Google has removed Rap Genius' site from its search results following disclosures that the New York lyrics site has tried to game the search engine with a backlink scheme.
The scheme, detailed in a blog post earlier this week by John Marbach, involved getting bloggers to insert backlinks to Rap Genius' lyrics for the new Justin Bieber album, "Journals." In exchange, Rap Genius promised to Tweet a link to the blog post containing the links. Such deals are verboten in Google's book because they can lead to irrelevant or low-quality search results.
Rap Genius apologized for the scheme, while simulatenously pointing the finger at rival lyrics sites, saying "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 post, written by Rap Genius' founders Ilan Zechory, Mahbod Moghadam and Tom Lehman, went on to point out what other lyrics sites do to grow traffic, accusing AZLyrics, Metrolyrics and Lyricsfreak of "excessive link exchanges" and "buying links or exchanging services for links."
Rap Genius' own link-swapping came after Moghadam posted an invitation on Facebook Dec. 22 to bloggers who "want to be Rap Genius affiliates." After a query by Marbach, Moghadam responded by saying, "If you have a dope post that you would like us to tweet out -- get you MASSIVE traffic -- then put this html (below) at the bottom of the post and send me the URL along with the EXACT text you want tweeted. I will send that shit out it will bloooowwwww up!"
Search engine expert Danny Sullivan noted that Moghadam's scheme probably would not have gone far, even if Marbach hadn't expoed it. "The attempt by Rap Genius to gain links to rank better was fairly dumb on many aspects, if particular in a post-Penguin world where savvy SEOs understand that getting the exact same type of links in a sudden burst is probably going to cause you problems with Google," Sullivan wrote in a post on SearchEngineLand.
While Rap Genius' current predicament may be temporary as it sorts out its issues with Google's search cops, Sullivan points to a potential long-term hazard that would be much more detrimental to the lyric start-up's business -- Google's trend toward providing direct answers to search queries. That could mean a search for "lyrics to Beyonce's new album" would yield the actual lyrics courtesy of Google, as opposed to just a set of links to sites with those lyrics.
"it’s probably an incredibly dumb business model to be doing a lyrics site that hopes for Google traffic in a time when Google, like Bing, is moving toward providing direct answers," Sullivan said. "Lyrics, to my understanding, often have to be licensed. That makes them a candidate for Google to license directly and provide as direct answers."
In the meantime, Rap Genius' traffic has taken a beating. Here's a chart from Quantcast displaying the site's performance since Google pulled the plug.