Google has removed Rap Genius results from the top of lyrics searches upon learning that the controversial website had been employing manipulative search-engine optimization. The Los Angeles Times reports that people who search for "Rap Genius" will find links to news articles, social-media sites and Rap Genius's Wikipedia page rather than the site's signature user-annotated lyrics. Currently, Rap Genius links appear many pages after the initial results.
The lyrics site drew Google's ire after the search engine learned that Rap Genius had been striking unscrupulous deals with bloggers. Rap Genius was offering to give bloggers exposure via its social-media accounts if they linked to the lyrics site on their blogs. With the way that Google works – the search engine determines results rankings based on how many sites link to a page – the bloggers were effectively raising Rap Genius's profile. Essentially, the lyrics site was attempting to monopolize its own page ranks.
Google learned of the collusion when Rap Genius asked bloggers to join its affiliate program on its Facebook page. A self-described "web entrepreneur," John Marbach, contacted the lyrics site to find out how it worked. A rep for Rap Genius replied, "If you have a dope post that you would like us to tweet out – get you MASSIVE traffic – then put this html [code] at the bottom of the post. . . . I will send that shit out it will bloooowwwww up!" Marbach published this correspondence on his blog, which caught the eye of Google's webspam team. That team then began an investigation.
Following the takedown, Rap Genius published an "open letter" to Google offering contrition for its sketchy practices. "We effed up," the site's founders wrote. "Other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we'll stop." The letter also claims that the site never "bought or sold" links. In another statement, on TechCrunch, the site's reps said it was working with the search engine to refine its practices and hoped to be back in good standing "very soon."
In addition to its controversy with Google, Rap Genius has been trying to save face after coming under fire for illegally publishing lyrics. The National Music Publishers issued takedown notices to 50 unlicensed lyric sites in November, and it named Rap Genius – which received a $15 million investment last year and welcomed 5.3 million unique visitors in October – the worst offender among the bunch. A few days later, Rap Genius struck up a licensing deal with music publisher Sony/ATV.