This goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or how popular your website is, if you try to out-wit Google, they will have the last laugh.
The Rap Genius co-founders are a bunch of over-the-top, obnoxious arrogant – yet wildly successful – entrepreneurs. Founded in 2009, Rap Genius is a lyrics and text annotation site. It lets users provide their own explanations for song lyrics, religious texts, legal documents, images, and more that other users see when they hover over snippets of text hosted on the site. The site even has several artists with verified accounts that contribute explanations to their own material. The startup lept into the limelight when it received a massive $15 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz in late 2012.
But Google doesn’t really care about how much funding your website has, or how many celebrities participate on your website. When you try to game the system and are cocky enough to publicly violate their webmaster policies, Google lays down the law. At this moment (though it’s subject to change), Rap Genius has been removed from Google’s index and can no longer be found through a Google search, even by Googling “rap genius”.
Here’s how it started…
They took to their Facebook page and invited those with high-ranking blogs to participate in a blog “Affiliate” program. At this point, one fairly prominent blogger replied and asked for details. One of the co-founders then replied:
Here’s where Justin Bieber comes into play, albeit not directly. But here’s the problem. Google rankings are obviously incredibly important. No need to explain that. Especially for lyrics websites that get millions of searches every single day. Even just a small cut of that traffic can be very profitable. And one of the things that will earn you a top position in Google, and lots of traffic, and lots of dollars are a large quantity of high quality backlinks.
The problem is that Google is looking for organic backlinks. In other words, links to your site that other websites have placed on their site because they want to provide a resource to additional, relative content. Over the past 2 years, Google has released several updates cracking down on non-organic backlinking schemes and are very outspoken about creating quality content that people voluntarily link to. Unforunately, it’s still a common practice for SEOs to place these kinds of links (that may work in the short-term but will eventually get your site banned just like RapGenius.com)
As you can see in the screenshot, Rap Genius is providing the HTML code (with links included) and asking anyone & everyone to place it on their website, regardless of that website’s subject matter, in exchange for a Tweet from Rap Genius which they claim will then make your “shit bloooowwwww up”. Classy.
This is an obvious gaming of the system. It would be great for them if they were creating quality content and I had a music blog. I would then link to them because I want to give my readers additional quality content regarding the subject matter in which they are already reading. But if I have a blog about SEO, or dogs or home-made pants – why the hell would I be linking to Justin Bieber songs?
I wouldn’t be, and that’s exactly how you get a manual action on your site from Google.
So why the Biebs?
Well… Rap Genius made a terribly stupid decision in trying to trick Google, but at the same time they at least understood what they were doing. Lyric websites are one of the hardest to SEO because songs are constantly being created. If you’re a plumber, you’ll most likely always be taking about plumbing, and the search terms for plumbing will likely be similar over years to come. But with lyrics, new songs and CDs are coming out daily, so there’s a never-ending stream of keywords to optimize for.
Justin Bieber just released his new album “Journals” last night; Beliebers will be searching for the lyrics to his new tracks repeatedly in the upcoming months. And Rap Genius wants a piece of that traffic. To demonstrate the magnitude of the Beliebers, check out this graphic: Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus were the most searched musicians in 2013, but Bieber is consistently the most searched person over time.
At this very moment, Rap Genius is missing out on millions of website hits, Bieber related and otherise, and that will continue until they correct the problem, which can take months. On the other hand, this is a pretty popular topic today, generating lots of articles like mine and social media conversations, so I guess all news is good news.
But that may not be the case for you. If you’re a local plumber, restaurant, carpet cleaner, etc. and you make the same attempts to game the system or hire a crap SEO firm who games the system because they just want your money, you won’t get the supplemental press. Although these methods can often spike your SEO rankings quickly, it will always be short-term. Google will always figure out what you are doing, and you will always be kicked off their search engine. It’s just not worth it.
Moral of the story: create an engaging web presence, produce quality content and allow the links to build naturally and organically. You may think you can out-smart the big G, but if Rap Genius can’t do it, neither can you. And he’s a genius!