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Rap Genius? Sure. SEO Genius? Not so much.

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About a week ago, the lyrics website rapgenius.com was removed from Google’s Organic Search results for employing a backlink scheme.  Basically, RapGenius was offering bloggers tweeted exposure of the blogs they had written in exchange for backlinks within the blog itself, specifically for lyrics to Justin Bieber’s new album.

Rap genius

Unfortunately for RapGenius, Google’s search terms state the following:

“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, in essence, what RapGenius was doing.  By sending bloggers backlinks for use in their blogs of unrelated content, they were trying to improve their search rankings with a flood of inbound links, thereby improving their organic rankings for target search terms around Bieber’s new album.

“But why the Biebs?” You might say?  The answer is that RapGenius was looking at his album as their next big traffic bump…  And money driver.  Their business is based on people searching for music lyrics.  Taking that into consideration, it’s likely based on what we call, the 80/20 rule: 80% of their traffic derives from 20% of the content.  So, they were expecting a huge traffic spike with the release of the new Bieber album to float through the rest of the content on the site.  For a great breakdown of RapGenius’ actions, see John Marbach’s blog post, found here.  

RapGenius has since submitted an open letter of apology to Google, written by its founders, in which they admit to using this tactic and realize that they made a mistake.   At the time of this blog post, they were nowhere to be found in the top 3 SERP pages for the search term “Justin Bieber lyrics.”  And it seems their penalty may be affecting their entire site as a search for “Drake lyrics” also came up empty for the site.

It’s unfortunate, because RapGenius’ site model is quite unique compared to other lyrics sites like azlyrics.com or metrolyrics.com, both of whom occupy the top 2 organic Google SERP listings for Justin Bieber lyrics.  RapGenius offers a fuller user experience, allowing users to annotate lyrics with their own thoughts on what the lyrics mean, creating a community of thought and unique content; which would we assume would help SEO rankings.

What can you do to ensure that an issue like this doesn’t crop up for your site?  Consider the following when creating content and looking for links:

  • Always be sure your content is unique and relevant.  Keeping your content topical with a point of view will give your readers something interesting to take in.
  • Ask for shares of your content from your peers without offering recompense in return.  If they really like it, they’ll share it!
  • Do not provide unnatural content to your peers that links back to you.  Because remember… Google is always watching!

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