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RapGenius Growth Hack Exposed (jmarbach.com)
347 points by jmarbach on Dec 23, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 215 comments

We're investigating this now.

Got their attention. Looks like they are changing their tune. 

@jasonjm75 @randfish feel stupid in retrospect - gonna stop - but I hope google revisits how ALL lyrics sites do SEO! our competition is... doing some ULTRA shady stuff! I have no doubt in my mind that they pay for links

https://twitter.com/RapGenius/status/415297097072537601 https://twitter.com/RapGenius/status/415297158896553985

In all fairness, rapgenius does have some of the best content and it really is the best information for lyrics. It sucks they have to resort to this to get good information above spammy lyrics sites.

I actually thought rapgenius was a good idea solely because the alternative was spammy almost like before stackoverflow. So yes it is wrong in every way to manipulate the system but how can you get noticed if others are doing it. If anything they shined a light on the problem and the better information should win in google which is fair.

> So yes it is wrong in every way to manipulate the system but how can you get noticed if others are doing it. If anything they shined a light on the problem and the better information should win in google which is fair.

I really don't buy this post hoc justification of RapGenius's actions. I understand the world is a complex place where we often have to make compromises, but saying "Poor RapGenius, forced into using black hat SEO" is kind of ridiculous. These guys (or at least the guy in charge of "growth hacking") enthusiastically made quid pro quo deals for backlinks.

I try to be polite on the Internet, but all I can say is fuck that.

> In all fairness, rapgenius does have some of the best content and it really is the best information for lyrics.

I agree... which is why it's a shame that I'm going to look elsewhere from now on.

If you don't mind me asking, why is this such a big deal to you that you would stop going to Rap Genius? As a music lover myself, I consistently go back to Rap Genius because I know they have the most interesting content.

I don't understand why you would be willing to abandon that because a claim (although it seems to be justified) that they might be breaking a rule created by a corporate entity that is often used to enforce their own agenda - putting Google+ results up top in results seems much, much worse than this to me!

How can the proprietary Google ranking algorithm be such holiness that a simple infraction causes such vitriol?

Well, I can't say I'm happy about Google's self-promotion either.

I guess I see Google search as this key entry point into the Web. By using backlinks as input for ranking results, Google is tapping into the power of social proof to organize this massive amount of information. When you cheat that system -- when you make deals for backlinks -- you're undermining the integrity of this system, and you're degrading the quality of people's interactions with it.

I might just be overly sensitive about this, but I really dislike when people cheat systems to gain an advantage.

I appreciate that. I guess personally I just don't know whether or not a system like this can ever truly be fair, especially when controlled by a corporate entity. Not that it's bad or wrong or that a corporate entity controls it, but it makes the notion of cheating less "right or wrong."

In fact, you or I might not have ever even learned about Rap Genius to begin with without antics like this!

Unfortunately the best content doesn't just win. Rules often favor the people already in power and who abide by the rules - or broke the previous ones to get there. Every "system" is flawed in the same way that connections and money are a "cheat" to help you out in life.

These guys weren't always at the top of results but they managed to get there, and I still recommend the service - I've never recommended another lyrics site in my life.

If breaking rules got them to where they are, I'm glad because damn is it a superior service to everything else out there.

Google needs to penalize them or else this will encourage others to employ these black-hat techniques in the future. It doesn't matter if RapGenius has the better content or not.

In the entire scheme of things, if RapGenius gets penalized, and their rankings/traffic plummet, and they go out of business, that's a very very small price to pay. If you're Google, fighting this type of spam requires a TON of resources, and they've already done a great job of discouraging it (ppl are actually paying others to remove links now).

I totally agree that it's up to Google to deal with it how they deem fit. There is nothing wrong with a private company altering how they list things.

I originally asked because he seemed to be personally offended that they may have gamed a system put in place by a private company that has financial motives besides just serving you the best content.

Yup, not a valid reason for me to stop a service. Like you said, the rules often favor those alreayd in power

Stackoverflow had the same problem with expertsexchange early on, they didn't resort to it which rapgenius shouldn't have. I am just saying that really the best content should win, here it isn't due to manipulation by other entities not just rapgenius. It might be more of a google problem.

rapgenius might say here, 'don't hate the playa hate teh game son!'

Of course, in an ideal world we wouldn't have a black hat SEO arms race. But as you mentioned, Stack Overflow managed to flourish without resorting to those tactics. The context is important, but it doesn't forgive their actions.

> rapgenius might say here, 'don't hate the playa hate teh game son!'

That's a nice phrase, but I think I'm going to go ahead and hate both.

> Stack Overflow managed to flourish without resorting to those tactics

Well, or Stack Overflow managed to flourish without resorting to those tactics and getting found out.

[subs - please insert dramatic chipmunk here]

I am not sure they are directly comparable - unless rappers themselves are choosing the site, just like programmers themselves (ourselves) voted with our feet. Aren't people searching for lyrics more of a casual browser type?

It's not a right to have your content ranked, even if it's better than others. Google is a business, not a charity.

Google's mission is to make the world's information universally accessible. If rapgenius contains information that other sites do not, and people want that information, it is Google's mission to bring those people to rapgenius.

Take note people.

Said tweets were immediately deleted.

Looks like the tweets got deleted...in any case, am I missing something here. Is the email received by the OP actually sent by a human? RapGenius already has high results...it can't be terribly efficient for a co-founder to be sending manual link requests, right? Terms of service aside

I'm glad they stopped. I'm also glad they deleted this comment, although I would have been happier if they simply never made it. When I read it, I felt like I was watching a toddler who, after being caught cheating, complained "so did Sally!"

Just announce your _mea culpa_, and stop doing it. And, if you need to adopt strategies that do boost your ranks -- _which, given that RapGenius is a great service_, I don't think is long-term necessary -- avoid the patently obvious ones.

Looks like they deleted the tweets.

I was under the impression this kind of thing - a stack of links at the bottom of content, with the same links duplicated across many posts/domains - was automatically penalized through the floor.

How does a famous startup, with such blue chip backing, make such an obvious mistake? Doesn't everyone with even basic SEO knowledge understand this is against Google policies?

I was thinking the same thing. RapGenius is gonna be on the third 'o' soon.

Because they've built a culture of brash shoot from the hip growth at all cost.

"We're investing this now". Those 4 words are the Kiss of Death.

Especially when it's from the "head of the webspam team at Google". It's the start-up equivalent of being called into the principles office.

No kidding

Oddly, you're the second person to have misspelled it as "investing" when quoting it on this thread. Is this like a rogue / rouge thing that people get commonly tripped up on?

Oddly, he's not wrong either: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/disclosure/

Autocorrect is pretty great at turning a typo into an alternate word.

Post above yours also did principle/principal. The one no one seems to mix up is awful/offal.

5 words, right?

For those interested, this type of activity appears to fall under the purview of Google's link schemes content guidelines, discussed here:


Whoa! Was not expecting that so quickly...

It's Christmas, so I'll just say this...

You have the power to put these guys out of business, or give them a break and help them find a way to promote their business in a more "ethical" way.

I hate spam as much as you (founded/exited Defensio), but I think it'd be awesome if you took the unconventional approach, had a call with them and gave them a break to whatever extent you deem appropriate.

Merry Xmas!

Hey Matt Cutts, how does it feel to be responsible for the end of Google as a objective search engine? Blocking RapGenius was a dick move, for years Google has told ppl complaining about ranking that you guys "believe in the algorithm" and refused human interference. RapGenius traded in some of the influence they have built by making a awesome product to boost a few of their search results, just like paying for SEO they payed for the bump they received via depreciating the value of their tweets and influence, if they continued to execute the same strategy on a reg basis their influence would quickly depreciate. Removing them just proves your lack of emotional intelligence and how influence works. I am not affiliated with Rap Genius or Google in any way , but I am now boycotting your search product bc it now known without a doubt googles search results are not organic, objective or algorithm based.....they are based on whatever Matt Cutts feels should be the top result on any given day.

it would be great if you could provide an update about it later on.

thanks for taking care about this.

While you're investigating, take a look at http://HotNewHipHop.com and http://GotBars.com

Both sites exchange tweets with each other. Even GotBars' Twitter description says "We showcase strictly #HipHop & R&B lyrics, working closely w/ @HotNewHipHop to shed new light on the bars of your favorite artists."


In all honesty though, Rap Genius is not the only lyrics website breaking Google's rules. The problem is an epidemic and RG only scratches the surface.


Hilarious.."growth hacking" post aka link exchange nonesense lol

They knew exactly what they were doing. Sorry, but it does serve them right.

Is this against policy?

Tit for tat links should be against policy. Google's search results become quality when people naturally link to something as part of a conversation or sharing.

So where has the investigation reached ?

IS this the real matt cutts????!

what happens if someone is caught manipulating the SERP like this? Does google automatically ban this practice? Why wasn't this caught before? They are backed by $15 million dollars I can't believe they'd resort to this.

Far cleverer RapGenius growth hack exposed:

RG has seemingly generated a unique URL w/<title> for each line of each of each song listing. Google slurps these up and gives them prominent SERP rankings, though the links are all just doorways redirecting to the main song page. (Albeit, redirecting to an anchor at the lyric queried, with highlighting effect and annotation popup to boot. Pretty friendly UX.)

Eg. http://rapgenius.com/9208/Ice-cube-it-was-a-good-day/Today-i...

Thus one song with a remix or two might become 469 search results: https://www.google.com/search?q=And+if+I+hit+the+switch%2C+I...

The tactic described in the article is super shady, but this seems totally legit to me. The entire point of RapGenius is annotating individual lines of hip hop songs, so each annotation is a unique bit of content. I have, on many occasions, searched for a particular line in a song and been very pleased that the first result is a direct link to the RapGenius annotation for that line.

I don't think that will help them. I actually think that's a bug.

Having multiple urls that go to the same place will get you penalized for duplicate content in a heartbeat.

They should actually specific a canonical url for each specific line-number url.

So, I don't think it's a "growth hack"--I think it's an oversight that may cost them.

They don't go to the same place - they go to different annotations within the same song which then link back into the full song page.

Such as linking back to the main song page with an anchor replacing the second part of the URL, similar to Gist links with #L31-style line number links?

that's pretty clever!

No it's not, it's 2005-style SEO spamming and will get them their asses kicked in ranking soon (if not already).

I am not sure I understand why this is considered bad, such pages should have very low pagerank anyway (no incoming links) but they do make sense for someone searching some lyrics' lines.

What am I missing?

They are pages with different url's pointing to the same page, without doing an actual redirect. Since url's are a big component of the keywords Google considers, doing that has been an SEO no-no for years.

Wow, they write emails the same way they dress up.


That was seriously painful to watch. From the host's hair, to the attempt at the rap genius guys trying to be "hip"... The entire thing feels like satire.

Its like someone wrote Entertainment 720 a check for $15mil

Jean-Ralphio deserves much respect :P

The RapGenius guys just know how to treat themselves :)

If Sacha Baron Cohen made a movie where Ali G moves to San Francisco to do a startup, he'd fit right in with these guys.

It's almost a satire of "hip" startup culture. Almost.

Is this a joke? That video did not agree with me. My vision is blurred, and I think I can taste metal...

I'd love to hear the story behind this image of PG with the RapGenius guys: http://instagram.com/p/XTLO9UH66L/

Well, PG got some RapGenius swag and looks visibly uncomfortable.

He also appears to be calling the guy next to him a loser

You caught that too, huh!? Brilliant photo-bomb PG!

Oof, that video is cringe-worthy ("baller-sourced" please no..). Moreover, they're dressed and acting _exactly_ like CollegeHumor's The Startup Guys.


You do realize they're probably just sending up the genre, right?

So while we're sitting around going "OMG!!! What a bunch of douches!!!", they're sitting on $15 million and thinking...actually I don't think they really even care what we think...lol.

When I saw that video, it was obviously a send-up.

See this - their interview with Ben Horowitz from February 2013:


Compare the two videos - notice something?

I have no idea why, but these guys seem to invoke HN-fury like no other...lol.

Personally I don't even like rap music, and I can't stand people like that (whether they're putting it on or not), but I have to tip my hat to these guys, they're smart, driven, they have capital and they've actually gone out and accomplished something.

I don't see the way they are dressed relevant here. Why are people upvoting stuff like that more and more on HN?

Because they make rape jokes and dress and talk like a bunch of narcissistic, conceited, swagtards.

3 founders, all wearing shades indoors. They're not movie stars and what they are doing is somewhat trivial yet they've trumped themselves up a new level with their sleezy tactics. All I can say is that gp invested in immaturity.

Rape jokes are contemptible enough, but their sense of fashion is not. It may be something that you personally appreciate, but you should not expect others to tailor their fashion sense to please you in particular.

Pfft, it's not fashion sense when you're wearing shades indoors. It's a boorish debauchery, utmost disrespect.

Furthermore, it's easier to be a douchenozzle with shades on, because eye contact tends to make one more susceptible to the crowd's feelings.

Look, I think sunglasses indoors are a silly thing, but then I probably think the same thing about a lot of fashion.

But then, as my wife says, I have terrible dress sense...lol.

It's fashion - you don't need to get it (and I certainly don't). It's a subjective thing, so to each their own.

And to go on about how they're "douchenozzles" (is that even a word?), or their "boorish debauchery" sounds like you're just looking to be offended.

It doesn't harm you directly how these guy dress, or how Justin Bieber dresses, or does his hair, so I don't see the point of working myself into a sweat over it.

Justin Bieber is not a technical cofounder, he's a kidbob singer. These guys have the responsibility to represent their company technically, and are throwing a mad fork in it.

Being founders, they also have the responsibility to connect with their audience. Rap Genius is a music site, so it's not a bad idea for the founders to emulate the antics of the musicians that create the material people go to Rap Genius to see. You can call it unconventional, but you can't say they don't know their audience.

And while we're all sitting here debating whether Rap Genius is "baller or no, y'all", they're probably sitting around thinking "Gee, I have this giant pile of $50 million. Gosh, I wonder what all those people lurking on HN think about us? I had best find out!".

Actually, quite frankly, I don't think they give two cents what we say about them...lol.

But even money aside, they've managed to actually accomplish something tangible, so for that they have my respect.

I think the ridiculous outfit and antics is part of their shtick...I am sure they are aware that they look and act ridiculous.

If there is a point to criticize them on, it would be that they are making fun of rappers and rap/hip-hop culture, the same culture they are no doubt trying to appropriate to the tune of many millions I would guess.

What's the difference between pretending to be a douchebag and actually being a douchebag? Nil.

I think there is a difference, Sacha Cohen (of Borat fame) plays a mega-douchebag but AFAIK he doesn't have a reputation of actually being one.

Their tactic may not be to your liking but they aren't the first to adopt characters as a way to promote their business.

As I said, the critic I have of them is that they're slily indulging in stereotypes and I am surprised they haven't been called out on that.

Sacha does it for a noble cause, comedic effect and makes it obvious that he's not serious. These guys are not trying to be entertaining, they're profiteering through hidden agendas perpetrated on their too-dumb-to-realize-it-audience.

"it's not fashion sense when you're wearing shades indoors"

You had better believe that there is room in fashion for clothing without utility.

utmost disrespect."

Being able to be offended by somebody wearing sunglasses is a problem you are going to have to work on. The inability to tolerate the existence of those who are unlike you is a personal failing.

I don't need to validate an obvious facet of communication. When someone is wearing shades, their emotions are harder to read. It's a large form of insecurity on their part, not on mine. When you have three dudes, who are heads of the company, wearing sunglasses indoors, it shows a level of insecurity and immaturity. You can attempt to hide your eye contact through shades but everyone is going to know that you're not being straight. These guys are total tools. I have nothing to work on, I don't find it necessary to tolerate fools and people who find it cool to be disrespectful.

Pop-psychology bullshit. Sunglasses are fashion accessories; learn to cope.

Oh, I'm so hurt, I need to cope. /s

Wear sunglasses indoors and be an asshat, it isn't my problem. A basic facet of communication is to look at those you speak to in the eyes. Maybe you're too far nerd/asspergered or swag-frat to understand. It's alright, one day you'll cope with a thing called 'logic' and 'basic human decency.'

Did you seriously, in the process of calling out rapgenius for making rape jokes, just use the terms "swagtard" and "aspergered"?

I'm still trying to work out if goldenkey is actually trolling us, or if he's actually incapable of seeing the irony of what he's saying...lol.

If he is actually serious:

Sorry, making retard jokes is not funny - heck, the term retard isn't even politically correct last time I checked - nor is making jokes about Asperger's syndrome funny...

Still, unlike you, I don't really care if you make jokes I consider unfunny shrugs. Each to their own.

However, it is called "hypocrisy" when you manage to inappropriately insult two minority groups in the process of calling somebody else out for being inappropriate.

Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger's, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.

A large majority of hackers have aspergers. A friend of mine, the famous hacker Captain Crunch, aka John Draper, is immensely talented yet has problems understanding normal human communication schemes.

It's possible that Crito has aspergers or is a swagtard like the Rap Genius guys. If he has aspergers, it's perfectly reasonable for him to not understand the point I'm making as his ability to pick up on nuances of human communication would be flawed.

In the swagtard case, he needs to defend his habit of wearing glasses indoors, otherwise his self-image would immensely suffer, and his ego would shatter. That's worse than death for those who judge themselves by their ability to be cool.

So how can you compare what I said to a rape joke? Nothing is humorous here, it's all very seriously logical.

Well the "swagtard" thing seems a little gauche, so I can understand why they're down-voting. But your point on the sunglasses is ridiculously obvious and it's pretty cringe-worthy that people are defending it as somehow not disrespectful and an obvious sign of arrogance.

I said swag-frat and somehow the reply convinces me that I said 'swagtard.' I'm not trying to insult retards, and it'd be pretty hard considering that it's a pretty factual condition in which brainpower is quite limited. There's nothing wrong with saying that people who place all their value in swag, aren't using their full brain power. If anything it's crude but not anywhere near a rape joke. Anyhow, the term was 'swag-frat' not swag-tard. And by that I meant the whole bro-be-cool culture of being stupid and dressing obnoxiously.

Eh, well in my other reply, I used swag-frat. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6958249

It's silly to think I'm going to offend retards, most would not care in the least about some minor point on HN, let alone understand it.

"I said swag-frat and somehow the reply convinces me that I said 'swagtard.'"

What the hell is the point of flat out lying if you aren't even going to edit your past comments to support your lie?

Go troll elsewhere on the internet.

"A large majority of hackers have aspergers. "

Wait, what?

> Wear sunglasses indoors

Here is the thing: I don't. That you think I must is extremely telling however.

I just don't have trouble grappling with the concept of people who are unlike myself. It is not hard for me to conceive of people who dress unlike me for non-utilitarian reasons. That is what fashion is. Further, I don't have to subscribe to a particular fashion to recognize those fashions for what they are; fashions.

Who is really too far "nerd/asspergered" here (seriously, your comments are so steeped in irony it is absurd...)? The person who cannot comprehend that fashion is not about utility and cannot stand those who are unlike him? Or the person who calling that intolerant, fashion-ignorant, bullshit.

Fashion is about more than utility. Your particular way of dressing is not the best way of dressing; stop dreaming up pop-psych self-aggrandizing bullshit to make yourself feel superior. Not everyone who calls you on your shit participates in the fashion trends which you vilify. Grow up.

It's not fashion to wear glasses indoors. It's borderline retarded. Let's move the setting, you're having dinner with someone. They are wearing sunglasses. Any reasonable person will say, 'hey can you take those fucking things off, I'm trying to talk to you'

"The inability to tolerate the existence of those who are unlike you is a personal failing."

That's kind of ironic, since you can't seem to get over the fact that someone, unlike you, considers the RG founders douchebags. See how sophistry works both ways?

> They're not movie stars and what they are doing is somewhat trivial yet they've trumped themselves up a new level with their sleezy tactics.

What they are doing is not trivial at all. They managed to raise $15 million for a very simple idea, that is pretty hard to do.

Genetic logical fallacy detected:


Just because funding was accomplished doesn't mean they aren't slimy underlings. In fact, given that you mention merely finance, you should acknowledge that funding is totally disparate of their ethics.

They are wearing sunglasses indoors because they are high. Pretty common trick.

I thought I was watching an Onion video for a while there, but nope.. real.

I hope those comments continue. After dawg and G, I'm on the edge of my seat to find out what comes next.

I just barfed a little watching that.

At least they're staying true to themselves.

what is that thing on that dude's face? Is that really hair?

This belongs in http://reddit.com/r/cringe

Check out this comment[0] on this post:

>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!

Named as the same guy as the email exchange, Mahbod.

[0] http://jmarbach.com/rapgenius-growth-hack-exposed#comment-11...

And they haven't tweeted his blog post even though he added the HTML! Terrible!

FYI, that's one of the 3 co-founders.

Wow. Can he really be completely oblivious to the fact that this approach is going to bring the hammer of doom down upon them?

So presumably they are going to keep a list of all those pages they tweeted out so that when their organic rank falls into the depths they can then email back all those people and say "please take down that page you put up with those links on it."

That will be particularly true when someone's random blog has a bunch of links to Bieber lyrics on it.

There was a post a bit back (which you might be referencing) about almost this exact situation, except it was about black hat SEO dramatically backfiring. Specifically, businesses were asking bloggers and news sites to delete spam comments that linked back to the sites.

The HTML that Mahbod wants you to paste looks pretty similar to what those spam comments were like...

> There was a post a bit back (which you might be referencing) about almost this exact situation, except it was about black hat SEO dramatically backfiring. Specifically, businesses were asking bloggers and news sites to delete spam comments that linked back to the sites.

I believe that would be this great write up on the current situation: http://www.theawl.com/2013/12/the-new-spammer-panic

That is an excellent summary, thanks for the link.

There's still Disallow in Google Webmaster Tools as a solution for bad back links, either done by an "enemy", old agency or previous stupid SEO manager

Yeah it's there, but it doesn't work anywhere nearly as quickly or effectively as it says it does.

How in the hell is this a 'growth hack'? This is old-school black hat SEO.

This isn't really SEO (i.e. "Optimization" ). It's trying to "hack" search engine traffic artificially. Sure it may be a "legit" move made by many SEO companies, but dumb manipulation like this screws up search for all of us.

Where's Matt Cutts? Any comments on this? This is obviously a departure form create great content that others will organically link to. I'd argue that this is just a step above Fiverr SEO.

RapGenius is gonna be on the third 'o' soon.

white hat.

it's neither of those, but if you had to say on which side it is tilting, then I would say black hat. It's obvious that he's using Google tricks (get good backlinks to get a higher pagerank). That's not white hat SEO at all.

Yooo waddup!

That will be my preferred business salutation going forward.

Add an extra 'o' to spice things up a bit.

Add an extra 'ho' for some real kick.

Violating Google's ToS doesn't sound like a good way of getting to and/or staying at the top of the SERPs over the long-term.

A certain Q/A site has been breaking lots of Google's guidelines for years and they are up and running.

Google doesn't seem to care if you're big enough.

I assume you mean Quora, because I know at Stack Exchange we were religious about doing everything the right way.

I think Google cares more about the user experience (how bad is it if a user ends up on this page after searching) than the exact letter of the law. The truly sleazy sites usually do badly on both metrics though.

He most certainly means Quora, which because of it's dark patterns I refuse to visit even when it ranks. Stack Exchange on the other hand, has another google problem. Many of the top results are "closed as blah blah blah" -- so you arrive from google to a Stack Exchange page which has your exact question, excitedly you click, only to find it closed and unanswered.

Yeah closed and unanswered should definitely be delisted. These kinds of questions usually have negative votes so they do have a lower score in the sitemap weight but I am not sure how much emphasis G gives that.

I will forward this on for SE to think about improving.

I think it's a more basic problem. You find exactly the question you have, but SO decided the question was 'wrong' somehow.

The question may not be answerable, but it doesn't make the question wrong. The question is nothing more than an expression of the users query or intent.

For example, unanswerable questions could give a stack listing if relevant answerable questions.

But it just seems wrong to take highly targeted inbound traffic and send them to a page which basically says 'nothing to see here'.

> These kinds of questions usually have negative votes

Or, quite often, substantial positive votes, and the wails of a legion of users protesting the closing. I would guess that that kind of question is more likely to be the target of enough inbound links to lift it into the search results people actually see.

Marking closed, zero- or negative-voted questions as noindex might be a good move, though.

Just a heads up, you can search directly on SO and limit your results to answered questions.

Could SE improve that by generating a sitemap that de-emphasizes closed questions? IIRC Google gives the option to control the relative weighting of various pages without deindexing them entirely. (Although maybe a sitemap on the scale of SO would be problematic in some way? I've certainly never tried to create one that large.)

There's no size problem. Each sitemap file can contain up to 50,000 urls. Google's cache on SO's sitemap.xml file shows 126 files (maxing at 6.3 million urls (50k * 126); their site claims 6.33 million questions at the moment, so it all appears to roughly add up).

I've run sites with millions of urls spread across a lot of sitemaps, and Google will devour them without any fundamental problems. I found it wasn't uncommon for Google to regularly screwup the indexing of a few sitemap files out of a hundred or whatever, and often it would randomly fail to update a % of sitemaps in a timely fashion.

Just add -"stackoverflow" and all your problems will go away.

I most certainly didn't mean SO. I have nothing but <3 for your work.

Care to explain?

How does this violate ToS?

I can only assume this would hurt them since the Panda update by Google a while back.

But more importantly:

Every instance of one-on-one communication I've seen by Rap Genius (this and the aphyr emails) include over-the-top frat boy style phrases. Are they being sarcastic, is it an affectation, or do they really speak like a parody of every "bro" ever?

I met them at YC's Work For A Startup day and they do in fact talk like that.

Fun quote from one of the cofounders:

>Mr. Ohanian asked the panel, “One of the things I see time and time again is that we have companies who went to the West Coast and then come screaming back to New York. What was the driving force to come back to New York?”

Rap Genius’ Ilan Zechory took the question first. “It’s where we lived,” he said. “It’s where our friends were. There are no women in the Bay Area, genuinely. We never considered moving out there. We always felt like our West Coast trips were, like, all of us in a Nissan Xterra, in like a Weston, with some weed, trying to steal bags of money to bring back to the East Coast.”



This strategy is total fail, Google specifically targeted this stuff with Penguin, which is a relatively old update by now. Combine the scaled approach with posts like this and the fact that Matt Cutts hangs around HN = likely won't end well for them.

Here's where they rank:

#1 - Justin Bieber All Bad Lyrics

#1 - Justin Bieber Confident Lyric

#1 - Justin Bieber Heartbreaker Lyrics

#1 - Justin Bieber Memphis Lyrics

#1 - Justin Bieber One Life Lyrics

#2 - Justin Bieber All That Matters Lyrics

#2 - Justin Bieber Hold Tight Lyrics

#2 - Justin Bieber Pyd Lyrics

#3 - Justin Bieber Change Me Lyrics

#3 - Justin Bieber Recovery Lyrics

#4 - Justin Bieber Bad Day Lyrics

#5 - Justin Bieber Roller Coaster Lyrics

#7 - Justin Bieber Lyrics

Source: serpscan.com

I'd love to hear from Matt Cutts on this

He just responded, "We're investing this now."

>"We're investing this now."

wow, google must have been super impressed ;)

It'd be fascinating to track this list over time - see how quickly the blackhat seo works, and now that Matt's on the case, just how quickly the Google banhammer falls…

The idea is also to attract young users. They're the future of the company.

Does the word "hack" mean anything at all anymore? For that matter, is this really any sort of "Genius"? grumble grumble

You have to read it as "smurf" when written in certain contexts.

"Brainy Smurf, can you smurf me that SERP with some growth smurfing?"

Well it is a hack, in the sense that it is the 1990 idea of hacking your Google rank. Nowadays, all this hack will accomplish is getting them downranked or banned altogether.

One would have been a true prophetic genius to be trying this in 1990.

Not only that, but Bieber isn't even a rapper! This whole thing is an inverted pyramid of piffle!

Something tells me the RapGenius guys truly believe "any publicity is good publicity". Might be something they learned from the hip-hop industry.

Well, they are 'balla-sourcing' now...

How can people conduct business like a bad impression of Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec? I think I have too much Ron Swanson in me to take anyone that pushes me like that seriously.

More like John Ralphio.

This is pretty dangerous. If you do it at scale, you get noticed by google and getting noticed isn't a good thing.

I'd say being on the top you HN will get you in Matt Cutts' radar real quick. Really hoping he chimes in on this thread

I don't know if this form of dubious back-linking is considered as "growth hacking".

Well, not until we find out that Mahbod has defected to a competing lyric site, and this is his final "destroy the incumbent competition" action…

Doesn't google penalize what they view as attempts to manipulate their algorithm through spamming and link trading. Couldn't this potentially backfire?

Yes of course.

It is basically a variation of:

"Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking"


"Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links"

Source: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en

in this case, however, RG is "linking to you" from twitter's domain, while receiving links from the blogger's domain.

To google, this is a one way (non-reciprocal; read: "more valuable") link in RG's favor.

It's a set of many links in the bottom of a page, mostly unrelated to the main content of the post. This lights many red flags in the Google webspam metrics, I'm pretty sure.

Suggested "rapgenius growth hack" hack:

Become affiliate blogger.

Add links as requested.

Get "MASSiVE traffic" from rapgenius tweets.

Remove links.

Shouldn't they have the bloggers include a little JavaScript plugin or something that writes whatever links they need boosted at the moment? Just doing a set of current links seems limiting. I know it has been confirmed the Google bot runs JavaScript and even finds URLs generated by JavaScript.

E.g. so they should say: "Just include the RapGenius trending songs widget at the bottom of your site! It lists the latest hot songs on our site: <script ...> "

If it was a JavaScript snippet Google wouldn't index it. They would need a wordpress plugin or something on the backend.

...if the javascript snippet spat html onto the page...yes they would.

Doesn't Google's crawler run JS these days?

At that point, I would expect the compensation to be much larger than "a tweet".

"yo wadup"

"dope post"

"send that shit out"...

I love it, it's so nice to read an honest text of marketing email for a change.

I just find their "yooo waddup homeeey" white-boy street talk obnoxious, if not borderline offensive.

Part of me suspects there's a very smart marketer/psychologist working with them, who's intentionally using that language to not just target their core demographic, but also to actively deter people not in their demographic - much the same as the speculation that some spam email is so badly written because the spammer is intentionally appealing to less educated people and actively discouraging people who value "proper" grammar and spelling. "We want the Beliebers to look up to us as their cool older brothers, and we want our competition and the tech crowd (and specifically Matt Cutts) to ignore us and disregard us as ignorant 'bros…"

The other part of me suspects they're actually idiots as they seem - and that Andreessen Horowitz's $15mil investment in them is just proof that the handbasket we're all traveling in has crossed the event horizon…

Waddup mah HackerNews son, u Dillon dat old phish raw? Yah affiliate profs be sappin mah sentry, Kahn!

Cthulhu fhtagn.

So 'growth hacking' has grown to encompass the run of the mill SEO strategy.

Usually anything with the word 'hacking' in it means some worthless tripe the talentless toss back and forth to prove how they "get it." The root word is 'hack' as in bad writer, not 'hacking' as in coding.

Has "growth hacking" ever meant anything other than well known tactics that most people are simply too honest to try?

I like that RapGenius had the chutzpah to allow that post exposing their scheme -- a scheme unlikely to be smiled upon by Google -- to participate in that very same scheme.

Except, have they actually tweeted the post as they promissed? Sadly, it does not appear so, it would somehow be especially pleasing if they then tweeted out a link to the post exposing their scheme.

It's pretty sad actually. If they are resorting to this to keep their business afloat, they must be pretty desperate.

I'd counter "desperate" with "out of touch and badly informed".

I have clients come to me quite regularly, having been advised to do something exactly like this - often by a daughters boyfriend or the receptionists brother, or some similarly highly qualified search marketing "professional".

I have a list of book marks and questions handy - and always ask them to go back to their original source of the idea and ask questions like "What are the implications of Google's Hummingbird(|PayDayLoad|Panda|Penguin|Caffiene|Vince|Dewey) update on this strategy?" and "Has Matt Cutts (or Vanessa Fox) ever discussed this idea?" - while having primed them to be able to judge whether the person giving the advice knows anything about what they're talking about.

It _almost_ always works.

Notwithstanding all of these excellent points, is the timing. Jacking up traffic or revenues or other valuation metrics at the end of the {month/year/quarter} is a typical act of desperation/opportunism. It may explain why the bothered to try an implement/get away with it. Like you say it doesn't pass a certain smell test.

This is not "black hat" SEO. This is dumb SEO. Real black hats aren't so obvious/careless/thoughtless.

Yikes. Black Hat SEO!


Not exactly genius.

This seems like a bad idea. Google is increasingly good at detecting and punishing unnatural links. This type of tactic is not something I would recommend; search optimization in 2013 is different than it used to be.

I'm so confused at this backlash, this is hacker news- mahbod, tom and the rapgenius team have built an amazing product, and found a clever way to help with search engine optimization. Good for them. They're optimizing EVERYONES search experience- I think it's ridiculous in this case for them not to have preferential page rank... If the average user would prefer them over a competitor ( which I beg someone to argue) then who cares if they creatively by-passed some ambiguous google guidelines.

Asking people to manually put links in their blog post doesn't seem scalable. In order to rank high for those keywords, you'll need many more backlinks than just a few blog posts.

They're probably just experimenting at that point.

I would've thought Google would be smart enough to ignore multiple anchor tags pointing to the same domain on one page.

I have just published a short but revealing post on this http://www.rocketmill.co.uk/hideous-seo-strategy-rap-genius

yea this is a well known not so nice way to up your google ranking.

Their business depends on their search engine ranking position (SERP’s) on Google.

Am I the only one who thought, "SERP," meant, "Search Engine Result Page?"

"Growth Hacking" now a euphemism for Spamdexing.

Where are you getting search term volume data? Didn't google stop providing specific numbers for search terms recently?

RapGenius is my favorite lyrics site, it's a shame they have to do crap like this.

i dont see how they can beat azlyrics and metrolyrics in SEO. I've been using them for over a decade

You would be surprised at the volume of true organic links a site like rap genius could generate due to the fact it's actually link-able.

RapGenius is cool, people share it. Azlyrics is not cool. (In my best Justin Timberlake voice)

You're very spot on here. I wrote a post a year ago on RapGenius and their SEO: http://moz.com/blog/how-i-would-do-seo-for-rap-genius

I have recommended RapGenius. I have not recommended any other site.

"growth hack" lol

That's whack!

Growth Hacks Gone Wild!

Eww. A quote by a rap singer comes to mind:

  Cuz if you go platinum, it's got nothing to do with luck
  It just means that a million people are stupid as fuck
-- Immortal Technique


I'm more disappointed RG considers Bieber "rock"

Their "rock" site is a total joke. Searched for my favorite band, nothing at all. I'll stick with plyrics.com.

Uhm, it's literally brand new. Everyone's gotta start somewhere. You can add the lyrics easily. Calling it a joke is a bit rude.

I feel like the title is looking for drama where there is not. Anyone who has had to deal with growth knows that you need backlinks to get a higher rank in Google.

Sponsored blog posts are a thing since blog has been a thing.

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