Talking tech since 2003

Over the last few days, lyric annotation site Rap Genius ran afoul of Google’s Matt Cutts, the head of the search giant’s web spam team. Why? Because apparently the site—which has already generated its fair share of negative press in the last few months—was looking to game Google’s search results system, and got ratted out. Whoops.

A post on TechCrunch details just what went down: apparently the lyrics site was looking to bring people into its Rap Genius Blog Affiliate program, which essentially involved the promise of tweeting out links to specific blog posts that also happened to contain link after link to various Rap Genius lyric pages, specifically those hosting lyrics to Justin Bieber songs. The quid pro quo would bring lots of views to the bloggers’ sites via Rap Genius’s popular Twitter account, while bringing eyes back to Rap Genius’s site via the links on the bottom.

More importantly, however, was the fact that more links to Rap Genius’s site would help it climb the Google search rankings—more links means more traffic, overall. Being high on the list of Google search results is a no-brainer for a business like Rap Genius, which relies on people searching out, well, lyrics to songs. Someone printed an email from Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam that detailed the relatively spammy and slimy practice, prompting the aforementioned Cutts to take to HackerNews and say, simply, “We’re investigating this now.” Shortly thereafter, Rap Genius was shunted way down the list of Google search results, clearly a retaliatory act on the part of the search company for trying to game the system.

Since that happened two days ago, Rap Genius has posted an apology explaining what happened—simultaneously and classily calling out other, supposedly more nefarious lyrics websites—and even released a statement saying that the company’s working with Google to bring the site back into compliance with its terms. Essentially, the company’s been publicly shamed, and now its kissing the ring, so to speak. I guess it’s something resembling a happy ending.

As of right now, when searching Google for “rap genius,” the company’s site is way down on the seventh page of search results. Ironically, the rest of the pages are filled to the brim with posts detailing this very story (not to mention the one linked at the top of this post). Which, I guess, is basically good for Rap Genius in the long run, since people are talking about it, and clearly none of this will stop a single person from going to the site to try to figure out what Kanye West is talking about.

What’s interesting about all this is that while Google has every right to try and dispense justice any way it sees fit on its own search engine, it’s not like Google has never used its position of power to engage in matters of shady dealings. This Wired piece from earlier this year details the way the company was openly and actively complicit in promoting the sale and distribution of illegal drugs on the web—so, I don’t know, I don’t really feel like Rap Genius is really all that bad for simply getting people to link to its site.

After all, it’s not like the company was actually offering monetary kickbacks or anything—it was simply a link exchange, albeit of a much higher degree. Sites have linked to pals and friends online from way back in the days of Geocities and AngelFire and all that junk, so is this really all that bad?

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