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):
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:
— Josh Kruk (@j_kruk) January 6, 2014
— Rohan Ayyar (@searchrook) January 6, 2014
Interesting. But it still seems unfair to those who have been penalized for having spammy links against their... http://t.co/GOykHeNwAr
— James R. Halloran (@JRHalloran) January 6, 2014
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