As a popular (or should that be once-popular) lyrics website has found out, Google is the almighty power on the Internet. And it is not to be crossed.
It all started when Rap Genius, a service that lets users look up lyrics and discuss their meaning, tried to bend the rules. The site posted a message on Facebook asking bloggers to become affiliates - if the bloggers promoted Rap Genius's Google ranking by linking to its coverage of a new Justin Bieber album, Rap Genius would promote their blogs on social media.
Google was not impressed. The exact details of how Google orders its results are a closely guarded secret, but the number of links to a site are a significant factor. The more links, the bigger a site must be, and the higher it should appear in its results.
So when Google discovered a direct plan to artificially boost the number of links, it blacklisted the site: now it was not on the first page of search results, or the second but buried on the seventh page. To Google - and all who rely on it - Rap Genius was dead.
Rap Genius’ traffic soon plummeted and Twitter filled with users asking why the service had been deleted from the Internet.
What had happened? John Marbach was one blogger who answered the call from Rap Genius. A response from one of the sites co-founder’s, Mahbod Moghadam, said that Rap Genius would promote his blog through social media, if he posted a series of links to Rap Genius pages containing Justin Bieber lyrics - the idea being that more links there are back to the site, the more popular search engines will think it is.
Mr Marbach, realising the call was an attempt to boost its rankings on Google and other search engines, blogged about the ploy.
The post soon caught the attention of Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team. He decided this went against Google’s policy for promotion through linking and promptly penalised the site.
Admitting their blunder, the Rap Genius founders have now written an open letter apologising to Google for employing the scheme, and claim that they did not know it put them at odds with the search engine’s rules.
They also decided to help Google out by doing an investigation into their competitors, alleging that many exploit similar systems - and worse.
“We effed up, other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we’ll stop,” the team wrote. “We’d love for Google to take a closer look at the whole lyrics search landscape and see whether it can make changes that would improve lyric search results.”
The team now seem to be attempting to use the huge amount of media publicity that has come from the blacklisting to build their user base and get people signed up to the site.
“It's chill we are focused on people who sign up and come to the site direct,” the team recently wrote on Twitter.