The founders of Rap Genius made Santa’s naughty list on Christmas Day. The popular lyrics website’s SEO rankings plummeted after being punished for attempting to game Google’s search algorithm with a technique known as “growth hacking”.
It all started with the below Facebook post, which offered fans the opportunity to become a blog affiliate.
Well-known blogger John Marbach made public an email exchange with Rap Genius founder Mahbod Moghadam, in which the growth hacking details were exposed. Moghadam encouraged Marbach to submit a blog post that included html links to lyrics from tracks on Justin Biebers new album. Marbach posted the email exchange on his website, which eventually made its way to various online forums, and ultimately to the desk of Matt Cutts at Google.
On Christmas Day, Rap Genius’ search engine rankings were all but obliterated. The site, which had previously dominated Page 1 for search terms related to hip hop lyrics, was not even ranking on Page 1 for its own company name. The below graphic, tweeted by Digg’s David Weiner, illustrates the shocking drop off in web traffic.
What Was So Bad About Rap Genius’ Blog Affiliate Offer?
Google’s Webmaster Tools Guidelines, as well as its recent Penguin Update, strictly prohibit the use of backlinks for the sole purpose of increasing search engine rankings. Mahbod Moghadam was accepting blog posts with content not related to the links he wanted authors to include. As we all know, relevant content drives search and is the crux of what Google and other search engines strive for.
Rap Genius posted an apology on its blog, admitting to the wrongdoing and explaining that the lyrics landscape is full of spam. This doesn’t justify their own black hat practices; however, it does point to the discouraging fact that many webmasters still get away with breaking the rules.
“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.”
Google can make or break any online business. Keeping that simple fact your brain should be enough to prevent you from attempting search engine optimization practices that can lead to compromised rankings or even delisting. Your competitors who continue to ignore the rules will eventually be naturally penalized or called out for their spammy ways.
In the case of Rap Genius, their every move is being scrutinized by onlookers fascinated by the rapid growth of the startup juggernaut with $15-million in backing.
The bigger you get, the harder you fall.