As punishment for an SEO-spamming “Blog Affiliate Program,” lyric annotation site RapGenius was placed on the ultimate naughty list — Google’s — and thrown into the darkest nether regions of the search engine’s ranking algorithm, according to TechCrunch. Typing the query ‘RapGenius’ will only turn up headlines about the site’s fall from Google’s grace* — no lyrics, no song lists, no New York Times wedding analytics.
TechCrunch reports that RapGenius and Google are currently collaborating on an agreement.
When I first read about RapGenius’ ‘growth-hacking’ schemes, I assumed some complicated and tech-heavy algorithm corruption was going on. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), RapGenius’ tactics were based on the simple premise of more links equaling higher search rank. RapGenius CEO Mahbod Moghadam was personally asking third-party bloggers to paste HTML code containing anchor text about Justin Bieber and corresponding RapGenius lyrics links. In return, RapGenius agreed to tweet out the post — in the words of Moghadam, “I will send that sh*t out it will bloooowwwww up!”
The scheme was originally uncovered by Wake Forest student, former Thiel Fellow and Y Combinator alum John Marbach; no one seems to be sure of how long the Affiliate Program has been operating, or what blogs are participating. The pure efficacy of Google’s punishment is telling: if a startup with $15 million in VC funds can be rendered irrelevant with a single click of a Google engineer’s mouse, where does that leave other content companies?
The whole debacle shows the dangers of basing your business on another company’s ecosystem — e.g. it’s the tale of Facebook and Zynga all over again. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land tells Business Insider that, “It’s probably an incredibly dumb business model to be doing a lyrics site that hopes for Google traffic in a time when Google, like Bing, is moving toward providing direct answers. Lyrics, to my understanding, often have to be licensed. That makes them a candidate for Google to license directly and provide as direct answers.”
*Also a Wikipedia page, Facebook page and Twitter…but no direct entry to the site itself.