Revisiting Rap Genius: Why link spam is more effective than ever

One of the most effective marketing tactics right now is to get your website penalized by Google. Land in the penalty box and write a blog post about it. Pitch it to the tech and marketing blogs. You might never have to worry about link building again if you are sensational enough.

I can think of a few examples of this off of the top of my head but there’s no greater instance of link penalties leading to a stronger business than RapGenius. RapGenius went from a niche, VC-backed lyrics site to being one of the most talked about sites on the entire web for a solid week.

It only took a few emails and a couple of days for their penalty to go away and for search traffic to bounce back.

I just checked rankings for the exact keywords they were caught building links for and rankings have never been better:

Justin Bieber Heartbreaker Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber All That Matters Lyrics -2
Justin Bieber Hold Tight Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Recovery Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Bad Day Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber All Bad Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber PYD Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Roller Coaster Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Change Me Lyrics – 3
Justin Bieber Confident Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber Memphis Lyrics – 2
Justin Bieber One Life Lyrics – 3

Yep…they are either in position 2 or 3 for every last keyword. The rest of their rankings? Better than ever (via SEMRush):


You could say that Google penalizing RapGenius was probably the best bit of marketing that has ever happened to them. They got free links and press from:

Search Engine Land
NY Times
The Motley Fool
Wall Street Journal

Their brand got an insane amount of free exposure:

I could go on and on but what’s the point. They are now a DA of 76 and have gotten more brand awareness than any traditional PR or marketing campaign could have ever earned.

Rap Genius wasn’t able to manipulate the search results the exact way they planned with their poorly planned Bieber outreach campaign, but the SEO impact they got from sending those emails has been far greater than that of classic link building tactic.

I’m wondering when some enterprising website will intentionally get their site penalized and then go public with it (Ask Inbound: OMG! we got penalized plz help). I’m not sure if anybody has tried it, but it should work if you execute it properly. It’s easy enough to get penalized when it only takes one borderline outbound link on your site.

Everybody keeps saying SEO is going to turn into PR, but they don’t mention you will be pitching your penalized site to major news publications. Obvious, outdated link schemes still work like a charm, just in a different way than they used to.

4 Comments Revisiting Rap Genius: Why link spam is more effective than ever

  1. Paul Jones

    While they don’t have to build out new links, they keep doing it at an alarming rate. This does seem to be the new go to piece, get busted, get the press to cover it and sit back and enjoy the new links. I am seeing the same with claims of negative SEO. Make wild unfounded claim, get talked and blogged about and bam, new links.

  2. Ricky Shah

    That’s why people say that negative marketing is also helpful in online world. You get lots of flame and blaming but that gives you some solid backlinks that you would never be able to earn by yourself.

  3. Pingback: Leaked: Thumbtack's Reconsideration Request To Google - Trevin Shirey

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