A few days ago, well-funded lyrics annotation site Rap Genius was effectively banned from Google. The trouble started after someone posted an e-mail from one of the start-up's co-founders, Mahbod Moghadam, offering to drive traffic to a blog in exchange for links to Rap Genius pages that weren't necessarily related to what the blogger was writing about. Google's algorithm raises a site's search ranking along with the number of inbound links it receives, and, until recently, Rap Genius almost always appeared first on the results page of anyone looking for the lyrics to a rap song (or even simply entering the title of one). But when Google found out that Rap Genius was violating its policies by gaming the system, Rap Genius URLs suddenly moved to the digital no-man's-land of the search engine's sixth or seventh search results pages. (The downgrading even extended to searches that incorporate the term "Rap Genius.")
The co-founders admitted that they had "effed up" and pledged to resolve the issue, but a lot of damage has already been done: According to Quantcast, Rap Genius's number of unique visitors plunged from 1,376,535 on Monday to 136,022 on Thursday. The change isn't much of a surprise, since the vast majority of the site's traffic comes from Google searches. Assuming Rap Genius alters its SEO strategy to Google's satisfaction, it should be released from its time-out in 30 to 60 days. In the meantime, the people behind the site are going to need to figure out a way to be successful while also following the rules. Right now, it's not clear that Rap Genius will be able to return to the very top of Google's search results, which is a potential problem for a site with the stated goal of becoming an "Internet Talmud."