Google Accused Of ‘Double Standard’ Over Rap Genius Penalty Lift

    January 7, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google is being accused of employing a double standard for its handling of web spam and enabling one penalized site to recover speedily from a manual action. While the search giant has certainly been accused of double standards by angry webmasters many times over the years, the recent case of Rap Genius is generating a lot of discussion, and a bit of fury in the SEO community.

Rap Genius was able to get out of the Google penalty box after just ten days after being caught in a very public and very obvious link scheme (which Google has been cracking down on vigorously throughout the past year or two). Some think Google has given the site unfair treatment in lifting the penalty so quickly.

What do you think? Should Rap Genius be back in Google’s rankings so quickly? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Rap Genius, if you’re unfamiliar with the site, is basically a lyrics site, but adds interpretation from users. It fancies itself a “hip-hop Wikipedia”. Users can listen to songs, read lyrics and click on pop-up annotations on lines of interest.

Around Christmastime, Google took notice of a practice the site had been engaging in, after John Marbach blogged about it. Rap Genius took to its Facebook page (which has over 530,000 likes, by the way) to give its followers the following message:

Do you have a blog? Do you wanna be a RAP Genius BLOG AFFILIATE? Help us help you! If you have a blog and are down, email me…

When Marbach responded out of curiosity, asking for more details, he was greeted with this (image credit: John Marbach):

Rap Genius email

So yeah, a pretty blatant link scheme. Something Google isn’t shy about slapping sites over. Except in Rap Genius’ case, it only took ten days to get back into the rankings. This is pretty much unheard of. It’s left many in the industry dumbstruck.

“Would any other webmaster with such a penalty be able to get back so soon? Doubtful,” says Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land.

SEOBook’s Aaron wall wrote a scathing post about the situation, noting that the tactic employed by Rap Genius was basically so spammy that most spammers won’t even attempt it:

Remember reading dozens (hundreds?) of blog posts last year about how guest posts are spam & Google should kill them? Well these posts from RapGenius were like a guest post on steroids. The post “buyer” didn’t have to pay a single cent for the content, didn’t care at all about relevancy, AND a sitemap full of keyword rich deep linking spam was included in EACH AND EVERY post.

Most “spammers” would never attempt such a campaign because they would view it as being far too spammy. They would have a zero percent chance of recovery as Google effectively deletes their site from the web.

And while RG is quick to distance itself from scraper sites, for almost the entirety of their history virtually none of the lyrics posted on their site were even licensed.

Rap Genius was recently targeted by the National Music Publishers Association for the unlicensed publication of lyrics.

Robert Ramirez, a senior SEO analyst at big name firm Bruce Clay, Inc., wrote on Google+, “I work with small to mid-sized businesses that suffer from manual penalties all the time, and I have NEVER seen such a fast recovery. What made Rap Genius special? The $15 million in VC funding they recently raised? Their high profile?”

He added, “Other businesses who find themselves penalized are DEVASTATED by these actions, they very often had no idea what they were doing to themselves when they paid an ‘SEO’ to build them links, but the loss of revenue, loss of jobs, loss of livelihood is VERY REAL, no less real or urgent than Rap Genius’ situation.”

“I am working with two clients right now that are under manual penalties,” he wrote. “Their reconsideration requests were submitted through Google Webmaster Tools in mid-December, and to date there is no answer. I’ve seen reconsideration requests take longer than a month to be responded to. These are real businesses with quality websites that serve a real purpose and offer visitors a quality experience, their only mistake, they paid someone to build them links in the past because they were lead to believe that’s how ‘SEO’ was done.”

Dan Rippon commented, “Obviously Google wanted to make a spectacle of the issue to highlight their anti-spam cause, but considering the plight of ‘Mom & Pop’ businesses faced with similar problems the level of double standards is pretty impressive.”

A few more comments from the Twitterverse:

Richard Hearne at Red Cardinal writes what many are probably thinking: “What’s especially disturbing about this is that sites which used directory and article links are still punished by Penguin 2 years later, but these guys who used the spammiest of tactics get off after 10 days.”

Even music tech blog Hypebot is critical of the whole thing, saying, “This game really is fixed.”

Some think that perhaps Google just made this move because Rap Genius actually has better content, and it wants to serve the best search results. Josh Constine at TechCrunch, for example, says Google is “favoring smart results over holding a grudge,” and that “Google apparently cares more about giving the best search results than punishing spammers.”

Rap Genius put out a blog post detailing the steps it took to get back into Google’s good graces, which included contacting webmasters about link removals, and writing a scraper to gather URLs to have disavowed. They also used the post to promote an upcoming iOS app, which brings up another interesting point.

As Wall noted in his post, Rap Genius has managed to get all kinds of promotion out of this whole ordeal in addition to getting its Google rankings back. In additionto all the mentions of its name, it’s getting a lot of high value links simply from being covered in the media. In other words, it’s entirely possible that Rap Genius will come out of this whole thing in better shape than ever.

One thing Rap Genius does have going for it is verified accounts from many of the biggest names in rap (not to mention people like Sheryl Sandberg). That means trust and authority, and these are things that Google cares about a lot.

Google itself hasn’t had a whole lot to say about the story.

What do you think? Is Google unfairly helping Rap Genius or does the site deserve the rankings its getting? Let us know in the comments.

Image: Rap Genius

  • http://howidoseo.blogspot.ca/ howidoseo

    this is a really interesting article. Very curious as to how they did it.

  • http://british-holiday.blogspot.com 53north

    As someone who ‘s got past level 11 on a few Google help forums, you have to see the social boost of half a million likes. That’s democracy in America.
    Lyrics are a gray area too, they’re out there in the public domain, and there’s something called fair use.
    Then there’s naievity, which G doesn’t hold grudges over – and others who’s basic business model gets caught by algorithms,is to hoodwink over a long period of time. Using rel=”nofollow”, and making it clear this was a guest post promotion, probably wouldn’t have drawn much ire at all…

  • Retrospectivepenalties

    Google are fast become outted as just a business who cares for only themselves and $$$ thats it really. I use Duckduckgo now. Google Whoogle ?

    Googles results are unpredictable, not the most relevant, they penalize irrelevant as to whther a site IS the most relevant and worst of all retrospectively ! That is terrible. They make the rules up as they go along, that is not a company with a plan.

    What is ok yesterday may not be ok tomorrow good luck SEoing for that. Meanwhile SEO optimzation companies use smoke and mirrors and “marketting” speak to try and fool people into thinking that “keywords” and page position are dying off and google is moving away from them….


    The rtue indicator of whther google are moving away from keywords are when Google adwords stop showing for Keywords ! So when that happens theres the gauge that optimizing for keywords does not matter anymore.

    Keywords being moved away from… preposterous !

    Don’t be fooled by bad search results from google or throwing money down the drain using SEO anymore.

    Once you have been penalized you are in deep water.

    DuckDuckGo all the way.

  • http://dansullivaninsurance.com/ Dan Sullivan

    As a small business owner who needs to keep current with the web, but cannot afford the likes of the big SEO companies, we appreciate you keeping us in the know! We are all trying to rank, but almost paralyzed by what to do!

    • http://www.theseoservies.ca Todd Herman

      The longer you guys listen to Google the longer your websites ranking will stay where it is.

      • http://bet-the-world-cup.com/ Ken A

        Very true. Don’t listen to Google. Try different tactics and you’ll find something that works.

        • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

          Can share some of the tactics that work?

    • http://www.sbwebcenter.com Steve B


      It is a part of Google’s plan – to confuse small biz owners, so they rely more on Google Adwords to get traffic.

      Google really is headed in the wrong direction. But, not surprised ever since they went public.

  • http://www.todaybridgingloans.co.uk today

    This is good for seo webmaster and website owner but after some time google add new update and effect your site, write here how i will not effect after update, how we will do work?

  • http://www.2bubbleblog.com 2BubbleBlog

    So finally, it’s a real smart move they’ve done. Getting a better exposure than before just like that. Ok, if I do the same, I’ll end up in the Google’s limbo forever. Must be big to do big scheme like that 😉

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

    Apparently “Rap Genius” did an extensive amount of work to become compliant again and did so ungrudgingly admitting their activities being a form of gaming the system.

    Cop an attitude though and one is likely to not find the results turn to positive as quickly as one might hope.

    In general though, I think if more people actually read and followed the “Google Webmaster Guidelines”, there would be a lot less whining going on.

    It’s not rocket science.

    Most of Google’s search technology is aimed at filtering out ‘web spam’. Don’t publish web spam and 99.999% of Google’s algorithms won’t be of any concern.

    It’s getting to the point that doing nothing wrong gives one an automatic boost just because so many people can’t seem to do anything right.

  • glover

    Same thing about amazon spam (50 footer dofollow links to their sites). No any penalties, no any public speeches. Looks like amazon and members of internet coalition prohibit google issue any penalties for them.

    Double moral & Double standards, it new google way.

  • Richard

    Google has way too much power and they tend to abuse it. This is an unfair action giving favor to any specific site when the rest of us will generally get pre-written/canned messages that lead to nowhere. Google will ban Adsense accounts with no explanation and shut down Adwords accounts without reason. They give webmasters no choice or little chance to fix the issues and they refuse to share (tell you what you did wrong in their eyes). Google has created a virtual dictatorship that can make or break a business. It’s time for Google to know what it feels like to be a small business and to get hurt by a once friendly and fair giant that relies on small business and vendors to fill it’s pockets with cash. Google needs to review their policies and open better doors to communication with those they have punished. In example, an adwords account can be shut down for a variety of reasons including violating their ad or site policies. They will approve and run your ad then suddenly decide that the ad is in violation of some policy or another and suspend your account. In one case, I was told that I would have to contact the current owner of a domain that I once owned, tell them to put my site back so that I could fix issues that Google claimed I had and then resubmit the other guy’s site for review. How unbelievable is that? We not only have to fix any issues on the sites we own, but we have to fix issues on sites we have no ownership or control over, else we cannot get our adwords account unsuspended. If you call them you get an automated message where they tell you to go to the website to review their policies and then the web site tells you to call them. I am tired of Google’s unfair practices and believe they need to be investigated. Wake up Google, you are not omnipotent. You are destroying and trampling on the trust of your customers.

    • http://www.mybookkeepingmanager.com jdixon2614

      I agree 100% – good comment !!

      • mrbrooks

        This is exactly what happened what happened to me…I ten a campaign on a site in 2008, Google accepted the ads/campaign, which ran for 2 weeks before I stopped it, a few dollars lighter I might add.

        a few months later I ceased using the domain and it was taken over by someone else. In 2010/11 Google decided my account was in breach of their advertising policy and suspended my account.

        I tried reason with them explaining I no longer had anything to do with said domain or site and had no control or influence over it but they point blank refused to accept this has any kind of defence and told me, rather rudely. That until the site in question is ‘fixed’ they will not restore my account.

        They even said things like ‘just because you tried to delete said campaign doesn’t make it less of a breach!’, I pointed out that I deleted said campaign in 2008, because I no longer had the site nor needed to pursue any further campaigns with it, not because you have somehow ‘caught me’ 2 years later…

        2014 they still refuse to listen or re-instate my account, I find the whole thing disgusting.


  • http://songstall.com/gerard Jerry

    Remember ATT…it got too big and controlled to much.

    So GOOGLE is the new ATT. Its that simple.

  • http://www.theseoservies.ca Todd Herman

    I think if SEOs keep listening to Google their rankings will be limited. I used to listen to Google and I fell off the map with hummingbird, now with a simple 301 redirect and some local links x 100, I’m top 5 across Canada for over 100 search terms. My point is, why would you listen to Goggle when they hate us all? You really think they are going to tel you anything that’s important that will help your rankings? Would you if you were Google? would you help anyone take away from your beard and butter, (PPC) ?

  • http://susannamiles.com susanna

    Is is sad that I’m not surprised at all.
    The world isn’t fair. I still can’t decide if I should accept that or not!?

  • Debbie

    I agree with what was written by: “Robert Ramirez, a senior SEO analyst at big name firm Bruce Clay, Inc., wrote on Google+, “I work with small to mid-sized businesses that suffer from manual penalties all the time, and I have NEVER seen such a fast recovery. What made Rap Genius special? The $15 million in VC funding they recently raised? Their high profile?” I too am a small business owner, an internet business. With the last two Google updates, my site has been negatively impacted and I am fear of losing my livelihood because we were following google’s rules since becoming live. Now, we’re being penalized for following the rules they set out in the past. SEO is vague to say the best about it and it’s not fair to those of us who provide a needed service to both customers and vendors alike.

  • http://damescribe.hubpages.com/ Gin

    I think it all boils down to the amount of $$ this site may generate next to having auto-removal of disavowed urls could provide extra $$ in long term. Some sort of partnership may be going on.

  • PayTheUpfrontPrice

    Maybe a gangsta over at Rap Genius threatened to pop a cap in their a$$…ha. Seriously, it looks like grounds for a class action to me. When the big G finally does take a big liability hit from a lawsuit, maybe they’ll go back to their “do no harm” mission. It will happen…it’s just a matter of when.

  • http://www.admain.co.uk Ad

    Happens all the time. Big sites getting a petty slap. Most go unnoticed.

    A few years back UK giant finance website was caught bang to rights being links from a national newspaper.

    What happened? You guessed it, nothing.

    Yet I hear nearly everyday, business owners wondering why their Google traffic has stopped. Many of them haven’t even got a clue about SEO or link building, and very often it is usually just one little link that has seen them flagged.

    It really is one rule one and another rule for another at the minute.

    People need to start voting with their feet and shift over to Bing for a while. Put a dent in Google’s belief of omnipresence.

    At least at the moment every one it more or less treated on an even keel through Bing.

    • http://www.admain.co.uk Ad

      It was moneysupermarket by the way if you would like to Google it.

  • http://www.discopope.me/ Rooster

    Just use Yahoo! and Bing for searching.

    We all know Google is arrogant and extremely biased about their penalties.

    Their nonsense is costing; SERP quality is declining steadily.

    Just don’t panic and use some BS SEO company. That’s the worst thing you can do.

    Keep your content and start with a new domain name if you have to.

    And learn to recognize quality content!

  • Joe

    Google sucks my but. They ruined my business by slapping the crap out of my sites. I’ve now disavowed every link coming into my site for the past year and have yet to hear back from them. I’ve changed all my default searches to Bing, and have changed all the default searches on my family computers to Bing. When I go to visit familiy I change their default searches to Bing.

    Google needs to be regulated, they control so much of what people read online that they simply need to rank stories for people to believe they are true. When one large corporation controls the livlihoods of small businesses and individuals nothing good can come of it.

    The best thing to do is simply stop using Google and urge others to stop using Google as well.

  • http://www.50bubbles.com Greg Newell

    When Google puts itself in a position to grant favors then it is the beginning of the end. I’ve maintained for a long time that spammy links should simply be ignored. When a search engine creates an atmosphere where a black hat SEO guy can damage a competitive site just by linking to it the wrong way, it sets a bad precedent. Google needs to figure this out before they lose the credibility they’ve worked so hard to maintain.

  • http://www.websitetips4u.com/get-blog-traffic/ Glenys

    This certainly smacks of inconsistency.
    I can only image how frustrating it is for other sites trying to recover from a penalty.
    It would be good to get a response from Google on this one.

  • Sunil

    It is always the small guy who gets the stick. The big guys get away and also get the carrot. Google has destroyed millions of lives and businesses with PANDA AND PENGUIN. Some deserved it – but most received a harsh punishment for not being able to adhere to the numerous and unclear rules of link building.

  • http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk Alex

    “Rap and “genius” don’t belong in the same sentence – ever. It’s the most horrendous form of music ever conceived – and I include The Smurf’s albums in there. Maybe Google are trying to get their users to listen to better music?

  • http://www.techtektek.com/ Nonoy

    I can’t believe this is happening. In my case, I also got slapped in 2011 from Panda and Penguin for no clear reason. I’ve always listen to Matt Cutts’s advises. But my site was one of those punished.

    I guess I still have to produce great content till kingdom come. Let the Judgement Day comes and I’ll accept for whatever punishment I have from Google God. :-(

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    It does seem like the bigger your website is the more forgiving Google might be, depending on what industry you work in and what kind of content you produce of course. If that was an SEO firm that had been caught I doubt they could have recovered so fast. I too am working with some smaller businesses that are bending over backwards to recover and are making no real progress except to have new links thrown back at them during the reconsideration process.

  • ~e~

    Google small/big business discrimination needs to become illegal:

    Charging different groups of people different prices, or in this case, taking money away from, groups of people based on their income (big money VC vs small business) or brand status, is a type of inverse price discrimination; and might I remind you, several types of price discrimination are illegal in this country.

    Google should have no problem letting rap genius rank only for their brand name, and not keywords, should they decide. They do it all the time to small business penalties.

  • Bk

    Im getting ready to file a class action suit which will rely heavily on anti trust laws regarding google “anti spam” actions. What they are doing is in clear violations of a number of laws. Look in this and other comment sections for more details in the next few months.

  • http://www.robdunfey.com Rob Dunfey

    I got a “unnatural links” notification on 12/15 (several days before Rap Genius). I submitted a reconsideration request prior to even R.G. being penalized. I am here still waiting for Google’s response, and I need to lay-off employees if this wait continues.

  • http://www.solwininfotech.com Sanjay

    This is ridiculous from Google. Here, people are loosing their businesses due to penalties and they are applying double standard to the bigger companies who are willing to spend hundreds of thousands bucks in adwords. How irritating? If it will be continue to next few years then I think webmaster need to find some other options than Google…