Stating the obvious of "traffic drops when Google penalizes you" seems like a "sun rose again today"-type story.
Moreover, I think many people are upset with the scope of Google's punishment. De-weighting RG is one thing, nuking it into the ground is entirely different, and is in my opinion unwarranted. Even searching directly for the name of the site does not yield any Rap Genius results.
If I type "Rap Genius" into Google, I am justified in expecting Rap Genius to be the first result. Period. When Google goes out of its way to effectively expunge a site from existence (to the extent that Google can expunge a site), they are doing a massive disservice to their users and are degrading the quality of their search results.
There is no reason that a response of this magnitude by Google is justified, and by issuing such a draconian response, Google has lessened the usability of their product and done a disservice to their users.
The whole point of this penalty is that Google cannot trust the signals that are in its index when it comes to Rap Genius's site. And it sure isn't Google's fault that they can't.
Can Google subtract out all the "naughty stuff" and decide if Rap Genius deserves to even be on the front page for "rap genius" anymore? I doubt it.
If Google's search had a category for "obvious searches" then yes, maybe they could apply a penalty as delicately as possible. But delicateness is not really the point. Dropping them down 50 spots is blunt and simple. I think everything about this approach makes sense.
Necessary reminder that Google does whatever the fuck they want with their service, and that no one is in a position to expect anything. Does it suck? Yes. Is it a predictable outcome of the free market on which Silicon Valley and the tech industry in General is built? You bet.
If the impact wasn't significant, it wouldn't be a disincentive to engage in black hat SEO.
> There is no reason that a response of this magnitude by Google is justified
Yes, there are reasons. The reasons are "specific deterrence" and "general deterrence".
This topic is interesting because it shows how much in a monopoly status google really is in in controlling where traffic goes on the net.
Google's search team has been famously resistant to any influence by Google's sales/marketing teams on ranking decisions. Search quality gave rise to the 'golden goose', after all, and the self-conception of the team, and its individual members, is based on independence from purely money-grubbing considerations.
But I wonder, what happens when Google's antitrust lawyers came to the ranking team, and say: "soften this penalty [or otherwise tweak these quality-rankings], because otherwise we'll be in more trouble with regulators or leave too much evidence of market-power."
Could the search team still say, "buzz off, we're sticking to what we know from the numbers is what's best for our users"? Or does keeping regulators happy, and avoiding smoking-gun fact-patterns, trump everything? I suspect it often will, because of the unique risks of state enforcement and appearing unlawful. It's also easier to rationalize "we're sacrificing our own idea of what's best because the law seems to require it" (even if the actual risk is fuzzy before losing in a formal legal process) than "we're doing this to make the guys over in ads/mobile/etc a bit more money this quarter".
Well when you describe it like that, makes me think antitrust laws are just silly. Isn't the job of a company to be the best and beat their competition?
And that's before considering the contractual defaults across software (Firefox/toolbars/bundleware) and subsidized hardware (Android), that few people change. (Many don't even know it can be changed, or don't even know the difference between "Google" and "the Internet"!)
Those are all big barriers to entry, even if they've been earned by excellent technology and business strategy.
Again everything you are saying is because of superior product/employees and innovation. Your entire argument is based off no one else can come up with a better product so lets punish them
Google's dominant position constitutes a 'monopoly' and 'monopoly market power', in a common understanding of those words, and in the senses often used by economists and regulators. Their search market has very high 'barriers to entry', in terms of costs-to-compete, ability-to-reach-customers, returns-to-scale, and network-effects. (Separate from all the specific things I mentioned which make it extremely hard for entrants to get a foothold, you can also just look at the profits. Whenever there are big profits, there are business 'moats', or else someone else would grab a bunch of those profits themselves.)
This makes them a likely target of government antitrust action – an observation which is true whether or not such antitrust laws, and related enforcement actions, are a good idea or not. Again, I'm interested in accurately describing what exists, not making moral or policy judgements.
Qwiki? Really? They never offered ranked search, abandoned their 'visual explainer' product long ago, and are now part of Yahoo with their multimedia storytelling app.
DDG, Blekko, and all search sites other than Google/Bing/Yahoo/Aol/Ask are together less than 0.3%-1% of the US market. And yet this market is wildly profitable for Google – and almost no one else. (Bing, the distant 2nd-place, has lost hundreds of millions every quarter since 2007.) That's not an indication of vibrant easy-entry competition: one company dominates market-share and profits, and the number of competitors and new entrants have been declining over time.
By the way, the founder of your 'compete easily' example Blekko also disagrees with your assessment, and has since the outset of Blekko. In this 2007 post he describes how it's impossible to compete for market share head-on with Google due to its "immense and amazing power" in a "winner-take-all market":
I think this sums it up perfectly. Theres plenty of competition just no one can compete because google offers a superior product. As soon as google offers an inferior product or a competitor offers a better product people will abandon ship. They do nothing anti-competitive nor blocking entrants into the market.
Companies will do business where the users are. The minute there is a better product or users abandon google, those same people you listed will leave as well. So maybe we should go after Facebook for destroying MySpace as well ? The entire argument is based on the fact that Google offers a superior product and should punish them for this.
Does it? I mean, is there any reason to believe that Rap Genius is typical in their degree of dependence on Google here?
You can monopolize an market by popularity, and thus create a monopoly. However, monopoly and popularity is not the same word.
As for "excluding competitors", Google is having a tough time with antitrust regulators in the EU for exactly that. For a more obvious example, see their shenanigans with YouTube and Windows Phone.
They are quite apprehensive of the degree of even-handedness that is at play in the valley. They suspect an air of nuanced in-group favoritism, within startups here, that help propel some and sink others.
Hopefully these kind of actions (on behalf of Google) help dispel such notions.
Those penalties hurt a lot of good people!
Anyways, this one is a bit more complex than how much the penalty hurts, rather it's because, a well known and well funded start-up adopted shoddy traffic building practices that were unacceptable years ago, got caught and then had swift and targeted judgement bestowed upon them.
However much people understand that sometimes business needs to be conducted in a grey area, there is a certain amount of satisfaction when the system catches up and behaves fairly.
What RapGenius (also a legitimate site in the sense that they're not scammers and providing an useful service) did wasn't just unwanted behaviour but specifically forbidden. And yes, they're far from alone in what they did. Which is exactly why Google is making an example out of them.
I know, it sucks, all your competitors doing similar things forces you to choose between taking this risk and never making it in the first place. But that's exactly why it's a good thing Google is making a stand and setting an example.
It's a move towards a level playing field where nobody is making the internet a worse place by engaging in tricks like link farming rather than a level playing field where everyone is doing it and the end user suffers the consequences.
Their affect is another example of cultural appropriation of "urban" culture by three very affluent guys (Stanford & Yale grads), which I think turns a lot of people off, including myself. As someone who genuinely grew up in that culture, it is painfully cringe worthy and just sad to see people who have no background in it adopt it. Their Disrupt interview was a genuine display of the generally awkward douchebaggery that comes from that appropriation.
So when I see folks like this do poorly because of arrogance, it is indeed schadenfreude.
It's one of the clearest examples of cultural appropriation and exploitation by a corporation. Really fucking disgusting.
Imagine if an American corporation wants to sell vacations to Mexico, and as a publicity stunt the CEO dresses up like a latino stereotype and adopts a Spanish accent.
This is how the Rap Genius douchebags-in-chief come off. Racist fuckheads.
Where the especially peeved choose to spend their attention (and comments and upvotes) can make lots of people or companies seem like community bete noires – even if most of the HN audience thinks the targets are fine or even admirable, but just has less energy for anti-carping.
The original link that was deleted was this
Think about the fact that there's a human in the loop, and that it's a plug or tit-for-tat. The ways that companies actually do SEO 'within the rules' is way, way worse than that.
Also as a consumer I have only been on their site < 10 times but I loved it each time. It is an actual benefit for them to gain ranking. They have a real service, and a good one.
It also seems quite genuine, from the tone of the email. Totally normal.
You might think I have some association with rapgenius, but I don't: my only association is that the handful of times I got to their site, I was absolutely thankful and totally surprised at the quality of the result.
By contrast, there is a good chance there are textual quotations I've searched for where I missed good commentary there that I would have appreciatied.
All of these aspects, especially above-all the fact that consumers are happy when they do get to the rapgenius site, that combine to make this story very interesting to me.
I see rapgenius as the good guys, and very honest, in their attempt to gain additional exposure on real content.
Who knows maybe because they are a well funded YC company Google decided to make an example out of them and won't forgive them so quickly.
So if your traffic is 1.5M uniques and drops to .5 uniques, then your revenue may also have just dropped 66%. If you were staffed to be cash flow positive at your previous traffic rate, you now find yourself burning cash at an alarming rate. Your response, dictated by your reserves, is either lay off a bunch of people to curb your burn rate, or delay your accounts payable, or both. If this happens at an 'inconvienient' time, it can sour acquisitions in process, or deals with initial outlays, to be blunt it can kill you.
So then here is the thing, Google has no good way of knowing how you got to your organic ranking. There is no 'what is the rank of this place without these links' sorts of computations. So there isn't a good way to judge. But judge they must, lest others abuse their algorithm, and so they do so.
Now lets speculate that they kill off Rap Genius. Overall what does that do? Who does it help? Is it justice?
Lots of thorny ethical questions, not many good answers. And no way to make restitution. A sad place to be.
When the penalty is taken care of - they may be sitting in a better position than they were previously.
But given that their traffic is maybe off two-thirds now and that it is unknown how long google will leave the lights on (weeks, maybe months), during which time this will be long-flushed out of the news cycle and it becomes harder and harder to recover, and harder to secure things like more capital when you look this stupid, that's a high-risk bet. I'd say sabotage is more likely.
The problem is how much power Google holds over most of the web. You game the results and they turn their attention on you? Congrats, you're wiped out.
Essentially, there's a very blurry line between 'growth hacking' and 'being annihilated by Google' and no-one's really sure where it is. That's what's interesting here.
Except in the cases where the line isn't blurry, i.e. the well-defined set of rules about which G has repeatedly said "we'll penalize you for ignoring these!" Unfortunately the tactic RG used wasn't a blurry-line grey-area tactic, it was one G clearly said don't use.
I find it incredibly interesting to know just how hard they got hit. I find it interesting that maybe someone from rap genius will be in these comments providing some extra context and insight.
Can you explain why you care if other people discuss a topic you don't think is "worthy" of discussion? You know you can ignore the story and look at the entire rest of the front page, right?
I thought there might be a piece to this story that I was missing. I gained a lot of value from the replies to my question (esp. the conversation spawned from @snowwrestler's comment.)
>You know you can ignore the story and look at the entire rest of the front page, right?
You didn't really need this in your comment. It was a bit of snark that devalued your otherwise justified response.
No it wasn't. Comments like yours are peppered throughout HN and Reddit, and the answer is always the same: the users found it interesting. It's a democratic voting system -- get over it.
RapGenius is a YC company and always seems to get attention on HN whenever there is some kind of perceived grievance against the company. Whether it's Google or Heroku, there's always a lot of screaming and shouting.
Edit: Google Trends for 'lyrics' the past month http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=lyrics&date=today%201...
A lot of people get new albums from the holidays and would want to look up lyrics.
1) The site itself isn't actually half bad, especially when compared to other lyrics sites.
2) They're a YC company, and took money from other big investors. This automatically makes them high-profile on places like HN.
3) The founders often publically act like douchebags, write emails with bad spelling, and generally seem to think that being cool is the most important part of running a startup. I suspect that this is just for show, but still, many people want to see them fail because of this. This article is about them failing, so it gets upvoted by those people.
I think their affects do set a bad standard for tech founders, and just how people behave in general and those attitudes spread into how they run their business.
I can envision other future founders looking at these guys as successful and thinking, "yea that is how I have to act to make it big." In a similar way that The Game and all that has influenced dating, I think these guys applied some of that to the startup/hip/rap thing which in my opinion is detrimental and smacks of trying too hard, especially when they are all very well placed, affluent people.
Add to that the fact that they genuinely did shady things (regardless of whatever anyone else did) and the bullshit wears off even more. So maybe someone who is coming up will think twice about behaving similarly in all aspects.
The founders put on a public face to create reactions in audience members. Some of those positive, and that's no doubt what they are seeking. Some of those are negative, and while that may not be what they are seeking (although I suspect that, given their actual target market, the negative reactions of those outside of the targeted culture are just as intended as the positive reactions), those are no less legitimate than the positive ones.
The real story is that Google is incompetent and incapable of identifying these sorts of things unless a company is called out publicly on it. No wonder their search results are increasingly a disaster zone.
Does that word have any meaning at all anymore? It seems like everyone who isn't an amazing brilliant self-made billionaire is incompetent. Oh wait, I forgot, we were discussing the incompetence of a bunch of amazing brilliant self-made billionaires... So I guess it's everybody now.
In the words of DMX, stop being greedy: http://rapgenius.com/Dmx-stop-being-greedy-lyrics
Also, as of right now they aren't showing up on google for "stop being greedy rap genius" https://www.google.com/search?q=stop+being+greedy+rap+genius
Yeah, yeah, yeah (Grrrr)
Uh, Yeah don't get it twisted
This rap shit, is mine
In this case, then, the numbers are likely to be quite accurate.
1. ComScore (or one of their competitors) makes up a small number and tells advertisers that's your traffic
2. Advertisers believe them
3. You call up ComScore and say, "WTF?"
4. ComScore says, "Well, if you don't like the numbers we're reporting, you can just add our tracking bug to your site"
And then you're in a position where you either have to betray your users' privacy by putting a third-party tracker on every page you serve, or have your traffic stats dramatically underrepresented to the advertisers you rely on.
We hear all the time that it's not good business practice to rely on someone else's service to drive one's business (building a Facebook app as a business, etc.), but how many of us include Google search results in the mix?
Here is some drastic example I found recently (thin/spammy content penalty I guess):
From 14,000,000 uniques a month down to ~80 a day :D But obviously Google still has work to do, since that site made a lot of money within that 1-2 months period.
Well, thats intersting...