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Google Lifts Penalty on Rap Genius

In a complete reversal of its earlier decision, Google decided to remove the penalty it imposed on lyrics website Rap Genius. Previously, the site had been slammed to the bottom of Google’s rankings due to its use of dodgy SEO tactics.

A blog post by John Marbach detailing the “growth hack” techniques employed by Rap Genius piqued the interest of Google, which investigated the site in December. Google’s response was swift. Rap Genius plummeted in the search engine’s rankings, and traffic to the website dropped significantly. Even searching for the term “Rap Genius” gave the user no first-page results relating to the actual website.

Rap Genius went from 700,000 unique visits per day to just 100,000 unique visits per day. In late December, the founders of Rap Genius openly admitted that they had made a mistake with their poorly-planned attempt at an affiliate program and indicated that they wanted to negotiate with Google to find a solution.

This tactic seems to have worked, since Rap Genius has been restored to its original rankings. They did this by manually asking affiliates for link removal or applying “nofollow” tags to links that they had back-end access to. Their programmers custom-built a scraper that identified thousands of other spammy links that were already spread throughout the Internet. This tool was so efficient that all of the offsite links (over 177,000 URLs) were pinpointed within 15 minutes.

The Rap Genius transgression was an attempt to garner backlinks from high PageRank websites that mentioned songs from the most recent Justin Bieber album. They targeted a popular musician because most of the “hits” that Rap Genius receives from web visitors are for a very small pool of artists and genres. Since the new Justin Bieber album was released, people would be searching for the songs, singles and album information. Rap Genius wanted to find links with good anchor text that would use Justin Bieber’s song titles to lure in visitors. They requested help from their Facebook fans and various friends in order to accomplish this.

Rap Genius features commentary on lyrics from pop and rock artists as well as rap musicians, and has expanded to provide its own take on news, art and poetry. Backed by Andreesen Horowitz, who provided $15 million to fund the website, Rap Genius quickly rose to the top of Google rankings after its launch in 2009. The website makes money through its popularity and its content, which is less riddled with advertisements than competing lyrics sites.

It remains to be seen whether or not the site will recover in the long term. If anything, the hullaballoo increased Rap Genius’ brand awareness exponentially.

At EverSpark, we take great care to stay within Google’s guidelines when it comes to link-building. Talk to us today about jump-starting your digital initiatives.