Google Crushes SEO Hack, Makes Rap Genius ‘Unsearchable’

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Google took enforcement of its SEO standards to extreme lengths Thursday after learning of suspect SEO practices used by popular lyrics website Rap Genius, making the site practically unsearchable.

Rap Genius, a Brooklyn-based startup founded in 2009, allows users to annotate and interpret text including rap lyrics, poetry and the news, providing a second layer of information to complex material. The site has exploded in popularity, and in 2012 its founders received a $15 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz.

In December, a Billboard article proclaimed that Rap Genius had “won the SEO game.” Search results for lyrics routinely returned Rap Genius pages as the top result, and the site raked in well over 1 million unique views per day. On Thursday, just two days after Google’s punishment, Rap Genius traffic was down to about 235,000 unique visitors according to Business Insider.

Earlier this week, after responding to a Rap Genius Facebook post seeking blog affiliates, John Marbach, founder of email filtering tool Glider, received a response from Rap Genius founder Mahbod Moghadam. On his blog, Marbach explains that Rap Genius was attempting an SEO growth hack based on Justin Beiber lyrics, which promise to gain high traffic after the recent release of a new album.

Mohgadam promised to tweet one of Marbach’s post on Rap Genius’ Twitter account in exchange for Marbach placing links to Rap Genius Justin Beiber lyrics pages within the post.

One of the most important factors in Google's algorithm affecting search results is links from external sites. By asking bloggers to link to Rap Genius in exchange for tweets, the lyrics site was—in Google's mind—artificially boosting its exposure and gaming the system.

Google’s response was severe, as the search engine practically wiped Rap Genius out of its results. A search for “Rap Genius” won’t return the lyrics site’s homepage until the sixth page of results. In some instances, searches for lyrics to specific songs won’t return Rap Genius pages until the seventh page of search results.

Google has a well-documented history of crushing what it deems to be manipulative SEO behavior, and the Rap Genius story is great example of what not to do for companies looking to stay in Google’s good graces. Here are some SEO tips to keep in mind to drive traffic to your website without angering the search giant, courtesy of Tomeeka Farrington of Spotlight Communications:

  • Encourage visitors to upload reviews, photos, videos and comments directly to your website.
  • Create a presence on all social channels that are relevant to your business.
  • Regardless of the type of content you’re generating, remember that each post you make should include a link back to your website.
  • Keep your website current by consistently making updates to announce content, news, and promotions, and even to show off photos and videos.

For more tips on crisis management, order a copy of PR News’ Digital PR Guidebook.

Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene