The lyrics site Rap Genius no longer appears on the first page of Google results for its own name after Google decided it was done with the site's algorithm SEO tricks.
As of Thursday morning, a search for "Rap Genius" produces a series of news stories on Google's move, the company's Twitter handle, a Wikipedia page about Rap Genius, and at least five pages more of links before it links to the company's domain. The same goes for virtually any relevant lyrics search, including searches that contain the term "rap genius."
So what prompted Google to take action now? As it turns out, the company was using a strategy to boost its ranking in Google results searches that Google hates: offering to drive traffic to a site in exchange for that site adding a bunch of links back to Rap Genius URLs (in this case, Justin Bieber lyrics). The scheme was uncovered by Glider founder John Marbach, who emailed Rap Genius after seeing the following post on its Facebook page:
When Marbach emailed, asking for more details, Mahbod Moghadam responded:
(The email contained several other nearly identical links to Justin Bieber lyrics).
Google makes it pretty clear that link schemes will result in search-ranking punishment. The company prohibits "any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site," specifically, "Excessive link exchanges ('Link to me and I'll link to you') or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking." To many people, that sounds a lot like what the "Rap Genius Blog Affiliate" program was doing.
Marbach published a post on the scheme, with the screenshots above, and got a quick response from both Google and Rap Genius. As TechCrunch noticed two days ago, Google's head of anti-webspam efforts posted at Hacker News that the company was "investigating this now." Rap Genius then apologized for its behavior while simultaneously attempting to throw all of its competitors under the link-gaming bus. The company also disputed whether their link exchanges violated Google's policies cited above, adding that it "messed up" on overseeing how those links were displayed on other blogs. But Google still obliterated the lyric site's results.
The worst of the rankings plummet could be temporary. Rap Genius sent a statement to TechCrunch indicating that "“We are working with Google right now to resolve this:"
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.
But it's not likely that any fix to Rap Genius's ranking problem will be instant and complete. And the site is already suffering a pretty big drop in traffic, according to Quantcast's data:
That's a drop from 1.2 million daily uniques to 493,000.