David vs. Googliath

Here Are the Spammy Lyrics Sites Google Is Returning Instead of Rap Genius

Can we blame this on Justin Bieber?

Rap GeniusBy now, you’ve heard about Google penalizing Rap Genius. The lyrical annotation site — whose bread-and-butter is its simple, reliable lyrics pages — is under fire for trying to juice their Google page rank with Justin Bieber links right before Christmas.

Google banned Rap Genius for the infraction — but a simple lyrics search proves this punishment is affecting Google’s product just as much as it’s hurting Rap Genius.

RG’s attempts at growth hacking came to light when a blogger leaked an email from Rap Genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam wherein he asked the writer to append a series of links to Justin Bieber lyrics on rock.rapgenius.com, even though the post in question would likely have had nothing to do with the Bieb.

Google responded by effectively banning Rap Genius. RG’s pages used to show up on page one, if not at the top of search results. Now, they’re relegated to page five or lower. This is sure to be a blow to the startup. The traffic-tracking service Alexa says Rap Genius gets almost of its traffic from Google, Valleywag points out, while SimilarWeb says Google accounts for over 70 percent of their traffic.

For their part, Rap Genius apologized with an open letter on their website, admitting they’d “effed up.” They’re also doing constant damage control on their Twitter feed, assuring fans that they’re still up and running despite having landed on Google’s blacklist.

You can debate the shadiness of Rap Genius’s pre-Christmas growth hacking approach all you want. But the fact is that Google’s algorithms exist to ensure users see the best results possible when they’re searching for lyrics — or recipes, obscure historical facts, Point Break quotes, whatever. 

So does their ban of Rap Genius achieve that goal? Let’s take a look. Here are the Rap Genius pages for Justin Bieber’s “Heartbreaker” and Danny Brown’s “25 Bucks.” Both of these, we think, would have appeared toward the top of the Google results a few days ago.

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The bright colors against a black background may be slightly garish, but the lyrics are prominently placed and easy to read. Now, let’s take a look at some Rap Genius competitors.

LyricsFreak.com

I didn’t even get through the first verse of Justin Bieber’s “Heartbreaker” before the lyrics disappeared in favor of these two incongruous ads, freezing my MacBook:

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AtoZLyrics.com

“Have you heard about the NuvaRing? There’s no wrong way to insert it into your vagina,” this site’s landing screen assures me:

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Now let’s head to the other end of the spectrum and seek out some Danny Brown lyrics.

LyricsMania.com

First I’m invited to like the site on Facebook:

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After declining, I’m offered useless links and mouthwash ads but I still don’t know the hook to “25 Bucks.”

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SongLyrics.com is pretty much the same:

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So, is Google really doing its job providing the best search results possible? Rap Genius’s tactics may have been iffy — but they’re not nearly as questionable as the quality of the lyrics sites Google’s now turning up.

Clearly, Google needs to think of a new punishment for SEO-gaming that doesn’t diminish their own product. The people want their Bieber lyrics, and they want them without enormous, browser-crashing video ads.

But hey, at least Mr. Moghadam (who we’ve contacted for his comments) hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Posted under the blog entry that doxxed him:

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Follow Molly Mulshine on Twitter or via RSS. mmulshine@observer.com