There’s two lessons to be learned from this little episode of Rap Genius getting rapped over the knuckles by Google concerning SEO spam practices. The first is that it’s terribly dangerous to base an entire business on someone else’s platform. The second is that if you do go ahead and do that you’ve got to make very sure that you are playing by that platform’s rules. Rap Genius certainly ignored that second stricture.
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For those who don’t know Rap Genius is a site hosting song lyrics. It started out with Rap, obviously, and has expanded into other genres. There’s a large enough market in people searching for such lyrics that it’s a viable business. On the assumption that you can rank highly in Google searches for those lyrics that is. That obviously creates the incentives to attempt to game the Google engine to give the site better results in searches. And the problem with that is that if you do game Google and Google finds out about it then they can and will drop your ranking in the results:
What you see here is the beginning of a potential growth hack for RapGenius. To understand this growth hack, you must be aware of the business of RapGenius, and why Bieber is important to their growth.
Their business depends on their search engine ranking position (SERP’s) on Google. Hyperlinks connect the web and determine SERP’s. Thus, the most powerful weapon RapGenius can deploy is a series of powerful hyperlinks. You can see in Mahbod’s email that he is asking for hyperlinks from high-page rank sites (personal blogs) with anchor text that mentions tracks from Bieber’s most recent album.
There’s nothing wrong in asking for links, that’s just fine. But they offered a quid pro quo for those links: tweets directing people to the blog that had made the links. That’s tantamount to payment (it’s certainly offering something of value) for said links. And that does breach the Google rules. So, what happened when Google had thought this over?
Google hit back hard today after it learned lyrics site Rap Genius had been using dubious SEO tricks to attain top spots in search results. Now RapGenius.com doesn’t appear on the first page of results for a search of “Rap Genius,” and popular queries like “Jay-Z Holy Grail Lyrics” don’t bring up the startup like they used to.
In fact, most queries that used to bring Rap Genius up on the front page now have them back at page 5 or so: the sort of place where almost no one ever continues their researches. Until and unless they get back into Google’s good books the site is effectively dead as a traffic generating business.
Which leads us to two interesting points about business. The first being that you really do have to learn whatever the rules are of the space that you’re operating in. And then make sure that you’re not violating those rules. Obviously, we all do this with respect to the law but laws are not the only set of rules that have to be obeyed.
The second is that it’s extremely dangerous to base your entire business on someone else’s platform. Others have found this out with Google before (and innumerable people have found it out with other platforms). You might, for example, provide a real time currency exchange calculator, one that lists top of the Google results for years. This is a come on for customers to use your actual currency exchange facilities. Great, excellent, then Google introduces its own currency exchange calculator which appears at the top of the search results: your traffic is now going to plummet. Or perhaps you offer a flight coordinator: Google has been moving into that space as well. Or maybe your entire business is based on just getting close to the top of the search results so that you gain traffic? What happens when Google either changes the algorithm (as happened to many sites with both the Panda and Penguin updates) or, as here, you overstep the mark?
Well, essentially, your business goes south because there’s no room for you any more on that one sole platform that you were building the business on. It’s just a risky strategy. It’s a tempting strategy, to be sure, but it does lead to a certain amount of insecurity about the future of the business.
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