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.


  • 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.


About The Author

John Marbach

Other posts by

Author his web sitehttps://jmarbach.com


12 2013
  • mahbodmoghadam

    Did you post it??? how about this: attach the HTML to THIS article and I’ll tweet this out for you – that would be META!

  • https://www.jmarbach.com jmarbach

    word dawg, happy to include the html if it helps.

  • http://www.anji.us/ Anji

    It’s not really Growth Hacking but just old and ugly SEO Strategy 🙁
    Don’t think Google will like it that much…

  • mahbodmoghadam

    thanks G! if you post the whole html I can tweet this out! but thank you for just the tracklist you are a true homie

  • https://www.jmarbach.com jmarbach


  • https://plus.google.com/117530250543183103093?rel=author Rick Bucich

    Specifying exact anchor text is such a risky strategy, talk about intentionally shooting yourself in the foot! #takingapageoutof2005seo

  • Andrew Kolesnikov

    I doubt this spamdexing thing is the official RapGenius strategy. Is this just one smarty-pants employee trying things out?

  • Berberous

    This is coming from Mahbod, one of the three RapGenius founders.

  • JonRimmer

    It seems like the lyrics SEO game is pretty cutthroat, with a lot of very old, very established ad-shovelling sites turning up at the top of the search rankings for virtually any search with a “lyrics” keyword therein. In such a situation, RapGenius probably don’t have much choice but to try and be very aggressive in cultivating backlinks.

  • http://www.blippitt.net/ Chris Monty

    The Google Penguin update targets this exact type of link spam. It won’t be long before this site gets hit by the Penguin algorithm.

  • Kaivan Dave

    Well I don’t think it’s just one smarty-pants but we may never get to the #truth!

  • Sergie Monks

    is it prohibited by google? like for adsense or google stats

  • Robert Rogge

    So, you can buy a link on Google, but you can’t buy one on somebody’s blog?

    Google prohibiting people from making public relations deals is akin to one advertiser prohibiting you from using another. PR is a fact of life, and Google should learn to deal with it, rather than prohibit it. It’s such an over reach, and Google *always* over reaches.

    Well, personally I think you, John, should be a little ashamed for
    publishing this anyway. Nice traffic for you busting someone else’s
    balls, and without even a pea-sized critical thought.

  • lukash MAYYN

    this is a pretty awesome way to handle this. kudos bruh

  • Jessica Darko

    They’re a Y-Combinator company. This is straight up Y-Combinator cargo cult strategy.

    That is to say, YC teaches people to lie, cheat and steal in order to create, or fake, growth.

    Ethics are unimportant to them, only money is. For example, look at all the slimy things AirBnB has done over the years, and the lies Paul Graham has told to defend them.

  • Jason Dexter

    This is hardly new, intuitive or anything related to “growth hacking”. It’s simply shaddy, shitty link building. RapGenius also has half a million likes and piss-poor engagement. Looks like someone has been buying likes…

  • Yousaf

    This is a classic “SEO” tactic, if they pursue this route very aggressively they will find them themselves in a lot of trouble with Google.

    Going for Exact Match Anchor text is suicide.

  • Twils215

    This article is pretty dope. I especially enjoyed the insight it took to write this. Kudos, brah.
    I have a friend who’s RapGenius I.Q is 420. He purposely stopped adding lyrics to the site only to keep that number. A sign of a genuine contributor, if you ask me.

  • http://wtff.com/ WTFFcom

    So, the company decided to collect traffic from the personal blogs in exchange of these blogs promotion via the Twitter.

    How Google is related to this ?

    If Google wants to participate in this party as the signals collector for its algo, then no one stops it. But Google is not the supervisor of this or any other party and should act accordingly, as the guest. Shouldn’t it ?

  • http://wetherubyists.com/ Justin Baker

    Figuring out how to optimize your success.. you have my respect sir. Reminds me of when I was 15 and used Facebook to get 4 million page views on a web app only up for 4 weeks.

  • http://wetherubyists.com/ Justin Baker

    That’s a mark of success.. unfortunately. The way the world’s economy is, in order to be successful, you must compete to maximize profits.. Adam Smith’s economic theories have shaped the world economy to allow the top few to become rich, while others must become poor. Game theory economics are much more ETHICAL, but since there will always be competition(unless something drastic happens), money will always be the goal. Not ethics.

  • obiwanginobli

    “search engine ranking position” LOL

  • http://sathyvelukunashegaran.com/ Sathyvelu Kunashegaran

    Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like these nasty techniques are one of the ways that many popular and huge startups did in the beginning. You can google what airbnb did and what reddit did and so on. They all are nasty. I reckon once you become huge and the whole world IS talking about you, it wouldn’t matter as you be busy counting the money in the bank.

  • Fedor

    Seems like you’re a little confused. SERP actually stands for Search Engine Result Pages… not Position… Hard to take anything you write seriously when you get this basic term wrong.

  • Rick Dees

    the trivialities you guys get your panties in a bunch over… i was expecting to be presented with something “blackhat” like buying 100,000 Facebook likes from India for $10 or something like that. Pssh!

  • http://wtff.com/ WTFFcom

    Good point ))

  • stark247

    And it worked… all the Bieber keywords are in the top 4 results – most are #1 or #2. Looks like RG just showed everyone how to game Google.

  • db053772

    you can’t really buy likes, but you can encourage via friend of a friend ads. I got it.

  • FreebieMachine.com

    Yes, it is against Google’s policies on how to build links.

  • LookingForMySonDerrickRose

    a snitch nigga, that’s that shit i don’t like

  • Bhaumik Patel
  • disqus_R6smkgMEJG

    Does it really matter? In fact I like the “Ranking Position” better. Anyhow, the bottomline is he exposed a practice that people were vaguely aware, but now it is clearly spelled out.

  • pramod

    You can of course buy all the links you want. Nobody is prohibiting that. Google just won’t rank you if you’re being shady and manipulative in your incoming links.

    Your sense of entitlement is showing here, Google isn’t obliged to rank your site high.

  • aspprogrammer

    Google just penalized Rap Genius on Christmas morning for running link schemes.


    They showed a compete traffic score of 2 million last month that just fell off a cliff. Don’t mess with Google’s T&C. They will get you every time.

  • Kevin Wu

    Very well done John. This is an amazing find. Saw a few videos that featured these three cofounders. They dressed uniquely and it showed their true colors. Quick question, what do you think about Groupon’s whole business model? Ponzi scheme of some sort?

  • Riley 1066

    Wikipedia could fix this whole problem by allowing the lyrics to songs and albums be included in the pages about them.

    Dear Wikipedia: Please take the profit out of song lyric pages.

  • rawbyrtt

    Helpful website Rap Genius gets booted to page 2, leaving ad-infested 2006-esque AZlyrics and Metrolyrics to remain the top results in lyrics searches..

    Thanks, man.

  • tedder42

    except for the questionable copyright status of song lyrics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Lyrics_and_poetry

  • Riley 1066

    Yes I am aware of that obstacle. However, if the rights holders chose to go after Wikipedia for hosting their lyrics they would be very stupid. The lyrics aren’t going to disappear from the internet any time soon, so the best way to make sure that no money is made off of them is to allow a “Wikipedia exception” to those copyright laws and regulations …

    Not for profit encyclopedias are an excellent vehicle to shut down these for profit lyrics sites once and for all.

  • penda

    Because they did it to ensure that they were the first result on Google searches for lyrics to certain songs, hence they’re abusing the system Google has set out, to some extent.

  • http://wtff.com/ WTFFcom

    Please see when this post was written.
    Back then their intentions were not so obvious.

    It’s easy to be smart afterwards, isn’t it ? )

  • http://amazingserviceguy.com/ Kevin Stirtz

    >So, you can buy a link on Google, but you can’t buy one on somebody’s blog?

    The difference is Google makes it clear which links are paid, they don’t pass juice and they are relevant to the rest of the page (based on the search). This example misses on all three factors. So, not really the same thing.

  • Sergie Monks

    lol D1 after my comment, google banned rap genius:)

  • penda

    Don’t know what you’re on about, I was just trying to answer your question you insecure little bitch.

  • http://wtff.com/ WTFFcom

    You’re not smart enough to reply my questions ))

  • http://www.techzim.co.zw L.S.M. Kabweza
  • http://www.techzim.co.zw L.S.M. Kabweza


  • http://www.techzim.co.zw L.S.M. Kabweza

    You do know though that Google tries to have the most organically relevant results right? They’d become useless as a search engine if they didn’t move against such

  • http://www.techzim.co.zw L.S.M. Kabweza

    Dude, you’re hitting too hard on the minor stuff

  • Trey Arline

    There needs to be a “Stop Snitchin’!” picture with Cam’ron in it for this.