By NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES | Dec 27, 2013
On Tuesday, the song-lyric site RapGenius attracted nearly 650,000 visitors, according to research firm Quantcast. On Wednesday, traffic fell by nearly two-thirds, to fewer than 225,000 visitors.
The difference? Search-engine titan Google changed how RapGenius would show up in its search results. By Wednesday, RapGenius’s home page did not appear until the sixth page of results to the search “rapgenius.”
The move appeared to be a response to RapGenius’s attempt to boost its search standing by asking blogs to insert links to its site in return for traffic-driving tweets. It stirred debate across the Web, and recalled previous incidents of Google penalizing sites for what it considers to be “gaming” of its search algorithm. Past victims include Overstock, JCPenney.com and lesser-known destinations such as Backlinks, Ghost Rank and BuildMyRank.com.
RapGenius apologized in a blog post for having “fallen short in terms of making sure that the links people post are natural.” The company did not respond to requests for further comment.
But the discussion so far mostly overlooked a central question: Just how does Google punish such Web spammers?
Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, suggests two possibilities.
Google manually makes the offender appear lower in search rankings for a specified period, often 90 days, but sometimes as long as a year.
Google changes its search algorithm to recognize and penalize types of websites, such as sites that scrape news stories from other sites and republish them without any original content. These sites would appear lower in rankings unless Google changes its algorithm again, or the sites changes their practices.
In the case of RapGenius, Sullivan thinks Google took the manual approach, and the penalty will be relatively short-lived.
But Google could also pose a long-term threat to RapGenius, and other lyric sites, Sullivan says. “It’s probably only a matter of time before Google serves up lyrics on its own as it does today when you search for the weather, or a sports score.”
SOURCE: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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