Google just made an example out of Rap Genius. The search engine giant removed the rap music Web site from the top of its results after alleging it was working to outmaneuver Google’s algorithm.
Rap Genius allows users and artists to explore lyrics interactively via line-by-line annotations they can read, create, and edit. Now, when people search for Rap Genius, they no longer find any direct links to the Web site. Searchers instead find the site’s social media accounts, news article and Wikipedia page.
What went wrong? Rap Genius operators, who won $15 million in funding from Andreesson Horowitz in 2012, explained its strategy and revealed where it went wrong. Google could not immediately be reached for comment.
“That’s our main SEO strategy: to create an amazing experience for users and hope they prefer us to all other lyrics sites and link to us,” the company said in a blog post. “We believe that any unbiased user would prefer the Rap Genius version over the alternatives -- and that this advantage in quality is responsible for the majority of our search traffic.”
The company's other strategy, which it employs on a much smaller scale, is to find blogs whose content they think followers will enjoy and ask them to link pages on Rap Genius that are relevant to their posts.
“We actually thought we had set this up to be compliant with Google’s linking policy in its Terms of Service, but we messed up and want to explain how,” the company said. For example, Google’s terms of service declare that sites cannot buy or sell links that pass PageRank. That includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for that person writing about it and including a link.
“We’ve never bought or sold links,” the company said. “We do provide exposure on our Twitter and Facebook feed (not rapgenius.com) for fans that link to us, if and only if they send us good content. We don’t tweet out weak content because our followers won’t like it, and we don’t want links to Rap Genius placed on irrelevant or poorly written blogs.”
The Big Mess Up
Although Rap Genius extends an open invitation to all bloggers to reach out to the site -- and claims it responds to all who do -- its policy is to only promote the people who send good and relevant content. But Google’s terms also state: "Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines."
“This is where we messed up,” the company said. “Though any links to our tracks that our fans put on their pages were editorially placed or vouched for by them, in some instances we have fallen short in terms of making sure that the links people post are natural.”
Rap Genius pointed to an example of good content: a post on Beyonce’s new album, followed by a useful list of links to the corresponding tracks. The company also offered an example of what shouldn’t have happened: a post with the best verses of 2013 followed by a list of Justin Bieber links.
The bottom line: Rap Genius is going to request that site owners take down links to the sites that don’t fit well with its editorial content.