Rap Genius Website Banished for Trying to Game Google

PHOTO: From left: Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 on May 1, 2013 in New York.
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Whether you were preparing for your bar's karaoke night or settling a bet about the exact words to "Like a Rolling Stone," you've likely stumbled across lyrics websites in your Google search results.

One of those websites, Rap Genius, was caught trying to pull a fast one to appear more prominently in searches. As a result, Rap Genius has been vanquished to the Google underbelly. Searching for the phrase "Rap Genius" won't bring up the website until the fifth page of a search.

A recent email published by blogger John Marbach appears to be the origin of Rap Genius' woes. Marbach asked about blogging opportunities with Rap Genius and received an email from one of the site's co-founders, Mahbod Moghadam. According to the email, Rap Genius would promote Marbach's posts so long they included several links back to Rap Genius pages devoted to Justin Bieber songs, even if Marbach's post had nothing to do with the pop star.

After Marbach posted the email on his own website, it became popular on Hacker News, where it caught the attention of Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Webspam team. The search engine's linking policy says that "creating links that weren't editorially placed or vouched for by the site's owner on a page ... can be considered a violation of our guidelines."

As a result, Google came down on Rap Genius and banished it to Internet limbo.

Rap Genius admitted its mistake. "This is where we messed up," wrote the Rap Genius founders in an open letter of apology to Google on the Rap Genius website. "In some instances, we have fallen short in terms of making sure that the links people post are natural."

But Rap Genius said that other lyrics websites have also violated Google's linking policy. "With limited tools, we found suspicious backlinks to some of our competitors," said the founders. "We'd love for Google to take a closer look at the whole lyrics search landscape and see whether it can make changes that would improve lyric search results."

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