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Google punishes Rap Genius for manipulative SEO tactics

PoetryMusicEntertainmentT-MobileWikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Google has removed Rap Genius from the top of its search results after it was discovered that the popular music lyrics website was trying to trick the tech giant into giving it better search rankings.

Now, when users search for "Rap Genius" on Google they won't find any direct links to the music website, which lets users and artists annotate song lyrics. Instead, the results point to news articles, social media accounts and Rap Genius' Wikipedia page.

Google took down Rap Genius after it was revealed that the lyrics website, which received $15 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz last year, was offering bloggers exposure through its social media accounts in exchange for links to its website on their music blogs. 

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One of the important factors in the algorithm used to determine Google's search rankings is how many pages link to each website, so by asking bloggers to link to Rap Genius in exchange for the exposure, the lyrics website was taking the linking into its own hands.

Rap Genius' tactics came to light after the website posted a status on Facebook asking bloggers to join its affiliate program. John Marbach, a tech entrepreneur, emailed Rap Genius for more details and later published the website's response.

After the questionable tactics were revealed, the head of Google's webspam team, Matt Cutts, announced on Hacker News that the company was investigating the music lyrics website.

Since then, Rap Genius has apologized for its affiliate program and has said that it is working with Google to make sure it complies with the tech giant's policies. Rap Genius also said that its rival lyrics websites also practice the same types of strategies.

"We’re working on it as fast as we can, and expect to be back on Google very soon," the company said in a statement to TechCrunch. "It sucks to be off Google for us and for the thousands of our community members who have worked so hard to create what’s often the best search result."

Being delisted by Google can be a death sentence for websites since they get the bulk of their traffic from the search engine. Users come to Rap Genius after searching for song lyrics and usually finding Rap Genius at the top of the page. 

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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