John Chow calls himself a “Dot Com Mogul”. The local blogger, affiliate marketer, and founder and CEO of TTZ Media claims he’s made millions of dollars on the Web. Indeed, Chow expects his blog, which he started in 2005, to rake in $500,000 this year alone, and TTZ Media, his on-line advertising network, even more.
If you search for “John Chow” in Google, you’ll find plenty of Web sites talking about him, but you won’t see his blog listed on the first few pages of results. That’s because the search engine penalized his site two years ago, presumably in response to his controversial search-engine-optimization tactics.
Born near Guangzhou in China, Chow turned 44 years old three days ago. He started The TechZone in 1999. The product-review site spawned Chow’s ad network. In 2007, Chow self-published an e-book, Make Money Online With John Chow dot Com. He’s turning it into a print book, which he expects to be published this year by Morgan James Publishing. Chow regularly gets together with local professional bloggers and Internet marketers for Dot Com Pho, the weekly gathering he initiated.
Last month, Chow launched Twitter Follower. This free service offers up a database of Twitter users who, if you’ll follow them, will follow you back. It’s geared toward those who want to quickly increase their subscriber count.
The Georgia Straight reached Chow by phone at his home in Richmond.
What exactly makes you a “Dot Com Mogul”, as you call yourself?
That’s just a term that I coined when I first started the blog. I define a Dot Com Mogul as (a) someone who makes all their money on-line—that’s no other income except on-line income source; (b) you must own your own domain name for your name—that’s number two, that’s why I own JohnChow.com; (3) your on-line income must be at least $10,000 per month.
How do you make money?
I make money on-line, basically. Currently, I make the majority of my income on-line from advertising. But lately I’ve been getting more and more into affiliate-type marketing—affiliate marketing. But the main thing is still advertising. But affiliate marketing is starting to take a much bigger chunk than it used to.
How has your business been affected by the recession?
Not much. My blog is actually doing better. The reason for that is I actually do better in a recession, because during recessionary times people are worried about their jobs or the possibility of getting laid off or they are laid off, so they’re actually looking for a second income source or they’re looking for ways to make additional income just in case something happens. Since that’s what my blog teaches, I actually benefit from a recession.
What advice do you have for someone else who wants to get paid from blogging?
From blogging, I would say pick a topic that they’re really, really interested in, because it takes a while for a blog to get any traction and gain a readership before you can start making money from it. So, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you don’t like a topic you’re writing about, you’re not going to stick around long enough for your blog to gain any type of audience. So, that’s the number-one thing: pick a topic you like.
I also recommend you monetize the blog from the get-go, like from day one. A lot of people recommend you wait until you build an audience before you start making money from it. I recommend you start from the very beginning. This way the readers are that used to it. They see the ads on there, so they’re expecting it and they get used to it. If you monetize the blog afterward, you tend to piss some people off, because they’re used to an ad-free blog. If somebody saw you putting an ad on it, they’ll call you a sell-out and everything else.
Is there a danger of trying to monetize a blog too much?
There is. But it’s actually very, very slight. You’ll be amazed at how far you can push things. Just when you think the audience can’t possibly take anymore, they do. People will still come to your blog no matter how hard you monetize it. There is a point. Yes, how you track that point is your traffic will start going down. If your traffic starts going down, then you’ve probably reached the tipping point. You probably need to back off. But, until then, you can pretty much push quite heavily. If you look at a blog like Engadget—if you count the front page—it has almost 30 banners on there. So, you can definitely push it quite far.
Also, depending on how you lay in the advertising, if you use a whole bunch of different types—some of them don’t even look like ads at all but they really are—you can put quite a bit on it. Most people think of advertising—you think of a banner ad. But there are so many other stuff you can do. There are affiliate links you can insert. There are different types of ads besides the banner. When they all add up, it’s a lot of advertising. But, because most viewers just think of advertising as a banner, your blog can still look pretty clean but be full of ads.
Other than advertising, what other ways do you use to monetize your blog?
One of the best ways is by writing reviews of products and then linking to the manufacturer via an affiliate link. If your blog is highly targeted and the product that you’re reviewing is highly targeted to your readership, you can do much better with an affiliate-commission-type structure than you can by just selling advertising for it.
How did you get into this line of work?
The Internet was always a hobby. I first discovered it when I had my regular business. I used to own a print shop a long time ago. That’s when the Internet was coming out. I basically just learned by fooling around with it. I created a Web site for my print shop. That was my first Web site. I did it on Microsoft FrontPage. This was around, I guess, 1999, ’98—yeah, around 1998—when the Internet was just getting popular. That’s when I started The TechZone, back in 1998. So, I survived the dot-com boom, and I also suffered the dot-com crash. But I lived through it, so I’m still around and of course I’m still around for this current boom.
Why has your site been penalized by Google?
According to Google, I violated their ToS by encouraging people to link to me in exchange for a link back to them. Basically, I asked other bloggers to review my blog, and, if they reviewed my blog, I would link to them. But that wasn’t really what caused the problem.
What caused the problem was that I asked them to link to me with a specific term, like a specific search term. Google, apparently, doesn’t like that. They say that is manipulating their search engine, because how Google determines its search ranking is based on (a) how many people link to you—so the more people linking to you, the higher you rank in the search engine; and the other factor is what term do they link to you with. So, if they link to you with a term like “computers”—if you can get a thousand or 10,000 people to link to you with the term “computers”—you can probably rank for the search term “computers”, when somebody types “computers” in Google. So, Google considers that manipulative.
I asked people to link to me with the term “make money online”, which is pretty descriptive of what I do, right? So, even though the search term is targeted and it is what I do—so it is relevant—Google says that was manipulative, and because of that they didn’t ban me from the search engine; they moved me out of page one. So, what I should have been ranked page one for, now I’m not in page one. I’m in page three, four, five—around there. I can get back, if I want. So, that was the one reason Google removed me.
The other reason is that I also sold paid links on my site. Google considers paid links as also another way of manipulating their search engine. You know, millions of blogs have paid links, but they decided to make me the example.
When did they contact you?
They didn’t pretty much contact me. They just went ahead and did it. But on their blog, like Matt Cutts’s blog—he’s the chief engineer at Google—he was making a big thing over like, “We’re going to start doing something about paid links and stuff because this manipulates the search engine and that kind of stuff.” I was not the only blog that did get penalized. A bunch of other blogs also got penalized as well. They got their PageRank lowered and a bunch of other stuff happening. So, they kind of put a scare through the Internet. Paid links are not as big as they used to be anymore, because webmasters are scared that if they accept paid links they won’t get ranked on Google.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.