With the beef squashed, Rap Genius appears on the first page of its own Google search results again.
Everything is fine and dandy in Rap Genius land after apologizing for its “foray into irrelevant unnatural linking,” that landed the lyrics start-up in hot water with Google. It was discovered Rap Genius used link-baiting tricks Google hates in order to boost its search ranking. As a punishment, Google blasted Rap Genius further into the search results than a normal person ventures. Before the incident, searching for a song lyric would usually bring a Rap Genius link within the first five or six results. After Google’s reckoning, Rap Genius would not show up in search results until roughly the sixth page… even if you were searching “Rap Genius.”
The company apologized Saturday in a long explanatory statement on their website. “To Google and our fans: we’re sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking,” the Rap Genius founders — Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Leyman and Ilan Zechory — said in a co-statement. Rap Genius even appears on the front page of its own search results again, and Google’s trackers are in the process of re-registering the site’s results. “It takes a couple days for Google to re-index everything, so search results are a little wonky right now, but we are officially reinstated!” Zechory told Business Insider. In their mea culpa, the Rap Genius team outlined how their original, legal search strategy evolved into something that so blatantly defied the rules:
The dubious-sounding “Rap Genius blog affiliate program”, the self-parodic used car salesman tone of the email to John, the lack of any discretion in the targeting of a partner – this all looked really bad. And it was really bad: a lazy and likely ineffective “strategy”, so over-the-top in its obviousness that it was practically begging for a response from Google.
Google went nuclear on Rap Genius on Christmas day, cratering the site’s traffic, and potentially setting the site back by two years. John Marbach wrote to Moghadam to ask for details about about the “Rap Genius blog affiliate” program But when the Rap Genius co-founder responded, he just asked Marboch to link Rap Genius on his blog, promising “MASSIVE traffic,” instead of answering his questions. Google hates this game-y strategy — promising traffic in exchange for links that will drive a site further up the Google search rankings. The search giant noticed, and swiftly dealt with the issue.
So the site will slowly repair itself and traffic will likely return once Rap Genius is once again indexed on Google’s search rankings. But Slate’s Matt Yglesias thinks the Rap Genius controversy points to Google’s “unchecked” power that could lead to greater problems down the road:
As far as it goes, this is a happy ending. Rap Genius is a great site and it’d have been a shame for Google to somehow permanently cripple it. And an endless SEO arms race would be deeply undesirable, so it’s good to see Google enforcing some useful norms. But the larger question of Google’s vast and essentially unchecked power over the World Wide Web remains. “Don’t be evil” is a nice idea, and thus far I don’t see any indication that Google has used this power for anything other than good. But especially if Microsoft decides to cut its losses on Bing one of these days, antitrust issues are very likely to arise in this space.