Updated on January 5, 2014: Google Puts Rap Genius Back Atop Searches, Favoring Smart Results Over Holding A Grudge via TechCrunch
Founded in 2009 by Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, and Ilan Zechory, Rap Genius is a lyrics and text annotation site that allows users to provide their own explanations and interpretations for song lyrics, images, and more.
Today, the song lyric website is in hot water with Google after a blogger revealed that the website was using unsavory (and some may even say “black hat”) search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to increase the number of external page links to its site.
In an article published on December 26, ABC News reporter Jon Chang credits John Marbach, the founder of email filtering startup Glider, as the origin of the controversy. Marbach recently published an email that revealed how Rap Genius encourages bloggers to become “Rap Genius Blog Affiliates” using its social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
The blogger also included a copy of an email he received from one of Rap Genius’ co-founders, Mahbod Moghadam, which instructed him to copy and paste HTML for song lyric links into his blog—even if the post did not include any mentions of Justin Bieber. In exchange, Moghadam stated that Rap Genius would promote Marbach’s blog post on social media by tweeting it out to Rap Genius’ followers which would get Marbach “MASSIVE traffic.”
After Marbach posted the email on his own website, it became popular on Hacker News, where it caught the attention of Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team. The search engine’s linking policy says that “creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page … can be considered a violation of our guidelines.” –ABC News
According to TechCrunch, Rap Genius was appearing at the top or close to the top of search results for queries of popular rap songs and the word “lyrics,” and would even sometimes appear high in simple searches for artist and song names.
If you search for “Rap Genius” today, you won’t find a result for the actual website until the fifth page of Google results. Losing its number one position could definitely hamper the startup’s ability to attract Web traffic for song lyrics in the future. According to a study published by Chitika, the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives 32.5 percent of the traffic, and the listing in the second position receives 17.6 percent of organic search traffic.
TechCrunch suggests that now that Google has banished RapGenius.com to the bottom of the sixth page of results of searches for “Rap Genius,” “it will be much harder to grow its user base, collect new annotations, and potentially monetize with ads down the road.”
According to Chitika, links that appear on the sixth page of Google’s organic search results experience only 0.2 percent of Google traffic, in comparison to the 91.5 percent experienced by Page 1 results.
The New York Times reports that Rap Genius acknowledged that it had violated Google’s Terms of Service policy regarding optimizing search results in an open letter of apology that was published on “News Genius,” the journalism annotation branch of Rap Genius, by the Rap Genius Founders verified account.
One can only assume that the letter of apology came from Rap Genius’ actual founders and isn’t a product of their public relations department since the letter is full of the trio’s unique writing style and personality. Although the tone of the letter is apologetic, if you scroll down to the very bottom, you will find a post script that suggests the trio is attempting to save face by pointing out the flaws of their competitors.
We effed up, other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we’ll stop. We’d love for Google to take a closer look at the whole lyrics search landscape and see whether it can make changes that would improve lyric search results.
- The Washington Post | It’s not just Google: The many feuds of Rap Genius
- The New York Times | Google Penalizes Rap Genius for Gaming Search Rank
- Search Engine Watch | No. 1 Position in Google Gets 33% of Search Traffic [Study]
- TechCrunch | Google Destroys Rap Genius’ Search Rankings As Punishment For SEO Spam, But Resolution In Progress