Google Punishes Rap Genius For Shady Linking Tactics

12/26/13 12:38PM EST

Google Punishes Rap Genius For Shady Linking Tactics Google Punishes Rap Genius For Shady Linking Tactics

Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius. Image via Flickr/ TechCrunch

Rap Genius is no longer appearing on the first page of any Google searches after Google discovered the site’s underhanded linking tactics. Even in a search for “rap genius,” the site’s homepage, rapgenius.com, doesn’t appear until page six of Google search results. This is a huge hit for any online-based company, for which search engine optimization (SEO) is always a major goal.

Lyric and annotation site Rap Genius may be better known for its crass founders than for the actual website content, but it remains a lucrative and talked-about company.

Rap Genius Offers Tweets In Exchange For Links

Trouble with Google started when Rap Genius invited bloggers to participate in its “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program, according to TechCrunch. John Marbach, founder of email filtering startup Glider, emailed for details about the program.

A Rap Genius employee wrote back with the shady details: the company would tweet links to Marbach’s blog if he agreed to place a series of links in the blog. The titled links went back to Rap Genius pages on various Justin Bieber songs, which are popular searches and can garner traffic for the site. In other words, the links were designed to put Rap Genius results higher in Google search results.

Instead of following the company’s instructions to place links in his blog, Marbach wrote a blog post about Rap Genius’s off-color tactics and published the email.

Google Retaliates, Rap Genius Asks For Better Results Industry-Wide

Google’s response was swift and severe, and Rap Genius pages no longer appear high in results for any popular music-related searches. That means the site will receive little if any traffic from Google searches, a dominating ideal online. Without search referral traffic, Rap Genius will miss out on opportunities to grow its user base and branch out, potentially affecting its long-term success and revenue.

For their part, the Rap Genius founders penned an open letter to Google to defend their position. They state in the letter that they “messed up,” and that they believed their tactic to be in compliance with Google policies. Now that they know the backlinking is not allowed, they will no longer do it.

They also took the opportunity to call out some of Rap Genius’s major competitors, such as AZLyrics, Metrolyrics and Lyricsfreak. They explained that “other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff” and asked for Google to reevaluate search results for the entire category of lyrics sites.

Google Listens: Rap Genius Making Changes

The founders’ plea seems to have worked to a degree. Search results still punish Rap Genius and the site will likely feel the effects long-term, but the founders are now working with Google to improve rankings in an honest way.

“We are working with Google right now to resolve this,” the founders said in a followup statement. “They’ve been really great, helping us identify changes we need to make, even on Christmas. We’re working on it as fast as we can, and expect to be back on Google very soon.”