On Rap Genius, users and the artists themselves explore lyrics interactively via line-by-line annotations that they can read, create, and edit. By contrast, other popular lyrics sites are ad-strewn and reminiscent of a spammier era of the internet. For example, compare Rap Genius’ annotated edition of Justin Bieber’s new hit single “Heartbreaker”– which dozens of Bieber fans have annotated with details of his break up with Selena Gomez – to AZLyrics’ version of the same.
That’s our main SEO strategy: to create an amazing experience for users and hope they prefer us to all other lyrics sites and link to us. We believe that any unbiased userwould prefer the Rap Genius version over the alternatives – and that this advantage in quality is responsible for the majority of our search traffic.
The other strategy we employ on a much smaller scale (the subject of recent Hacker News controversy) is to find blogs whose content we think our followers will enjoy and ask them to link pages on Rap Genius that are relevant to their posts. We actually thought we had set this up to be compliant with Google’s linking policy in its Terms of Service, but we messed up and want to explain how. Here’s a look at this strategy in relation to Google’s guidelines:
1) Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
We’ve never bought or sold links.
We do provide exposure on our Twitter and Facebook feed (not rapgenius.com) for fans that link to us, if and only if they send us good content. We don’t tweet out weak content because our followers won’t like it, and we don’t want links to Rap Genius placed on irrelevant or poorly written blogs.
Although we extend an open invitation to all bloggers to reach out to us – and we respond to all who do – our policy is to only promote the ones who send us good and relevant content.
But the terms also state: “Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.”
This is where we messed up. Though any links to our tracks that our fans put on their pages were editorially placed or vouched for by them, in some instances we have fallen short in terms of making sure that the links people post are natural.
Here’s an example of good content: a post on Beyonce’s new album, followed by a useful list of links to the corresponding tracks.
Here’s an example of what shouldn’t have happened: a post with the best verses of 2013 followed by a list of Bieber links.
Posts like the former are what we intended; posts like the latter could indeed fall under the “unnatural links” policy, and we’ll discourage things like this in the future. We are also getting in touch with the relevant site owners individually to request that they remove any such links. Just to be clear, this is not a widespread practice, and it should not be too difficult to stamp out.
2) Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
We don’t do this.
In more detail: for that subset of fans whose posts we tweet, we are (a) not linking back to them from rapgenius.com and (b) all links on Twitter are rel=nofollow anyway. That is, links shared on Twitter may give temporary traffic to fan sites, but not long-term link juice.
All links in annotations and other user-generated content on rapgenius.com are marked rel=nofollow as well, specifically to avoid the possibility of any link-juice value exchange.
3) Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
We don’t do this.
The only thing that might be relevant: we write a weekly “The top 5 lines of the week”guest feature on thegrio.com (example) which contains links to the 5 hottest lines of the week (natural) and links to hot new songs (less natural).
We also do occasional collaborations around new album releases with sites like Vibeand Esquire.
4) Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
We don’t do this.
As noted above, we’re going to be requesting that site owners take down links to Rap Genius that don’t fit well with their editorial content. Going forward, we do believe a track list widget that bloggers can embed has value, but we’ll develop one in JS rather than HTML.
Rap Genius is the product of many passionate communities collaborating to create a massive, living knowledge base for the world to enjoy. We do not want to break Google’s rules, and will do whatever it takes to learn them inside out and comply with them. Thank you very much!
— Tom, Ilan, and Mahbod