Rap Genius Back on Google: Sending the Wrong Message?

Less than two weeks after popular lyrics site RapGenius.com was apparently slapped by Google for its alleged black-hat link building strategy, the site is once again appearing on the top page of search results; both for it’s own name, and, often for generic lyric searches as well. With Rap Genius back on Google so quickly, it has led to speculation both in regards to Google’s penalty practices, and the initial intent of Rap Genius itself.

Rap Genius has returned to the #1 position for its brand term, which is kind of a given. However, what I found surprising is, just as this ban was lifted, the site is already appearing for generic lyric-based searches as well, as seen in the screenshot below.

Remember back in 2011, when JC Penney was hit hard by a NY Times story that exposed their then search firm, SearchDex, and their paid-link efforts? Then, in 2012, Google’s own Chrome Browser was slapped with a 60-day penalty after it was caught, also by the NY Times (don’t get on their bad side) for essentially doing the same thing.

Point is, both of them were well-respected brands; one being Google itself! And, yet, both experienced significantly longer manual bans from Google’s search results.

I actually kind of understand why Google reinstated them so quickly; however, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. Search is, first & foremost, a tool that your average Joe can use to find what they are looking for– without much hassle. User feedback should be paramount, I concur.

But, I think they’re sending the wrong message here.

If a site like Rap Genius, backed by an investment from Andreessen Horowitz, can return to Google’s good graces so swiftly, then was it really a penalty at all? Think about all of the press the site has received in the past few weeks; most people who spend any significant time on the Internet-Outside-of-Facebook, unfamiliar with the site before, certainly have at least heard of Rap Genius now. TechCrunch, Mashable, Search Engine Land– popular sites covering a variety of topics have featured articles on the site as well. Maybe, almost as importantly, they’ve been linking, as well.

I’m not suggesting that Rap Genius did this on purpose, to generate buzz– despite what the title may suggest. However, the potential danger here may be found in future imitators of the site’s tactics. After all, disappearing from Google for two weeks, while been written about everywhere else, is probably the best PR the site has received since its inception.

Back to my “user experience” argument for a second: let’s not forget, Rap Genius is certainly not the only website that provides lyrics, and, in many search results, isn’t even the most popular. If there were no alternatives, I could see a quick reinstatement, to appease the masses; but, that’s simply not the case here.

I don’t think anyone in the SEO or SEM world is happy with this decision (outside of Rap Genius, obv.); but, I would really like to hear Google & Matt Cutts’ explanation before passing further judgement. From an outside perspective, it seems what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander, and I can’t see how that’s a good position for Google to put itself in.

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