Rap Genius Apologizes For Not-So-Genius SEO Spam Tactics

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Those lovable rascals from Andreessen Horowitz-backed Rap Genius are stirring up trouble again. But this time it’s not for controversial statements they’ve made — instead, the company came under fire for spammy SEO tactics.

Yesterday, following a call to action on Rap Genius’ Facebook page looking for blogs interested in participating in the company’s affiliate program, Y Combinator alum John Marbach recounted an interaction he had with Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Moghadam in which he was asked to post a series of links to Justin Bieber song lyrics in exchange for “MASSIVE traffic.”

That tactic, which Marbach euphemistically referred to as a growth hack, reminded many people of old-school Google bomb SEO practices. And it led Google webspam head Matt Cutts to say the search engine was investigating what Rap Genius was doing.

Rap Genius has since issued a mea culpa, and is pleading for leniency from Google webspam team. The startup says that the affiliate program is a small part of its SEO strategy — so small, in fact, that Rap Genius believes it should easily be able to get rid of any unnatural links that have appeared as a result of its so-called affiliate program. Stuff like, for instance, THIS.

“[We'll] discourage things like this in the future. We are also getting in touch with the relevant site owners individually to request that they remove any such links. Just to be clear, this is an not a widespread practice, and it should not be too difficult to stamp out.

But Rap Genius also used the occasion to call out its so-called competitors in the music lyric game — sites like AZLyrics.com, Metrolyrics.com, Lyricsfreak.com, Lyricsmode.com, Lyrics007.com, and Songlyrics.com. In each case, Rap Genius shows how those sites seem to be involved either in massive link exchanges or potentially paying for links from other sites in an effort to boost SEO from Google.

But in the witch hunt that was spurred by what seems like a pretty minor and insubstantial portion of Rap Genius’ overall SEO juice, all parties involved seem to be ignoring what really makes the site’s search engine ranking work.

Rap Genius says its main objective is to “create an amazing experience for users and hope they prefer us to all other lyrics sites and link to us.” All of which might be true. But as pointed out over here [h/t Valleywag], a large portion of Rap Genius’ overall traffic likely comes from users searching for individual song lyrics.

“What sets Rap Genius apart from the thousand other lyric spam sites rife with pop up ads is that they’ve figured out how to exploit this tendency. The annotation format gives them a good excuse to create a standalone page for each individual line, which maximizes their presence on search engines.”

Of course, those annotations wouldn’t be possible without the community. We reached out to the Rap Genius folks and they said they’ll be working 100 percent on the community/annotation focus from now on. Co-founder Ilan Zechory writes:

We messed up here, which is why starting today we are 100% focused on the SEO strategy that has gotten us the best results: building an amazing product and community. It’s also the strategy we execute most effectively – we believe Rap Genius provides the highest quality lyric search results, and it’s not even close. For example, check out Rap Genius’ annotated edition of Justin Bieber’s “Confident” – as of today 67 different fans have contributed annotations!

Our goal is to bring about a world where everyone searching for lyrics gets a rich, interactive, knowledge filled experience, rather than a flat spammy one.