Rap Genius Searches for New Traffic Tactic After Google Slap

Ready to launch app attack, recruit brands

It’s a good thing Rap Genius has an app coming out next week, because it just lost more than half its typical mobile Web traffic thanks to Google. 

Rapper Nas in a Fila headband

Rap Genius has been in battle mode for the past couple days. Google penalized the site —where people go for musical lyrics and other media—over apparent violations of its search engine code of conduct, involving link kickbacks.

Rap Genius revealed its own search scandal by publicly soliciting bloggers to post links to the site in exchange for tweets. It’s not arms for drugs, but Google takes any system gaming seriously.

Today, if a person searched Google for “Rap genius,” its website was nowhere to be found—the equivalent of online annihilation. Rap Genius, which has raised $15 million from venture capital heavyweights like Andreessen Horowitz and counts about 40 million unique visitors a month—saw its traffic drop about 64 percent today following Google’s downgrade, according to Quantcast data.

Most of that traffic comes from the mobile Web, which makes the company’s app next week an even more important launch. It was unclear how long Google would suppress the company’s results, but JCPenney was once penalized in search rankings for 90 days. Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

“The app will make us less dependent on Google,” co-founder Mohbod Moghadam said. “Everyone is screaming for an app.”

One of the major features of the app, built for the iPhone, is a song detector that calls up lyrics to whatever is being played through speakers—using Shazam-like technology.

With more than half of Rap Genius users visiting on mobile, the founders hope that the app will be the gateway to the site instead of Google. It’s part of a broader strategy that only has been made more urgent by the Google punishment.

Moghadam said that Rap Genius has more than 1 million registered users, but that’s only a small fraction of total visits. The company hopes to convert those lurkers—just passing through—into sign-ups.

Rap Genius is known for more than posting hip-hop lyrics, and the site has expanded into categories like rock music, art, news, fashion and poetry. It allows users to add publicly edited and ranked annotations within the content. For instance, famous singers could explain their lyrics by posting notes within each line.

Moghadam revealed some of the more advanced visions he has for the app, including allowing famous people to upload video clip annotations—about 10-seconds long—directly from mobile devices.

He said he also is petitioning brands to create verified accounts. The platform is moving beyond text into images that might be suitable for fashion content.

Rap Genius already is exploring the concept of sponsored or promoted annotations. The clothing maker Fila, for instance, posted a photo within a post about Nas lyrics in which the rapper mentions the brand. Moghadam said he is going after other brands like Karl Lagerfeld and Hublot.

They are also working on annotation platforms that are powered by Rap Genius but exported to other publishing sites.

Moghadam said he wouldn’t comment any further on the search engine troubles. However, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, a site dedicated to the industry, said he was unsure Rap Genius even broke the rules.

Google would likely restore the rank shortly, he said.

“Google can’t do more than wrist-slap them for that,” Sullivan said in an email. “People searching for ‘Rap Genius’ expect—and should get—the actual site coming up first.”