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Google Punishes Rap Genius for Search Engine Optimization Tricks

As one of the better lyrics websites, Rap Genius is a startup hoping to “annotate the world”. The website focuses on explaining the lyrics of rap songs, and most recently explaining other textual content such as the news and court cases. As a company started by Yale Graduates, Rap Genius raised $15 million from well-known Venture Capital Firm, Andreessen Horowitz.

In their recent attempts at growing, Rap Genius tried to game Google’s search rankings by having other websites provide links to Rap Genius’ page. They called it their “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program, where in exchange for putting their links on blogs and website, Rap Genius would give the blog a shout out.  This program clearly goes against Google’s policies which prohibit websites from being linked by unrelated pages. After being exposed by a blog Rap Genius approached, Google took quick action in destroying Rap Genius’ search results. Rap Genius was moved to the fifth or sixth pages of search results now, even when the key words “Rap Genius” were specified. The impact showed, with unique hits to Rap Genius falling from 700,000 per day to 100,000, an 86% decrease.


Rap Genius quickly worked to negotiate a way to regain their search ranking, and after removing their links on all unrelated websites, Google allowed Rap Genius to regain their original search rankings.

We have discussed the structure of the web in class, describing it as a directed graph with websites as nodes, and the hyperlinks on the website as directed edges to other nodes. Essentially, what Rap Genius attempted to do was have more nodes point towards its website. Looking at their tactics through the concepts of hubs and authorities, Rap Genius wanted a higher normalized authority score, and did so by having more hubs point to it. The blogs promoted by Rap Genius would gain more traffic, giving it a higher hub score, which would feed back into further increasing Rap Genius’ authority score. It was a win-win situation for both parties. From the PageRank perspective, Rap Genius was a node that wanted a higher probability. This would mean the probability of the page being Rap Genius after a certain number, k, steps is the PageRank of Rap Genius after applying the PageRank Update Rule k times. After moving the Rap Genius to the sixth page of results, Google cut many of Rap Genius’ incoming edges, meaning a much lower authority score or PageRank probability. Although Google does not base its search algorithm on PageRank or Hubs and Authorities, the two strategies have close similarities with Google’s methods, and can help explain the reasoning behind Rap Genius’ growth hacking strategy. Having Rap Genius results at the top page of Google searches is critical to the company’s success, and Rap Genius must be careful for future manual pushdowns by Google could cripple growth.



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