RapGenius Growth Hack Exposed

Yesterday RapGenius posted the following announcement on their Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 3.20.43 PM

As a contributor to various blogs and an endearing fan of RapGenius, I took a special interest in this opportunity. So, I emailed Mahbod for more details:

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 3.28.09 PM

Mahbod quickly responded:

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 3.29.13 PM

What you see here is the beginning of a potential growth hack for RapGenius. To understand this growth hack, you must be aware of the business of RapGenius, and why Bieber is important to their growth.

The Business of RapGenius

RapGenius makes its business off music lyrics. Millions of people search the lyrics to their favorite songs daily. RapGenius wants to be the first result that people click on when people are searching for any lyric.

Their business depends on their search engine ranking position (SERP’s) on Google. Hyperlinks connect the web and determine SERP’s. Thus, the most powerful weapon RapGenius can deploy is a series of powerful hyperlinks. You can see in Mahbod’s email that he is asking for hyperlinks from high-page rank sites (personal blogs) with anchor text that mentions tracks from Bieber’s most recent album.

Furthermore, the 80-20 rule applied to RapGenius’s business indicates that 80% of their traffic comes from only a select 20% of their lyrics database. According to Alexa.com, “Get Lucky” and “Holy Grail” were the top traffic drivers to RapGenius for most of 2013. However, music is highly cyclical, and the traffic from previous winners will eventually fade. Looking forward into 2014, it’s only logical that RapGenius would hope for Bieber’s new songs to refer them enormous traffic.

Why Bieber Is Important to the Growth of RapGenius

Justin Bieber just released his new album “Journals” last night; Beliebers will be searching for the lyrics to his new tracks repeatedly in the upcoming months. To demonstrate the magnitude of the Beliebers, check out this graphic: Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus were the most searched musicians in 2013, but Bieber is consistently the most searched person over time.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 3.51.14 PM

High SERP’s for Bieber are the top prize for RapGenius, assuming they want to continue to dramatically increase their traffic.

Summary

  • RapGenius wants to grow quickly.
  • In order to grow quickly, they need to rank well on Google searches for Justin Bieber’s new songs.
  • In order to rank well, they need backlinks with anchor text that specifically mention Bieber’s songs.
  • They are reaching out to their friends asking for backlinks in exchange for a tweet.

 

It’s surprising to me that RapGenius, a company with $15 million in financing, would openly execute such a frugal strategy for their link-building efforts. There are many consulting firms and savvy internet marketers that specialize in this work. We’ll see what Google decides for their efforts.

Update 12/23: Just added these links. Let’s see what happens to the SERP’s…

1. Justin Bieber – Heartbreaker Lyrics
2. Justin Bieber – All That Matters Lyrics
3. Justin Bieber – Hold Tight Lyrics
4. Justin Bieber – Recovery Lyrics
5. Justin Bieber – Bad Day Lyrics
6. Justin Bieber – All Bad Lyrics
7. Justin Bieber – PYD Lyrics
8. Justin Bieber – Roller Coaster Lyrics
9. Justin Bieber – Change Me Lyrics
10. Justin Bieber – Confident Lyrics
11. Justin Bieber – Memphis Lyrics
12. Justin Bieber – One Life Lyrics
13. Justin Bieber – What’s Hatnin’ Lyrics
14. Justin Bieber – Backpack Lyrics
15. Justin Bieber – Swap it Out Lyrics
Justin Bieber – Journals Tracklist Lyrics

Update 12/24: Removed the links.

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About The Author

John Marbach

Wake Forest Student. Thiel Fellow. YC Alum.

Other posts by

Author his web sitehttp://jmarbach.com

23

12 2013
  • higher orbital

    Essentially this is a “traffic pyramid scheme.” You send us traffic we’ll pay you back in traffic, which in turn will get us more traffic!

  • Robert Rogge

    It’s not really about entitlement here, it’s about what is and isn’t shady. Why should it be shady to buy a blog post on a blog? Is it shady to buy a commercial on TV? Is it shady to have an in-show product advertisement? Is it shady to have a radio personality read your ad in his voice? Is it shady when Google makes their ads look more and more like “organic results”?

    I’m not a guy who got somehow burned by one of these updates or something, and it’s not about entitlement. But then again, we should really stop using the word “organic” when discussing Google results, especially considering the relationship between “organic” and “paid” results, the inclusion of additional search services, and the legal issues that Google has been accused of, in the European Union, regarding the manipulation of their search results page to increase their ad profits.

    But I digress… on the subject of purchasing blog entries, or trying to generate some kind of buzz, it’s amazing how everyone fails to see that this is absolute thuggery, and it’s the sort of thing that would be decried by everyone in a “real-world” business.

  • pramod

    It’s shady to buy a blogpost solely for the purpose of increasing your google pagerank. This is because you’re trying to manipulate the search ranking algorithm. You can always buy a promoted post and Google won’t penalize you as long as you use the nofollow tag in the links from the promoted post.

    If all the RG guys wanted to do was pay people to promote their site on personal blogs, they could’ve done this in a few different ways that are in compliance with Google’s guidelines. They deliberately choose to not use one of these methods because the goal here isn’t promotion, it’s manipulating page rank. I fail to see why they shouldn’t be punished for it.

    And the difference between ads, promoted links and organic links is that ads and promoted links use nofollow while organic links don’t. Only organic links count for pagerank.

  • Robert Rogge

    Yes well it is very debatable what would and would not improve your search results in today’s world. In the specific case of Rap Genius, you’re totally wrong. If they ask their fans to post something they like about Rap Genius to their blogs, and then they do that, is that really not a vote of confidence just because they asked for it? I mean, these are their fans, right? And are we not all agreeing here that Rap Genius is in fact the best site? Are not these links going to improve Google’s search results, then?

    I don’t know how you draw the line, technologically, but certainly a one-size-fits-all practice like the one Google is embracing more and more has some sort of ulterior motive, considering that they can probably run certain quality algorithms on content.

  • Robert Rogge

    Well, I reckon that’s a little bit shady, and in this case it’s not looking too good, especially considering the method they’re using with the Justin Bieber HTML.

    But the idea of simply asking your fans to write something about you, and then Tweeting their post… I’m quite sure that would also violate the guidelines, even though it’s considerably less shady. Alot of SEO work could be considered as standard PR work, truly, and there’s nothing shady about it if you approach it in that way.

    As for nofollow tags, yeah but seriously, if you’re asking folks to write about you, the last thing you want to do is ask them to use nofollow tags that they have no idea how to use.

    It’s just not very convincing to me the overall “cleanup” job Google is doing here. I’m not convinced that Google can’t find another way to judge the links and the content where they appear than simply insisting that it can’t be done, or that it must be nofollowed.

  • Robert Rogge

    And I admit that it’s shady with the Justin Bieber lyrics links. But I guess I’m referring to the overall practice of asking your fans to create content/links to your page.

  • pramod

    nofollow is just one method. If the concern is that your fans are unable to insert nofollow tags into their links, you can also “disavow” these incoming links using Google’s webmaster console.

    “I’m not convinced that Google can’t find another way to judge the links and the content where they appear than simply insisting that it can’t be done”

    Google do put a lot of effort into judging the quality of links, and the recent Penguin update to their algorithm was all about this issue. What they don’t seem to like is when you blatantly try to manipulate their ranking, and they come down on such instances (like this one) very hard.

    btw, what google have done to RG isn’t terribly uncommon. BMW were famously hit with a ban some years ago for shady practices on their german website. And more recently, google chrome itself was penalized violating guidelines related to sponsored links.

  • keithng

    great point. that would be awesome – lyricspedia

  • Lennard Schnabeltier

    nice try, rap genius

  • Jonathan Jones

    Oh, I bet he’s regretting that post now.

  • Freddy M

    Ha, Google banished RapGenious for this :) At least they’re doing something right for a change.. tinyurl(.)com/j34234234 Unlike that, what is that??

  • http://TheMarketingSquare.com/ The Marketing Square

    So John, what did it do to your traffic? Did it freak you out and then you saw the damage or did you know upfront what they were doing was shady?

  • Caroline L.

    You fucking snitch!

    Thanks for ruining a great site.

  • Don Ziolkowski

    One other thing is that it’s shady because at the end of the day Google says it is and you agree to them to use there service.

    You can say “to me this shouldnt be wrong” well ok fine, but its not up to you what google finds wrong.

    Maybe I think it shouldnt be wrong to hack my health in an MMO but thats not up to me, when i joined the game i agreed to the rules.

    when they said they wanted to participate in google search they agreed to the rules. Google said its our web search were delivering to people AND THIS IS CRUCIAL people like how we do it.

    So were not going to change it for you special, we have these rules and if we catch you breaking the rules you no longer get to play the game we take our ball and we go home. Google has the right the remove you from there search FOR ANY REASON its there search. they can remove them because they think the CEO smells funny and has a lisp if they like.

    THey can also do it because you do something they dont like, its a private enterprise and thats why there allowed to make up “arbitrary” rules and arbitrate them because its there game so they get to make the rules.

  • ? Khurram Siddiqui

    You can buy a ton of likes.

  • ? Khurram Siddiqui

    I like the ring to that.

  • ? Khurram Siddiqui

    Yeah, thanks a lot man. -__- Other lyric websites are so lame.

  • Robert Rogge

    Yes, well I think we can agree that this is Google’s search and we must tolerate whatever rules they deem necessary if we want to participate in their search.

    But that doesn’t mean that we’re congratulating Google on their leadership, or agreeing that the rules they are making are 100% for the improvement of their search results and have no other motives. Or agreeing that Google doesn’t behave essentially like corporate thugs. It doesn’t mean that we agree with monopolistic behavior, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical of Google simply because “they are a private enterprise.”

  • Robert Rogge

    Well, and there have been many cases where Google asks people to disavow naturally occuring links simply because they “look like” purchased links.

    It is natural for companies to ask their fans to publish links and content for them without having to disavow links or, in some cases, put an entire enterprise in danger.

    I just think that Google should cope with what is natural, rather than convert themselves into this sort of web police. Darn kids, get off my lawn!

    When you take into consideration other things like no longer showing your keywords in Analytics, the whole thing is a bit messy and I’m not convinced that it’s making their search better.

    Is it a campaign to get people to stop influencing their search results, or is it a campaign to get people to spend more money on Adwords?

  • Don Ziolkowski

    no search provider tolerates you gaming there ratings system.

    It does in fact improve there search results for the user, unpaid links because they are motivated by the quality of the content and not the funds of the website provide a superior metric by which to measure the likelyhood that content is relevant to me the google search user.

    you can criticize them all you’d like but saying

    WTF GOOGLE WHY YOU NO LET MONEY DECIDE SEARCH RATINGS is a pretty silly criticism.

    If google allowed gaming the system then those with SEO’s with large budgets would win.

    Also google instituted this system precisely because they saw a problem with the quality of the links returned by searches due to SEO optimizations creating things like copy/paste sites and link spam pages that exist simply to generate link backs.

    They noticed that these copy/paste sites were degrading the search ratings of the legitimate content providers (in much the same way for example that reply girl videos do with youtube videos, they do nothing but reply to a famous video with boobies for clicks and advertisment money)

    The also noticed that web pages full of links were being made to buffer web page rankings. These pages meant that for example a company like walmart could use its money and clout to make sure that its bedding links showed up ahead of bed bath and beyonds and jcpenny’s for bedding or that its phones showed up ahead of a t-mobile website despite those speciality sites being a more appropriate link return.

  • Robert Rogge

    Don, I think you misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that Google should just let everyone run around buying links and simply count them all up.

    I’m saying that there are cases where your natural PR work, the sort of work that people have been doing long before the internet came along, doubles as SEO work. Like asking your customers to spread the word about what you’re doing.

    And I’m suggesting that not all of Google’s recent policies are meant to improve their search results.

    But I’m not suggesting that Google simply let everyone run around buying links.

  • Robert Rogge

    Well, the paid ads on the results page have become increasingly difficult to see. In fact, on this particular monitor (Toshiba Ultrabook), I can’t see the difference unless I tilt my screen just so. I mean come on, it’s getting harder and harder to see those ads, isn’t it?!

    Well, ok so the Rap Genius case is shady, but I maintain that it’s shady because of the Growth/Justin Bieber/trash content part of it. The concept of simply asking your customers/fans to share information about you probably dates back to the 19th century.

    If you take the RG effort with less granularity, you’ve basically got a case where they are asking their fans to write something about them, and then saying that they’d be happy to Tweet it. And yes the guy sounds like a douche, but the mechanics of this effort are… sort of normal, don’t you think?

    It’s just an overreach to ask everyone to nofollow all such links. The internet is a sort of mirror of the real world, only different. Imagine that every time you told somebody about some product you really liked, you had to announce whether or not that company had asked you to “mention it to your friends.”

  • Don Ziolkowski

    I dont know i guess I feel that at its core advertising is only ok its transparent.

    A commercial on TV for example is acceptable because its a known that its paid linkage, the paid search results at the top of google are ok because we know its paid linkage (and its actually often relevant as well which is a plus)

    But rap lyrics paying a blogger for link backs is wrong and the easiest way to make sure major companies dont do this kind of behavior is to crush them whenever they are caught.
    I can assure you other companies doing things like Rap Lyrics are actively considering getting out of the business of doing it apon seeing what happened to rap lyrics unique visitor count.

    I guess my issue is that google doesn’t punish transparent advertising of the sort your advocating for. There is a legitimate means already in place to advertise for money as long as you let google know “hey don’t treat this as organic linking or whatever this is paid for”

    They won’t stop you from buying links as long as you dont use that to game the system. If for example rap lyrics had said we’ll tell google not to count these links from your blog to us and then bought the links ala basically paying for direct advertising on the blog for there site and then the blog ideally had displayed them in ad locations clearly demarked as an advert then nothing wrong with it.

    But to me its like buying a full page in a newspaper and disguising your advertisment as a news article.

  • http://www.mrpregnant.com/ Atelston Fitzgerald Holder 1st

    This is a legitimate grey area, it’s not an actual Google violation in a technical sense. Google wants the The Search Engine Ranking Position to be infused organically. What’s the contrast of organic? Artificial, pseudo, chemically-infused or unnatural? Rapgenius methodology is “organically indirect” with a reciprocative virtual trade-off agreement.

    Ironically, with rapgenius 15 million fundings, employing third party marketing and strategic firms to capitalize on those exploits would be a far more feasible and legitimate. Although what the site did appears legitimate, the indirect process makes the viability questionable, hence the reason Google pulled the plug, rather than ensuing a lawsuit.

    Google is a large company with a relatively average market cap, company is worth 373 billions, and trades for over $1,000, a complete contrast compared to Apple, from the former and latter perspective.

  • http://www.mrpregnant.com/ Atelston Fitzgerald Holder 1st

    I’d also like to add to the equation, I’m somewhat infamous based on my myriad of accolades, I’m not saying this to be conceited, but to highlight the preceding successions of legal conflicts i encountered because of a pseudo interaction over the most mundane things. Something as simply as cutting and pasting a dialogue to exploit someone is being a virtual indirect paparazzi, in layman’s term, “snitch.”

  • http://www.youtube.com/DreadfulControversy Super Nigga

    YAY, METROYLYRIC IS ON TOP AGAIN! I LOVE THAT HORRIBLE WEBSITE SO MUCH!

    BITCH ASS SNITCH.

  • Freedom35

    LOL at the suburban kids acting all hard. And how did they ruin the site for you? If you already know the site, why do you need Google to find it?

  • http://amazingserviceguy.com/ Kevin Stirtz

    Yeah, Google’s paid ads are not always easy to distinguish by their look because Google likes to test different ways to display them. Right now the lowest ads on the top tend to blend in with the top of the organic results. But mostly the ads can be seen as ads because of their location. And they are identified as ads at the top of each block.

    Regarding RG, I see at least three problems with their strategy.

    Problem one: Unnatural linking

    RG has offered to trade the value of promoting a person’s blog post in exchange for them including links. RG wouldn’t promote the post if it did not include the links. The blogger is writing the blog post specifically to get it promoted by RG. To do so, they must include these exact links. Not even close to a natural occurrence of links.These appear to meet Google’s definition of paid links. (If it looks like a duck…)

    Problem Two: Irrelevant links

    As you mention Robert, the content here is an issue. RG only wants to see links about Justin Bieber. But the blog post can be about anything. So if the content of the post is not relevant to the topic of the links, they’re spammy. They offer no value.

    Problem Three: Link Placement

    Natural links occur in relevant content as ways to expand or support the content. Here RG asked for a listing of links. This might be relevant and useful if the post was about JB and its purpose was to list his 13 newest songs. But these links are at the bottom, basically an afterthought.

    The big issue here regarding Google’s penalty is they are essentially creating paid links but they’re not identifying the links as paid. They’re spammy, irrelevant links and the company was very obvious about their strategy.

    I agree that asking your friends to share your content is an old strategy. But I think Google’s point is, every share of something is either a valid, credible share (offered to benefit the reader) or it’s a promotional share (offered to benefit the publisher). In the world of online marketing (search) these shares are votes but only the credible shares should count for SEO value.

    Remember, Google’s system is based on the model of academic and scientific citations, where researchers and doctors would cite (share) each other’s work to offer more detail or support to their research. These citations became a way to measure validity and credibility of academic and scientific research.

    It’s doubtful professors and scientists go around asking or paying each other to cite their work. (Not saying it couldn’t happen but if it did it would soon become apparent based on patterns of citations.)

    Asking friends to share content is fine as long as the shares are legitimate and relevant. Nothing wrong with sharing an opinion, especially if they offer some insights or other value. But if your friend just posts a list of links to your stuff and it has no relation to what they write about, then it’s not a natural share. It’s artificial, just like what RG did. The difference is one of scale. You ask a friend or two, no big deal. You ask a hundred-thousand people (in a very blatant way) and you offer something of value in return for the spammy shares, then you risk getting smacked down.

    Just my thoughts anyway.

  • Garrett

    If RapGenius is really a good site then people will find without the help of Google. http://www.RapMusicGuide.com has better content anyways.

  • http://viktorsblog.com/ Viktor Nagornyy

    Thanks John, good job on outing shading SEO tactics. I just posted a blog post about BlogDash’s link buying schemes disguised as blogging opportunities. What is it with these brands and shady marketing tactics?

  • J-542-

    Amen. As good and well written as this blog post is, the author has caused me an inconvenience, and I think he’s a knob. BUT, in the grand scheme of things, he was right for exposing foul play.

  • J-542-

    @disqus_x9UlPELBXo:disqus It wouldn’t be a problem if Rap Genius actually had a decent search. If you were listening to a song and wanted to quickly find the lyrics, you used to be able to rely on Google. Now, we have to use the on-site Rap Genius search, and it’s horrendous. I’m sure RG will work their way back up in the results.

  • HD Z

    I wonder if Google pays Google to placard the Internet with their Android/Nexus/Chrome ads.

  • HD Z

    Getting kick out of Google is the best promotion they could get.
    They are all over the news website now.
    Who are better backlinks than all the blogs they could have got.

  • Robert Rogge

    What up Kevin!

    “because Google likes to test different ways to display them.” Right, but they’re doing it in order to reduce the difference, for the user, between organic and paid results. Of course, one tick on the RGB color settings of the ad background could be worth several million dollars.

    You might read this article about some of the different things that Google does in this regard.

    http://econsultancy.com/blog/63793-what-will-google-s-paid-search-ads-look-like-in-2014

    Agreed about RG. Also, the RG guy just sounds like an ass. But my point is, let’s say that a company asked their customers/fans to write an article on their blogs, and said that they would tweet the article. They didn’t mention links, but the writers put one because linking would make sense. The strategy was both PR and SEO. Let’s say they had 20 hardcore fans who said they’d do it… what are the odds that those 20 articles would contain links, and would they set off a Google penalty? And is that really unnatural?

    If all the cases were like RG, it would be easy. But there are many cases that are not like RG, and I think it’s an over-reach.

  • Nora

    Never heard of “Rap Genius”

  • http://khogiare.com/ johnterry

    It’s not really Growth Hacking but just old and ugly SEO Strategy

    dien dan rao vat

  • http://bet-the-nfl-super-bowl.com/ Ken Ashe

    This is HUGE!

  • http://www.webrepublic.ch/blog Simon Bertschinger

    Probably this strategy wasn’t such a frugal one for their link-building efforts. Finally they wil get more Links from Sites complaining about their SEO Strategies than from their initial idea. Even if its crappy SEO, they’re now in everyones mind..

  • anon

    dude you’re a fucking faggot for ruining RapGenius’ google rep.

  • TheIndustryDude215

    Wow, Rap Genius was very clever at getting links.

  • Pingback: RapGenius.com Kicked Out of Google’s Treehouse

  • Planet of the Obamas

    That’s why black neighborhoods are the worst on the planet.

  • Riley 1066

    Wikilyrics is better.