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Rap Genius pardoned by Google for "unnatural" search links

Rap Genius is back.

As in, Rap Genius is back within Google search results; the site had previously been "smacked" by the search giant, as described in a blog post by Rap Genius founders Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory, and Mahbod Moghadam, for allegedly creating "unnatural links" to its content among a large network of supporting sites.

Rap Genius would allegedly offer to promote other sites' posts on its Twitter feed in exchange for those sites using a specific piece of HTML code and link text for pointing back to Rap Genius.

"Remember reading dozens (hundreds?) of blog posts last year about how guest posts are spam & Google should kill them? Well these posts from Rap Genius 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," wrote SEOBook's Aaron Wall, who went on to accuse Google of unfairly giving Rap Genius white-glove treatment for its alleged spamming.

Rap Genius maintains that its partnerships with other sites were innocent. The site would link to the associated blogs because "they had good, tweet-worthy blog posts," and those sites would link back to Rap Genius because "their readers were interested in our lyrics and annotations." Additionally, Rap Genius would link back to its content when asked to write copy for other sites like The Atlantic or Huffington Post, in addition to providing sites with an easy means by which they could embed links to Rap Genius lyrics for an entire album's worth of tracks.

That is, until Rap Genius upped its capabilities: Embedding links to Rap Genius song lyrics in unrelated music blog posts and offering to promote any blog post, regardless of its content, so long as said blog post linked back to Rap Genius.

"The dubious-sounding 'Rap Genius blog affiliate program', the self-parodic used car salesman tone of the email to [a blogger asking about the Rap Genius affiliate program], the lack of any discretion in the targeting of a partner – this all looked really bad. And it was really bad: a lazy and likely ineffective 'strategy', so over-the-top in its obviousness that it was practically begging for a response from Google," wrote the Rap Genius founders.

According to Rap Genius' blog post, the site worked through a list of about 178,000 inbound URLs – including creating a "scraper" to rank said pages by their "suspiciousness," or likelihood of unnatural linking – to ultimately get Rap Genius back into Google's good graces (and presumably, up higher on its search results than the sixth page or so of one's search experience). Rap Genius contacted sites, when possible, to have the offending links removed; when not possible, the site used Google's disavowal tool to distance itself as much as possible from spammy linking.

"To Google and our fans: we're sorry for being such morons. We regret our foray into irrelevant unnatural linking. We're focused on building the best site in the world for understanding lyrics, poetry, and prose and watching it naturally rise to the top of the search results," reads Rap Genius' post.

Meanwhile, the search engine's record itself isn't exactly squeaky clean. Last month the Competition Bureau of Canada launched an investigation into Google for abusing its dominant position in the search engine market.