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Google punishes Rap Genius for SEO ‘growth hacking’

The world of web design and search engine optimization (SEO) has significantly changed for the past decade. Google, the search engine juggernaut that has dominated the Internet, has placed numerous rules and guidelines for websites to abide by and if the company is found in violation then it can make the webpage disappear.

Prior to Christmas, Rap Genius, a popular website that offers song lyrics, posted an SEO scheme on its Facebook page, which garnered the attention of someone and was then reported to Google. Apparently, the website sought links for promotional tweets through Facebook and blog posts in order to build links.

A Rap Genius reader and blogger emailed the website for more information. According to Al Jazeera, the blog owner received an invitation to insert an “extremely spammy looking” list of links to Justin Bieber and then Rap Genius would send out a promotional tweet to its followers. Since the Bieber links come as he releases a new album, fans would search for lyrics and then find Rap Genius.

The news made it to Hacker News and then caught the eye of Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team. One day later, Rap Genius did not appear on the first page anymore for anything, not even its own name. After this made online headlines, Rap Genius told its visitors that it’s working with Google to resolve the issue.

“We are working with Google right now to resolve this. They've been really great, helping us identify changes we need to make, even on Christmas. We're working on it as fast as we can, and expect to be back on Google very soon,” the company wrote in a statement.

Rap Genius has now been forced to clean up its SEO act. In an open, detailed letter to Google, it explained where it went wrong, how they’re working to remedy the problem and what its future web design and SEO plans are.

“This is where we messed up. Though any links to our tracks that our fans put on their pages were editorially placed or vouched for by them, in some instances we have fallen short in terms of making sure that the links people post are natural,” wrote Rap Genius. “Here’s an example of good content: a post on Beyonce’s new album, followed by a useful list of links to the corresponding tracks. Here’s an example of what shouldn’t have happened: a post with the best verses of 2013 followed by a list of Bieber links.”

Tech Crunch now notes that Google has put Rap Genius back atop the search engine:

“Rap Genius is back on Google. It takes a few days for things to return to normal, but we’re officially back! First of all, we owe a big thanks to Google for being fair and transparent and allowing us back onto their results pages.”

Many tech experts and web design firms are baffled that Google still cannot completely circumvent the issue of black-hat SEO tricks. Web design outlets, such as, offer traditional website design and SEO services that are in line with Google’s rules, such as keyword research, analysis of SEO and online content that is considered to be SEO-friendly.

Over the past year, Google’s algorithm has given more of an importance to websites that offer detailed content, maintain a genuine social media standing and do not partake in the general SEO black-hat tricks, like excessive buying and selling of links.

Here is what Cutts wrote this past year:

“…make sure that you’ve got high-quality content, the sort of content that people really enjoy, that’s compelling, the sort of thing that they’ll love to read that you might see in a magazine or in a book, and that people would refer back to, or send friends to, those sorts of things…”

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