Why Rap Genius is an SEO Dunce

By Banc Digital

3 min read

Rap Genius

Rap Genius’ blunder has set the digital marketing news alight – an SEO faux-pas punished by the wrath of Google and fuelled by a snowball of bad press in the process.

But what did Rap Genius – a website that provides the meaning behind rap lyrics – do that was so wrong? And how can we learn from their mistakes?

What happened, Rap Genius?

Let’s start with some background to the story. Quite naturally, Rap Genius wants to appear at the top of the Google rankings (who doesn’t?) whenever a user searches for song lyrics. Looking into the most searched-for artists over recent years, they identified Justin Bieber keywords as the most valuable to their business – the rationale being that, with the release of his new album in 2014, optimising for Bieber-related keywords will encourage business growth over the coming year. Makes sense, right?

In order to appear in the coveted top spot of the search engine rankings, Rap Genius decided to gain as many backlinks as they could. Backlinks are part of Google’s search algorithm, and are regarded as an endorsement from one website to another. The logic is, the more backlinks you get, the better your search engine rankings will be.

But herein lies a word of caution. Google is looking for “organic” backlinks – links that people have actively chosen to put on their site, perhaps as a review, news story or feature. These types of links indicate to Google that their users are genuinely interested in a particular site.

For example, if a blogger reviews a specific lipstick and links back to an online shop selling these beauty products, this is an organic backlink. As a result, it will be viewed favourably by Google – boosting the shop’s rankings in the lipstick-related keywords.

A Lesson in How Not to Do SEO

So, let’s look at what Rap Genius decided to do. First up, they put out a call on their Facebook page to gain blog affiliates. When individuals responded, they were asked to paste a piece of code at the bottom of their post – embedded links containing Justin Bieber keywords.

Sounds clever, right? Wrong. This is called a ‘growth hack’.

Regardless of the blog content, every one is inadvertently creating backlinks for Rap Genius in exchange for a promotional tweet. Problematically for Rap Genius, their strategy was exposed and their secret ousted on a website called Hacker News. Not only that, but the article was read by none other than Matt Cutts – Google’s main web spam man. Shortly afterwards, Rap Genius was penalised, and stopped ranking in the search engine.

After extensive talks with Google, the matter has now been resolved – but at a price. Website visits plummeted. Only now are they recovering after Google re-indexed the site, in return for a hefty backlink clean-up process from Rap Genius.

Do you require assistance with SEO?

SEO is full of pitfalls and small mistakes can result in big consequences. Rap Genius is a timely reminder that above all else, Google rewards authentic practices and original content. If you need help optimising your SEO campaign, we can help at Banc Media. We keep up to date with ethical search practices, so you can be rest assured that your digital presence is in safe hands. Interested? See our SEO Services or get in touch today.