The power of Google is a wonder to behold—just see for yourself in the chart above. A simple tweak of its search algorithm and a previously popular website can drop out of the rankings and lose all its traffic. One more tweak a week or so later and the site just as suddenly repopulates.
That’s what happened to Rap Genius, a website that posts music lyrics and allows users and artists to contribute social commentary. The site has some eccentric founders with some creative ideas about how to drive traffic, and those ideas conflicted with Google’s policies.
When Google found out, the search giant dropped Rap Genius from its rankings, and users stopped finding the website.
After a brief exile and an apology, Rap Genius was restored in the search rankings. Now, if you search “Rap Genius,” its website is No. 1.
It is unclear if the co-founders of Rap Genius technically broke Google’s rules, but they were certainly testing the limits of search etiquette. Basically, they were incentivizing bloggers to post lists of links to Rap Genius, a trick that boosts a website’s search presence. Google does not allow websites to offer such link kickbacks.
In this instance, Rap Genius was in a grey area, as it wasn’t offering link for link, but was promoting favored blogs through its social media accounts.
Also, Rap Genius was dispensing questionable content that bordered on spam—like stories about Justin Bieber lyrics that were little more than links to Rap Genius.
They were clearly trying every trick to become the pre-eminent site for lyrics, a surprisingly lucrative Web category. In a blog post yesterday, Rap Genius took full responsibility and admitted search wrongdoing, outlined its transgressions, and apologized.
“To Google and our fans: we’re sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking,” the team said.
Also last week, after suffering a steep traffic slide—from more than a million daily visitors to closer to 200,000—Rap Genius launched a well-timed app. The team has been looking to lessen its dependence on search for its traffic, and a mobile app with registered users was one solution, as one of the co-founders told Adweek recently.
“Though Google is an extremely important part of helping people discover and navigate Rap Genius, we hope that this ordeal will make fans see that Rap Genius is more than a Google-access-only website,” Rap Genius said in its blog post. “The only way to fully appreciate and benefit from Rap Genius is to sign up for an account and use Rap Genius”