Last week we looked at Rap Genius’ phenomenally dumb SEO strategy which landed them with a smackdown Google penalty and virtually removed them from the search results. Now, after ten days, the website appears to have cleared the penalty, and are ranking for their own name (hey, it’s a start). They’ve also uploaded a lengthy blog post to come clean as to exactly where they began, and what went so wrong. It’s a classic tale of the young upstart, growing up from nothing, riding high on the waves of success, and then blowing it all on a stupid, lazy move because of a mistaken belief that the rules no longer applied.
In short, Rap Genius has lived a 10-day version of Wall Street, give or take a few Sheen family members.
As they explain on their website, the Rap Genius founders started out small and their attempts to reach out to major music sites had minimal success. But their innovative contribution-focused layout—which allows users to annotate any lyrics to add comments and explanations about what the lyric might mean—was a draw, and their early users often had music blogs of their own. As they began using Rap Genius as a resource, linking to track pages in their posts, the site saw some good growth and an increased social media presence. Bloggers linked to Rap Genius’ track pages, because they became the go-to source for good rap analysis; in return, Rap Genius linked and talked about the blogs that had become part of their everyday communication cycle.
Greed is Good?
Rap Genius has been in the headlines before, for both good and bad publicity. They began to collaborate with publications like The Atlantic and the Huffington Post—sometimes on a piece about using rap to teach science, and sometimes on the wild and controversial behavior of the site’s founders. All the while their blog network would link to Rap Genius—often in the context of their post, but occasionally a writer would include the links for a whole album at the bottom of a review. Rap Genius made it easy to do this by creating an embed function on their album pages, so that bloggers could instantly grab all the links to the tracks with a simple copy-paste.
But Rap Genius got greedy, and they began to promise to promote any blog whose owner linked to an album, regardless of the post’s content. And, to their credit, Rap Genius acknowledges that they were completely stupid about the system; “The dubious-sounding ‘Rap Genius blog affiliate program’, the self-parodic used car salesman tone of the email to John, the lack of any discretion in the targeting of a partner – this all looked really bad. And it was really bad: a lazy and likely ineffective ‘strategy’, so over-the-top in its obviousness that it was practically begging for a response from Google,” they say in their explanatory blog post.
The blog post also outlines (in a lot of detail) the method by which Rap Genius removed as many of the problematic links as possible; in the interest of total openness, it’s actually pretty nice to see them give some insight into their situation, realize that they broke the rules, and apologize to both Google and their fans. While getting a penalty is pretty humiliating, it’s always better to cop to it, fix it, and promise to do better in the future, rather than trying to dance around the issue or lay blame elsewhere. If you’re going to get caught, be honest about it; in the end, at least for me, Rap Genius looks a little bit smarter for how they responded, and hopefully they’ve learned their lesson.