If you ask any of my fellow Cardinals about me, they’ll tell you I’m constantly taking typical conversation and turning it into a rap lyric. I’ve always been a big hip hop fan, and love the word play some artists are able to use. One afternoon, I heard a new song and wanted to look up the lyrics. So, I went to Google and typed in ‘rap genius’ (my go-to site for lyrics) and the name of the song. I didn’t see Rap Genius on the first page, but didn’t really think twice about it; I found the lyrics on another site.

A couple days later, I found that Rap Genius (http://rapgenius.com/) had been hit HARD with a manual spam action by Google.

 Pic 1 for blog

How did this happen?

Rap Genius invited bloggers to join its “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program. John Marbach, the founder of email filtering startup Glider, emailed in asking for details. Rap Genius offered to tweet links to his blog in exchange for him placing a series of links to Rap Genius’ Justin Bieber lyrics on his blog. The links were designed to trick Google into giving Rap Genius better result rankings on searches for lyrics to songs from Bieber’s new album.

Rap Genius Blog Affiliate program

Marbach exposed the scam on his blog on December 23, 2013. Sure enough, Google’s Matt Cutts took note. On HackerNews, Cutts stated that Google was investigating Rap Genius’ affiliate link practices. The next day, Google laid down the gauntlet on Rap Genius.

Rap Genius would typically rank within the first few positions when searching for lyrics, but after the manual spam action, RG couldn’t be found until the 6th page! If you were to type in the lyric and “rap genius” at the end of your search, you still wouldn’t find the site. It actually had a negative effect and would push the site to deeper SERPs. Even worse, Google banished Rap Genius to the bottom of the 6th page for their branded term “Rap Genius.” This goes to show how dangerous manual spam actions can be for sites that engage in black hat SEO tactics.

Rap Genius began working closely with Google in order to remove the spam action and to make sure their SEO tactics were in line with white hat methods. Rap Genius has cleaned up their act and their site. Rap Genius is now back in the good graces of Google, but not without a serious lesson learned.

Don’t be “That Guy” in Search

Rap Genius is just one example of how the swift, powerful actions of Google can impact your site. Here are a few tips to make sure your site doesn’t end up like Rap Genius:

1.    Don’t try to beat the system

The first, most obvious, takeaway from the Rap Genius is don’t engage in trying to “game” your keyword ranking positions. With each successive update to its search algorithm, Google has made it clear that it’s on a mission to place value on “relevance” over any and all other considerations.

By now we all know this; and Rap Genius certainly knew the rules before they launched their spammy “blog affiliate link” program.

2.     Keep your (white) hat on…

Simply put, Rap Genius veered too far into the realm of “black hat” SEO.

If your business demands that its content has high search results ranks, don’t scrimp on getting it there. Guerrilla tactics are fine for drumming up viral videos, but you can’t afford to hack, scam, game, or otherwise jive the search engines.

3.     When in doubt, follow the rules

Rap Genius’ trouble started when it asked random bloggers to link to lyrics in their posts. With a new Justin Bieber album scheduled to arrive this year, Rap Genius was hedging their bets that many music fans would be searching for the new Bieber song lyrics. In an effort to sweep up the incoming visitors from the top Google results, Rap Genius put out their offer. However, anyone who understands best SEO practices knows this kind of link scheming is patently ridiculous. Google has been weeding out that sort of thing for more than a decade.

Rap Genius’s less than genius idea to gain competitive advantage in SERPs seems like an obvious no-no and an apparent disregard for white hat SEO tactics. Too often have we seen companies pushing for fast ranking improvements which derail their site’s organic ranks. Often times these mistakes are being made without realizing they are violating the rules. This is just one example of a powerful site looking for a “quick fix” and nearly destroying everything they’ve worked so hard to build. Keep this in mind as you look to gain market share in 2014!