This Is How Rap Genius Fixed Their SEO Mess and Got Back On Google

rap genius founders. back on google!Rap Genius Back to #1 On Google!

I’ve really enjoyed watching this whole Rap Genius vs. Google SEO spam/scam story play out over the holidays. I generally spend a lot of my time reading about SEO daily, so when this spam issue came out, my eyes were glued to my RSS and social media timelines for any updates on the story or the penalties handed out from Google.

The final chapter may have been written and it’s awesome to see that Google actually stayed true to its mission to deliver the best and most relevant search results for its users search queries. Google has restored Rap Genius’ original high search rankings!

Rather than staying hardcore on policing and enforcing internet spammers, they’ve decided that Rap Genius should now have their search rankings fully restored to where they were before Google slammed down a brutal penalty on Christmas Day 2013, and essentially destroyed Rap Genius’ search rankings as punishment for SEO spam.

This could have been last call, final show, and final encore for this high profile, high traffic music lyric site. At the end of the day, it turns out that Google’s hardcore punishment and banishment from the first 4-5 pages of search, was nothing more than a stern warning.

So what happened? What did Rap Genius do to fix this mess and get back as bff’s with Google? Read on!


Rap Genius Apologizes and Fixes Things

In another well-written blog post, in which I again love their tone, Rap Genius laid out what they did wrong, how they fixed their spammy SEO links and other issues, and most importantly, what they did to kiss and make up with the search Gods known as Google. Here’s an excerpt:

In this post we give more details about our misguided SEO strategies and how we got there. We also explain our process and the tools we used to fix the problem and return to Google. Finally, we apologize to Google and our fans for being such morons.

It takes a few days for things to return to normal, but we’re officially back!

First of all, we owe a big thanks to Google for being fair and transparent and allowing us back onto their results pages. We overstepped, and we deserved to get smacked.

This post has 2 parts:

The history of our link-building strategy: how it started, evolved, and eventually spun out of control.

The story of how we approached the problem of identifying and removing problematic links from the Internet and got back on Google.”

So it’s great that these guys admit to being “morons” because what they were doing was so clearly using black hat, old school, and certainly spammy SEO tactics and link manipulation. If you are unfamiliar with Rap Genius co-founders, TechCrunch calls them “braggadocious rabble-rousers” and go on to say “they showed off their ridiculousness on stage in an interview with me at TechCrunch Disrupt New York embedded below. There they discussed doing study drugs like Adderall while naked to make sure the stayed home and focused on building the site.”


What Did Rap Genius Do Wrong?

The great thing about Rap Genius is it’s funded by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and doesn’t show ads like it’s competitors AZlyrics and MetroLyrics. Those sites provide a very poor user experience with annoying pop-ups and ringtone scams.

Rap Genius decided to come up with a growth hacking plan. They called this ridiculous attempt the “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program. They promised to promote anyone’s blog post through social media. The catch was each blog post writer would need to add a series of links to Rap Genius lyrics into their posts. TechCrunch provided this example to illustrate the dumbass plan:

“For example, it asked email filtering startup founder John Marbach to add links to Rap Genius pages for all of Justin Bieber’s new songs in hopes of scamming its way to the top of searches for Bieber lyrics.

The problem is that Google prohibits sites from gaming its search engine ranking algorithm by having links to them added to unrelated web pages and blog posts — which is exactly what Rap Genius was doing. Marbach published the instructions Rap Genius had sent him, which tipped off  Google’s search spam czar Matt Cutts who said his team would investigate.”


Google’s Punishment. Rap Genius’ Apology

Matt Cutts and Google clearly do not support anyone using websites, links, and shady SEO tactics to manipulate and game the Google search engine ranking systems and algorithms. Adding links to unrelated websites and blog articles is not cool. It’s spam. It’s not good for the user and Google (like “Homey”, from In Living Color) don’t play that.

Rap Genius realized their mistake, or realized they got caught trying to game Google, and they apologized. Google still was having none of that. They had a point to make and they made it well. They essentially made Rap Genius disappear from search rankings. For full details of the punishment/banishment, read Rap Genius Loses 80% Search Traffic From Google’s Penalty.

This punishment had to have hit Rap Genius where it hurts because Google brings Rap Genius an overwhelmingly amount of traffic! Quantcast says Rap Genius fell from around 700,000 uniques a day to around 100,000.

rap genius website traffic penalty and decline


How Did Rap Genius Get Back On Google?

This had to be an arduous task for this ridiculous team of tech geeks. One of the main things they’d have to do is get rid of all the bad links they originally solicited for by using Webmaster Tools to track all incoming, unnatural links. They’d also need to use the Google Disavow Tool as well as other web crawling tools in order to find all of the bad links. Here’s how they started:

“Google’s manual action had the reason “Unnatural links to your site”, which they explain as “a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.” Google recommends a 4-step approach to fixing the problem:

1. Download a list of links to your site from Webmaster Tools.

2. Check this list for any links that violate our guidelines on linking.

3. For any links that violate our guidelines, contact the webmaster of that site and ask that they either remove the links or prevent them from passing PageRank, such as by adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute.

4. Use the Disavow links tool in Webmaster Tools to disavow any links you were unable to get removed.

So that morning we dug in.”

Looks like their clean up worked because they are back on top of the search rankings for keywords related to music lyrics and lyric sites. They are also back at #1 spot, where they should be, for “Rap Genius” searches.


The Wrap

I’m happy to see Google and Rap Genius have made up and that Rap Genius has apologized and fixed their shady SEO tactics.

Hopefully this story sheds more light on ‘bad’ black-hat SEO tactics and proves to content creators, digital marketers, and SEOs understand that quality content, published regularly, and shared often, is they key to ranking high in search engines, boosting traffic to your website, and increasing your conversions.

If you’d like to read more about Rap Genius’ link building strategy and it’s history and get more details on how they got back on Google, read the post on their website.

What are your thoughts on Rap Genius and Google’s part in this story?


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