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  8. I almost kicked him out of my reader when he introduced the get paid to remove the no follow in comments.
    He is a marketing genius I agree, but this is what happens when you put money in front of everything. He has stopped giving value to his readers looong back. He is just rambling on not giving any new information or value like other bloggers like kumiko, problogger, copyblogger. Tell me 5 new things you learnt from his blog recently in the past 5 weeks. . . .none as far as I am concerned.

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      That was pretty lame when he did that. I would like to see more ‘make money’ lessons on his site – he obviously has the knowledge.

      Andy, thanks for a great compliment!

    2. I agree, I made a similar point in my blog lately, about how John’s blog is for making money online, not about making money online.

  9. Interesting turn of events. After reading and learning from John Chow for about 2-3 months, I eventually dropped his feed. It just started to feel too self-absorbed (even though he was doing a lot to help others).

  10. In the few months since I started taking a look at John’s site, I found it more annoying than beneficial? Too much emphasis placed on paid reviews and getting another link.

    I’m with commenter Andy above…I’d much rather come here to Court’s site and learn something or pick up some great tips!

  11. John is a honest internet marketer and I believe he has done a lot to help a lot of us.

    I started my own blog in February 2007 and since stumbling upon John Chow dot Com I have managed to add some serious quality content to my blog most of it based upon suggestions and advice given by John Chow and I have read every single post he has made on his blog. The archive section is a precious “cave” of valuable gems.

    John Chow has indeed added value to the work of the blogging community and I dont believe any one of us should celebrate this momentary set-back.

    I know very well a minor bunch of misguided bloggers are silentlr exchanging kudos as they believe its their time to shine now that the most respected blogger is out of the way.

    But for those who are content with the latest move against John Chow by Google I believe if you feel you can now benefit from the spotlight to be had, please ensure that you exceed the value that John Chow was offering when he was in the number one position

  12. God, that’s nightmarish. Especially since i just read the post about him setting a good example of how to build links. I guess it doesn’t pay to get TOO big.

    1. I guess getting TOO big is not the problem per se. If he was doing the right linking strategy, no amount of bigness would have given him a problem.

      The lesson: always play it fair and square. Don’t try to “cheat” the system.

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  14. It is too difficult to guess what he has done to be punished by Google. Be it blogging or managing your own business, if you act greedily you will be punished sooner or later. Personally i rarely check his blog. I prefer Court’s blog. Why ? Because she is much more open to sharing success with others.

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  16. Hmmm, It must have hurt the first time he started noticing Google was penalizing him. Imagine your blog being penalized, in one way you have to empathise with him but on the other hand he was using “evil” techniques.

    Oh well, don’t make Google angry!

    My two cents,


  17. I don’t really get why google did this other than to “show him he’s not that smart”. When you think about it he’s just making more highways on the internet. People can get around easier. It’s more interconnected. Whats the problem? So he had a cool idea to get some links…so what? Why punish him for that?

  18. Baiting Google is never a good idea for several reasons. 1. They will eventually discover what you were up to 2. Even if they don’t… a competitor of yours is going to spill the beans.

    Sitewide links are not a good idea and are extremely foolish in such large quantities.

  19. To tell you the truth, I don’t really like John Chow’s site. I think the guy doesn’t really add any value to the subject and kind of get the feeling he’s full of himself. I mean, all he really talks about is the money he’s getting and he’s got this cult following of people who are just obsessed with money.

  20. He has done a lot to get on google’s bad side… but I guess to some extent it did help him out… if it was done for nothing, then it would be a shame…

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  22. Good Stuff. I’m in the process of promoting a free press release distribution site called, and I’ll make sure I do everything to stay out of Google’s penalty box. Thanks.

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  25. Two years later, and his needlessly aggressive plan to rank for “make money online” is still handicapping him. Why the HELL did he do this in the first place?

    For argument’s sake, let’s contrast him to another Internet Marketing niche blogger, Dosh Dosh, who took the longer (but not harder) path to building authority in Google. He released a popular wordpress theme, but his link in the footer without targeted anchor text, and then used his own keyword-rich internal linkage to dominate for keywords. Much smarter.

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  27. scary information about google and there freaking rules.. They should just rank sites by the amount of traffic a site gets flat out! I am sick of there rules.

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  29. John Chow’s website is monetized like crazy! Every money method known to man is being utilized on his site. His disregard of the rules has finally caught up with him.

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