Google Annihilates Rap Genius's Search Results For Trying To Game The System

Nowadays, basic search engine optimization (SEO) is standard operating procedure for any website, but one startup just suffered a serious blow after taking the practice too far. Rap Genius, a song lyric website that somehow procured $15 million in startup funding, adopted a somewhat sleazy SEO model involving a quid-pro-quo with partner bloggers, the end goal being to game Google's search results. But after a blogger revealed the business model, Google destroyed Rap Genius’s search engine presence. Now, a Google search for “Rap Genius” doesn’t link to the actual Rap Genius website until page five.

Here’s how it worked: Rap Genius would send a partner blogger a list of links to Rap Genius pages with instructions to copy and paste those links on their blog. Because a website’s search engine ranking is determined, in part, by how many external pages link to the site, this would thus increase Rap Genius’s placement when people searched for those songs. In exchange, Rap Genius would tweet out a link to the blogger’s website. Everybody wins, right?

That’s not how Google saw it. They didn’t approve, because the links directing to Rap Genius weren’t organic. In other words, they weren’t the result of bloggers earnestly wanting to direct their readers to Rap Genius; rather, they were the result of the bloggers getting something in return. And that’s contrary to the entire ethos behind Google, to the extent that such an ethos exists.

Rap Genius says they’re “working with Google” to resolve the issue, but the startup’s traffic has already plummeted by more than 50 percent. Ouch. This is a stark warning to enterprising startups: The line between legitimate SEO and gaming the system is blurry, but the consequences for crossing it are severe.