Google did a high profile manual penalty of the popular website Rap Genius this week. Rap Genius is a (shockingly) well funded website that allows individuals to make annotations on song lyrics. This blog post provides a summary of what Rap Genius did and how you can avoid similar actions.
First, they were unlucky. The SEO tactic they used was pretty benign, probably wouldn’t have worked, and has been used in various forms for 10+ years. They got caught because someone decided to write an article about it which was then forwarded to Google’s web spam team. It’s also not clear if they were penalized before they admitted to trying to game Google or only after they spilled their beans. What’s more interesting is that if they didn’t get caught by a manual action they would have gotten caught by an algorithmic action which would have been even worse. So they may have actually lucked out and getting the penalty now is probably better for them in the long run.
Rap Genius asked for website owners to back link to a lyrics on RapGenius.com. Where they ran into problems was they offered a tweet back to the person that linked to Rap Genius. According to Rap Geniuses founders this ran afoul of Google Guidelines which state that it is a violation if you:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
Its not entirely clear that they actually violated Google Guidelines. Nevertheless, they said they did; then they were penalized. Google hasn’t made an official comment yet.
1. Don’t write an open letter to Google saying that you violated their guidelines when you don’t know that you did for sure. Get setup in Webmaster Tools and see what they say first.
2. Spend some money on Adwords. What? Well, if you have a decent spend on Adwords you get an Adwords rep. Adwords reps generally do care about their clients. If one of their client’s gets penalized they can at least get you an answer on what you did wrong because sometimes it really isn’t clear what you did to get a manual penalty. You still might be SOL but it helps speed the penalty removal process up.
3. Don’t provide anything for a link i.e. “exchange for them writing about it” in particular money.
4. If you’re doing a widget e.g. Rap Genius’ lyric widget at the very least create random anchor text in your links. With this type of tactic you’re best off doing no link at all or doing an image link. This is where Rap Genius would have gotten hit by an algorithmic penalty. Exact match anchor text links are terrible post Penguin. Even good anchor text diversity can be bad if the links are from really crappy websites which I suspect many of Rap Geniuses users have.
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