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One of the more popular sites for finding lyrics to that song you can’t get out of your head is Rap Genius. However, the company came under fire from Google recently for apparently using unscrupulous SEO methods to make sure it pops up as the first result in any lyric-related Google search.
Today, the site’s founders took to their own blog with hat in hand in an open letter to address the accusations, allay concerns, and sling mud at their competitors in the lyrics game. Yikes.
ValleyWag recently reported on Rap Genius’ tactics, which are rather clever in an old-school, insidious sort of way. In exchange for including links to Rap Genius pages on potentially popular songs — in this case, a Justin Bieber album — Rap Genius would tweet a link to a blog post. The “blog affiliate” gets a surge in traffic, and Rap Genius gets links to their content embedded around the web.
As we search for that obscure verse of a song we used to know, websites devoted to song lyrics will be the first hits in a cursory Google search. Sites with a higher search engine ranking position (SERP) will have a better chance of being that crucial top link in our search results — the highest link usually gets the click, and ultimately the page view and advertising dollars. With a plethora of web links scattered about the Internet, Rap Genius inflates its SERP and improves its chances of climbing to the top of Google’s charts.
The problem, of course, is that this generally runs afoul of Google’s terms of service — specifically, the section on link schemes and unnatural links. In Rap Genius’ open letter, the company’s founders said that they’d “messed up” by not ensuring that blog affiliate content was a bit more, well, relevant to the links they were enlisted to post. They then went on to throw their competition under a bus: “tl;dr: We effed up, other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we’ll stop.”
I would imagine there’s something to be said about honor among SEO shysters, but we’ll let Google sort this one out.