How Google Dissed John Chow

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that Google didn’t change their algorithm just to knock John Chow off the first page for “make money online”. But the title is less dry than “Examining Google’s New Algorithm”.

I thought newcomers to search engine optimization might appreciate a discussion of what might have been adjusted in Google’s algorithm. I stress might since nobody outside of Google knows for certain.

First, some background. Google lives by the word “relevancy”. They made their money by showing first in search results those pages that were most relevant to the search term the user typed. The basic algorithm they used was to examine links to a site.

Back in those days, a link to a site represented a site owner’s opinion of another site. If a site owner linked to a site using the anchor text “make money online”, then you could be fairly certain that the owner thought the site was highly relevant to that phrase. If lots of sites did the same thing, then Google concluded that the site was highly relevant, and showed it highly placed in search results.

That’s an oversimplification, but will do for our purposes.

Fast forward to today. Google hates paid and solicited links. The reason is that these links do not represent a site owner’s opinion of another site. As far as Google is concerned, those sorts of links destroy the relevancy of the web. John Chow’s review for backlink scheme was just a high profile version of what goes on quite a bit online. It’s been duplicated often enough, though, that Google could have decided to discount the effect of such a review scheme on search engine rankings.

How do they know if a link is due to a review scheme like John Chow’s or not? Google can look at two qualities to have a fairly high degree of confidence in identifying review schemes.

First, normal posts on a blog have a relatively low link density (the number of links on the page compared to the rest of the content). John Chow’s review posts had a high link density. They were short with lots of closely spaced links.

Second, each link from one of those review posts went to a site that then linked immediately back to

That sort of reciprocal linking isn’t unusual, but combined with the link density of the review post, it’s highly suggestive of some organized review scheme.

My guess is that Google put those two qualities together, and then discounted the relevancy value of any of the links involved. That put back where it normally would have been, before the review scheme started. Which, in my opinion, is a fair indicator of his blog’s relevance to the phrase “make money online”.

The lessons we can take from this is that any sort of review trading or reciprocal linking must appear to be natural to Google to avoid being penalized. Natural links don’t spontaneously appear closely spaced in time, or as direct reciprocal links in pages with high link density.

So I think a review scheme like John Chow’s could still work, but the approach would need altered to make it seem less artificial and more organic.

What do you think?

John Chow Dissed by Google?

I was doing a Google search on “make money online” today, as part of research for this blog (you never know what you’ll find through search engines), and was surprised to see that was not in the top 2. Paging down, I finally found John’s site on page 4.

Considering the success of John’s review scheme to spread links to his site with the “make money online” anchor text around the Internet like dandelion seeds in a stiff wind, this is an interesting development. I can only assume that something fairly recent changed in John’s site to cause it to drop in the Google rankings.

This brings up a couple of great points for everyone involved in search engine optimization.

First, don’t be afraid to go for competitive keywords. Google’s algorithm changes all the time, and sites change all the time. Sometimes there’s a conflict between those that knocks the top positions down or moves lower positions up.

Second, search engine optimization is an ongoing effort. You can’t simply optimize a site for keywords and then leave it alone. You need to keep track of your positioning and react to changes to maintain your position. Pages get dropped from the index or put into the supplemental index and you’ll need to fix it. Keeping on top of SEO is a moving target.

I have no doubt that John will figure out what happened and fix it soon. Hopefully he’ll blog about it to let the rest of us know.

Edit: John just posted in his blog (see link above) about this, and is blaming a change in Google’s algorithm. Since Google has been talking about their plan to discount paid links, John’s review scheme probably falls under that category, so he’s discontinued it. My contest is still on, however. I’ll be adjusting how I do the backlinks to make it appear more natural to search engines.

Toolbar Page Rank versus Live Page Rank

Everyone obsesses on the public page rank that Google calculates once a quarter or so, to the point of actively seeking links from high PR sites in order to increase their PR at the next update. That quarterly PR is known as toolbar PR, because that’s what shows in the Google toolbar for pages you’re viewing.

In fact, toolbar PR is a nearly useless metric.

PR does play a part in search engine result positioning, but that’s live PR, not toolbar PR. Live PR is continually adjusted by Google as they crawl the web.

When I posted about doing reviews of Online Opportunity in exchange for a backlink from a PR 0 blog, that was tongue in cheek. My toolbar PR is 0 because the blog started just about when the last PR update happened. But my live PR is higher, because I’ve been accumulating backlinks all along. Since it’s live PR that helps in search engine results positioning, a link from Online Opportunity is a good thing.

How good? That’s the part we don’t know yet. The only value of toolbar PR is to give you an idea what the live PR for a site was during the last PR update. For established sites, you can be relatively confident that the live PR of the site is right around the toolbar PR. For new sites, toolbar PR is not a reliable indicator of the site’s live PR.

So in addition to the review for backlink offer, I’m going to start a contest. Predict the toolbar PR of Online Opportunity at the next update (probably in August or September), and win a prize! Enter the contest by leaving a comment on this post with your prediction.

Since there are only eleven possible answers to the question, it’s likely we’ll have multiple winners. So the prize has to be something that can be provided to multiple people.

Any suggestions?

John Chow Results

Some of you may be wondering what actual results come out of doing a review of and getting a link from his blog. My post about what John’s done right that beginning bloggers can learn from qualified as a review, and a link to Online Opportunity from his blog was posted Friday night.

During the day Saturday, sent 27 visitors my way (edit: another 16 Sunday). Several of them left comments, not only on my John Chow post, but on other posts (thanks to everyone who commented, I appreciate you taking the time to look over the blog). A couple suggested I review their blogs in exchange for backlinks (which I will do over the next week).

So, all told the amount of traffic generated isn’t staggering. But at least in the case of Online Opportunity, it’s targeted traffic since a large number of the readers at are interested in making money online. So I probably got a couple more regular readers out of the deal.

Another benefit is to my page rank. I won’t know how much of a benefit this is until the next page rank update. But as I’ve said before, page rank is a minor factor for traffic generation (it’s highly relevant if you want to sell links or do paid reviews).

The biggest benefit, from my point of view, is the increase in relevancy a link from gives to Online Opportunity. The post that links to the review sites is rich with the keyword “Make Money Online”. A link from that sort of page increases my relevancy for that search term. I asked John to use the anchor text “Online Opportunity” for the link, which increases my relevancy for that search term, too.

Since I’m currently jockeying for top position in Google for the keyword “Online Opportunity”, the relevancy boost is helpful. I’m not even in the running for “make money online”, but the relevancy boost there is nice, too. To keep boosting my relevancy for “make money online”, I’ll likely steal John’s idea of providing a backlink for reviews, like many other sites have done. That’s a strategy for the long-term, but John’s shown it works.

So the John Chow effect wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped, but I expect it to pay off in future search engine traffic.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by from Stop by again!

SEO: How To Get Backlinks For Your Site

I’ve talked about backlinks before, but rather than refer you to that post I’ll cover it again here.

What Are Backlinks?

A backlink is a link from another web page to one of your web pages. From a search engine perspective, a backlink is a vote for your site being relevant to the topic of that other page. After all, the webmaster wouldn’t be linking to your page if it wasn’t relevant.

So the more backlinks you have from pages that are relevant to yours, the more relevant search engines find your site. Which means the higher you rank in search engine listing.

What Are Reciprocal Links?

A reciprocal link is a link from your website to another website, when that other website also links to your website. These are most often done as part of an arrangement between the two webmaster (“You link to my site, and I’ll link to yours”).

Search engines place a discount on the important of reciprocal links, since they are not always an indicator of relevancy. A non-reciprocal link always counts more highly than a reciprocal link.

What Are Three Way Links?

A three way link is a tricky reciprocal link. Let’s say that you run a website about dog grooming, and there’s another website about dog grooming you want a link from, since that would improve your relevancy. You don’t want a reciprocal link, but the other webmaster also runs a website on cat grooming.

So they provide a link on their dog grooming site to your dog grooming site, and you provide a link on your dog grooming site to their cat grooming site. As long as all three sites have different domain names, to search engines it looks like two non-reciprocal links.

You’ll find some free directories using three way links to improve the value of their directory to webmasters, and to promote other sites they run.

What Are No Follow Links?

The HTML tag that is used for links is the anchor tag. It looks something like this:

<a href=””></a>.

This is an example of a good backlink. Search engines, when they see this link in a page, will follow this link to get to your site and improve your site’s relevancy.

Here’s another version of the link:

<a rel=”nofollow” href=””></a>

In this version, the extra rel=”nofollow” attribute has been added. This tells search engines that this link is not to be counted as a vote for relevancy for your site.

So you can get traffic from a nofollow link, but it won’t help your search engine rankings.

What Are Free Links?

A free link is a link you don’t have to pay to get. These can be the result of someone liking your site enough to link to it, or the result of getting put into one of the many free directories on the web.

The main value of a free link is the increase in relevancy it can bring, pushing you higher in search engine results for your keywords.

What Are Paid Links?

A paid link is a link you pay money to get. The amount of money you pay is generally proportionate to the popularity of the site linking to you. There are many directories that charge a fee to be listed, or charge a fee to be a featured listing. Featured listing are displayed before non-featured listings.

Another way to get a paid link is to donate to an open source project that features a donor listing page. Most will allow you to link to any URL and choose your own anchor text.

A paid link is useful if it increases your relevancy, and/or brings you relevant traffic.

What Is Anchor Text?

The anchor text for the link is the text that appears in the web browser. For example, in the following link to Google, the anchor text is Google Search Engine.

Whenever possible links to your pages should use some variation on the main keyword for the page, since search engines also use the link’s anchor text to determine relevancy. However, it’s unnatural for all the links to a page to use the exact same text, so if you are able to specify the anchor text for links to your pages (e.g. you’re buying a link) vary the text from link to link.

What Is Page Rank?

Page rank (PR) is a number from 1 to 10 than indicates how popular your site is. It’s calculated through the number and quality of your backlinks. Having a more popular (e.g. high PR) site link to your site lends some of that site’s popularity to yours.

PR does not play a large part in ranking higher in search engine results. Relevancy is far more important (see the last two posts, on keyword rich content and page optimization for details) for ranking higher.

Where PR comes into play is if you want to sell links from your site. Most people who buy links do so to increase their site’s PR, so having a high PR for your site means you can charge more for links.

You’ll often find new webmasters buying links in order to increase their site’s PR. But increasing your PR just for the sake of increasing PR doesn’t make sense unless you want to go into the business of selling links.

So don’t get hung up on PR, unless you’re going to want to sell links yourself, or you’re trying to use Pay Per Post to get paid for writing blog posts (Pay Per Post advertisers will require minimum PR for blogs).

So Where Do I Get Backlinks?

A new website just starting out should focus on getting backlinks for the purpose of increasing relevancy and generating more traffic. There are two important criteria for sites when you’re looking for backlinks:

  1. The site be relevant to yours
  2. The site get actual traffic

Relevancy is something only you can determine. Traffic you can estimate by going to and typing in the domain name of the web site. Do not use a site’s PR as an estimate of traffic, since PR just says the site has links, not that the site gets traffic.

Here are some easy ways to get backlinks:

  • Find a relevant discussion forum and post messages on it. Most forums allow you to have a link to your own website in your forum signature. Do not promote this link, just make quality forums posts and people will naturally follow the link to see your site.Be sure that the forum signature isn’t a no follow link if you want to improve your relevancy through this technique.
  • Write an article about your site’s topic and submit it to EzineArticles. You will get a backlink from EzineArticles. They do not use no follow links, so you’ll get a relevancy boost (since your article is about your site’s topic) and some traffic. The bonus is that another website might republish your article, giving you another backlink and more traffic. A single popular article can pay off.
  • Answer related questions on Yahoo Answers, and provide as your source link pages in your website that address the question asked. Yahoo Answers does use no follow links, so you will not get any relevancy boost from this but you should get some targeted traffic. Track your website stats after doing this to see if the amount of traffic is worth the time.
  • Create Squidoo pages about your site’s topic and link to appropriate pages in your site. This will get you a relevancy boost, since you can tailor the Squidoo page to the exact topic and control the anchor text of the link. This will also help with traffic, since Squidoo pages often rank quite highly in Google search results. For more details on Squidoo, see my post on Making Money With Squidoo.
  • Create a blog at or (or both!) about your site’s topic and link to appropriate pages in your site. Again, you have control over the content and anchor text, but search engines will see this as a separate site and so improve your relevancy.
  • Find a blog that’s about your topic and post comments to the blog. Most blogs will use nofollow links, but you should get some traffic through the link. Blog owners will often see who is posting comments and visit the sites. If they like the site they may feature it in a blog post.
  • Find blogs that are relevant to your topic and send a polite email asking for a review of your site. Most of these emails will be ignored, but you may get a couple of reviews and links from them.
  • Find a small company that could use exposure and write a review or tutorial for their products or services. Be sure to add value through the review, and your chances of them giving you a backlink are quite good. This often happens without asking, as in the case of my tutorials on getting a blog setup with

This should be plenty to get you started. Remember that the goal with getting backlinks is to improve relevancy and generate traffic.

Good luck!

SEO: Optimizing Pages For Keywords

This is what most people think of when they think of search engine optimization. How do I modify the actual HTML of a web page so that it ranks higher in search engine?

The key is to go back to the concept of relevancy. We talked about relevancy in the context of creating content, but in a web page there are other ways to measure relevancy. We’ll go through some of the basics here.

Think of each of these tips as a little boost to your page’s relevancy for your chosen keyword.

Put Your Main Keyword In Your Domain Name

If you’re lucky enough to be starting a site from scratch, and don’t have a domain name yet, you have the additional choice of a domain name that can affect search rankings.

Having your main keyword for your site in your domain name does help with search engine rankings.

This means that you have do to keyword research even before buying a domain name. If you already have a domain name, don’t panic! Having a keyword in the domain name helps, but your rankings can still be good without it.

Name The HTML Files Appropriately

It hasn’t been that long since you’d find web pages with files names like “links.html” or “money.html”. The name of the file isn’t limited, so it’s best to put the main keyword for the web page in the name of the file itself.

If the main keyword for the page was “make money using ebay”, then instead of a file name like “money.html”, use a file name like “how to make money using ebay.html”.

Use An Appropriate Title

Every web page has a title, and not surprisingly search engines expect the title of a web page to be a good indicator of its subject. Make sure your main keyword for the page appears in the title of the page. If you’re writing the HTML yourself, this means that the keyword must be between the title tags.

Please also put enough other words in the title to make it make sense, but try to have your keyword be toward the front of the title. Let’s say your keyword is “cheap web hosting”. Don’t just use that as the title of your page. Instead, use something like “Cheap Web Hosting Reviews: Get More For Your Money”.

The advantage of a longer title is that you’ll maximize your keyword exposure (in this case, adding in a keyword like “web hosting reviews”). Anytime you have keywords that overlap slightly, you can usually get two of them into your title.

Use An Appropriate Header

Every web page should have a single header. The header is what goes between the h1 tags in the HTML for the page. That header shows up in larger font and bold when people look at the page. So search engines see it also as an indicator of the web page’s topic.

Put your main keywords into the page’s header. Use the same rules as for the title, but do not use the same text as the title.

Do not put more than one h1 header into your web page! Some search engines will then discount the content of all the headers.

You can use h2 tags to break up subtopics, and use appropriate keywords for the subtopics in the h2 tag.

Provide An Image

Graphics are good for web pages, making them look nicer for visitor. Keep your use of graphics low, so you don’t affect the load times of your pages.

When you have a graphic, you can specify what’s known as an alt tag for the graphic. This is the text that displays when the mouse pointer hovers over the graphic.

Put your main keywords into the alt tag of one picture on your page.

Meta Tags

Meta tags are invisible pieces of HTML that suggest relevant keywords to search engines. These days, most search engines will not use meta tags to establish relevancy. Instead they’ll read the text of the page itself to determine relevancy.

The description meta tag is used to display a summary of your page on search engine results. So it’s worth putting a few minutes of effort into creating a decent description, rather than allowing the search engines to just use the first few lines of the page.

Make sure your main keywords appear in your description. Even if the search engines ignore them, humans will see them.

If you do all this, you’re ahead of most other websites out there in establishing the relevancy of your site to search engines. Blogging software such as Blogger and WordPress make all of this easier, but it’s still up to people to do the keyword research and create appropriate titles, headings, and descriptions.

Other factors that play into search engine ranking include:

  • The age of the site (older sites are considered more reputable)
  • The page rank of the site (higher is better)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug the SEO Book again. This ebook has all of the above in it, plus loads more. It’s targeted toward SEO professionals, but the techniques in it can be used by any webmaster or blogger.

Next post I’ll talk more about getting back links, both to increase your page rank and to get more traffic to your site. Until then, enjoy!

SEO: Creating Keyword Rich Content

The term relevancy is probably a mantra over at Google HQ.

Any search engine wants to deliver relevant content, but Google is positively fanatical about it. Relevant content means that the top pages in the search listing provide an answer to the question the searcher was asking.

The basic pool of search results is built from a fairly brain dead algorithm. If you type in a search term like computer keyboard, you’ll get a pool of search results that include all pages having either the word computer or the word keyboard, or both.

Doing the computer keyboard search on Google gives us this result today:

So the pool of possible search results is over 64 million web pages! Where relevancy comes into play is when search engines decide which results to show first.

Showing up on the first page of search results is the goal of search engine optimization. Few people go to even the second page; instead, they’ll try a different search if none of the sites on the first page answer their question.

By doing keyword research, we’ve ensured that we will be in the pool of search results. To get onto the first page, we need to create keyword rich content and optimize the page for the keyword.

In years past, a common tactic for ranking high in search engines was called “keyword stuffing”. This basically means that you take the keyword you want to us and repeat it over and over again in your content. For example, if your keyword was computer keyboard you might have content like this:

The computer keyboard has a long and varied history. Computer keyboards evolved from the dials and switches used to communicate with computers before computer keyboards existed. Computer keyboards have greatly improved our ease of interacting with computers.

You get the idea…repeating the keyword ad nauseam. These days some search engines will penalize sites that do this by moving them lower in the rankings.

The best way of creating keyword rich content is to simply write about the topic described by the keyword. Use the keyword in your content, but vary it a bit. If you have a multiple word keyword, split the words so they don’t always appear together. And don’t use the keyword more often than is natural.

The keyword you’re targeting should appear in the first line of your content, and then again in the last paragraph. In between, just focus on writing quality content about the topic and avoid keyword stuffing, and search engines should find your page relevant.

In the next post I’ll talk about optimizing the HTML on the page for the keyword. This helps to break ties when more than one site has keyword rich content.

Until then, write some content!

SEO: Keyword Research

This is the start of a series on search engine optimization. Right now, I see this series having four parts:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Creating keyword rich content
  3. Optimizing pages for keywords
  4. Getting back links

Right now we’ll talk about keyword research. This is an often used term these days. If you read forums about search engine optimization, you’ll often hear something like, “You need to do some keyword research.” But usually there aren’t a lot of details on what that means.

So here’s the basic idea: your web site is about a topic. Each of your web pages is about a topic, probably a specialized version of your site’s topic. In the search engine optimization overview post I talked about keywords being what the user types into a search engine to try and find web pages related to the keyword.

So in this context a keyword can be a word or a phrase. Dog training is a keyword, as is make money online. Someone using the keyword dog training probably isn’t looking for information on how to make money online.

Picking keywords is a bit like playing Jeopardy. You have an answer, your web page. You need to figure out what questions people are asking that your web page fits. The obvious keywords aren’t always the best, so you have to be creative here.

Think in terms of a person with a problem. For example, this blog is about making money online. A person might go to Google and type in the keyword, make money online. Most people, though, would type in something like how can I make money online, or how can I make extra money online.

Step 1, then, is to write down all the questions for which your web page is the perfect answer that you can imagine people using. This becomes our list of keywords we’ll use to start researching. These keywords should be as specific as possible.

What we want are keywords for which our web page is always the right answer. These are well targeted keywords. Having well targeted keywords helps to ensure that someone who does come to the web page is going to find what they need.

Step 2 is to use a keyword tool to start getting some insight into which of those keywords are going to get you the most traffic. There are free keyword tools and paid keyword tools. In general, you get the most detailed information out of paid keyword tools, but until you’re making enough money to afford them, it doesn’t make sense to use them.

Here are a few free keyword tools I use:

In general, when you type one of your keywords into a keyword tool, what you get back is the expected search volume you can expect for that keyword, plus suggestions of related keywords along with their expected search volume.

For example, putting dog training into Overture’s tool gets back the following results today:

Notice that the keyword dog training has over five times as many searches for March than the next highest keyword. Many people stop at this point and pick dog training as their keyword because of the search volume.

The problem with this keyword is that it’s too broad. A person who searches for dog training might be looking for information on how to keep their dog from barking, or how to train their dogs to perform tricks, or stop peeing on the rugs, or to attack burglars, etc. The keyword is too broad for our web page to always be the right answer.

By using a more specific keyword, we’ll get less traffic, but well increase the chances that our web page will be the answer to the visitor’s problem. After all, traffic alone doesn’t make us any money. Solving visitor’s problems makes us money. The term conversion rate is used to indicate the percentage of visitors who actually buy something (or otherwise perform an action we feel is valuable). Specific keywords will have higher conversion rates than broad keywords.

The real benefit of a keyword tool is to allow you to see related keywords that have actually been used in searches. Let’s say that our page is about obedience training for dogs, and we see in Overture’s list that dog obedience training has a good number of searches.

Do we just pick that keyword and target it? No, instead let’s put that keyword back into the keyword tool and see what related keywords it has.

A couple of things jump out at me. The first is that there’s a keyword that gets more searches than dog obedience training. That only really helps us if our page is about an obedience school, but it’s something we wouldn’t have known if we’d stopped researching after our first try.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that there are geographically specific searches. When you think about it, this makes sense. Let’s say that we’re running an obedience school for dogs, and we optimize for dog training obedience schools and we get a lot of traffic. But most of that traffic won’t live in the area of our school, so won’t be targeted.

By optimizing for a keyword that includes geographical information, we can help increase our conversion rate by making sure we’re providing an answer for people who can actually take advantage of it.

The ideal keyword for SEO purposes has less than 10,000 pages in Google. This increases your chances of ranking highly for that keyword. To check the number of pages in Google, type the keyword into Google using quotes around it. So to check dog training, I’d type “dog training” into the Google search box.

Ideally, the result of keyword research is two to three highly targeted keywords. The amount of traffic you get might be lower, but your conversion rate should be high.

In the next post, we’ll talk about creating keyword rich content. See you there!

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a big buzzword these days.

It’s big for a reason, too. Properly optimizing your pages so that search engines consider them relevant for a given keyword is one of the keys to getting ranked higher in search engines. And higher ranking means more traffic, which generally means more profits.

Search engine traffic is considered to be targeted traffic, because the potential customer has just typed in a keyword to search. Your page is optimized for that keyword, so presumably is going to give them exactly what they were looking for in the first place. You should have a good chance of selling them whatever it is you want to sell them.

So rule #1, target your pages to a keyword and make the page relevant to that keyword. There’s no point in optimizing a page for the keyword “iquana food” if you’re going to try and sell visitors musical chimes. Keyword research is an important part of optimizing your pages.

So, rule #2, pick good keywords. A good keyword is one that is highly relevant to your page content, has at least some search traffic, and has little competition.

The SEO Book is one of the best books I’ve seen on search engine optimization. It covers not only keyword research and writing keyword rich content, but page optimization and also delves into how the internal links between your pages affect search engines.

The SEO Book is highly recommended for anyone new to the topic. A wealth of detail, and the author also maintains a frequently updated blog that continues to give good information on how SEO changes over time.

In the next few posts, I’ll go into more detail on how I do SEO.