Many have noted that 2014 was a bad year for lyrics websites, but contributor Glenn Gabe set out to quantify the impact of search engines displaying song lyrics directly in the results pages. In early February, I published a case study detailing the impact of song lyrics being presented directly in the Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
As you can guess, lyrics hitting the SERPs is potentially a game-changer for the song lyrics niche, which has faced a number of tough Google obstacles in 2014.
Those obstacles included the infamous April 2014 algorithm update that pummeled a number of prominent lyrics sites, as well as Google Panda, which continually caused problems throughout the year (and still keeps lyrics website owners up at night).
Although the 2014 algorithmic obstacles were tough to deal with, there was another big shift about to happen. It’s one thing to deal with algorithm updates, but it’s another to compete with the Knowledge Graph. As you can guess, major search engines competing with you can absolutely limit downstream traffic — and when your revenue is advertising-based, less traffic means less revenue.
Since the spring of 2014, I’ve been helping several large-scale lyrics websites deal with the various algorithm updates mentioned earlier. I spoke with my clients to see if I could analyze the impact to their organic search traffic based on lyrics hitting the SERPs. Initially, three of my clients let me analyze the situation and include their data in the case study I published a few weeks ago. Combined, the sites have over eight million web pages indexed, drive over 35 million visits per month from Google organic, and drive close to three million visits from Bing organic — so I had a lot of data to play with. My first job was to analyze the impact of Google providing lyrics in the SERPs, which rolled out on December 19, 2014.
Identify the impact to both desktop and mobile traffic from Google organic in the United States. Based on heavily analyzing the three (now five) large-scale lyrics sites, you could see a significant impact when using the criteria above. It’s important to note that Google is pretty restrictive query-wise for when it provides lyrics in the SERPs. A lot of people don’t realize it, but Bing beat Google to the punch with providing lyrics directly in the SERPs. I dug into the Bing organic data the best I could using the tools available to better understand the impact of Bing providing lyrics in the search results.
I’ll start by explaining the SERP treatment in Bing and then cover my findings based on analyzing the five large-scale lyrics websites. Bing started with about 500,000 songs and explained that it would grow that number over time. Before I provide my findings, I wanted to quickly explain the differences in SERP treatment for lyrics between Google and Bing. For Bing, the lyrics are initially collapsed and don’t take up a ton of SERP real estate. Bing, on the other hand, is ready and willing to provide the full lyrics directly in the SERPs and is monetizing the lyrics in other ways. For example, there are often links in the right sidebar to buy songs on Xbox Music, iTunes, and Amazon MP3.
Here is a sample of Bing providing both the video and the lyrics in one shot when searching just for the song title. As with the Google analysis I performed, I needed to isolate organic traffic from the United States only since lyrics in Bing have only rolled out in the U.S.
There’s also the song limitation issue, where only certain songs are yielding lyrics in the SERPs due to licensing restrictions. I was able to accomplish all of this for Google, which was great; however, Bing provided some challenges at getting certain data. When analyzing the Bing impact, I could use a similar approach of using Google Analytics segments to isolate Bing organic traffic from the United States for both desktop and mobile. Additionally, Bing still passes keyword referral data to Google Analytics, so I could see the drop to specific pages in the reporting, in addition to drops for specific queries (all in one place).
However, in Bing Webmaster Tools, the functionality for slicing and dicing search query data isn’t as strong as Google Webmaster Tools.

For example, I could easily use a filter in Google Webmaster Tools to isolate data from the United States.
Since lyrics only rolled out in the Bing SERPs and not Yahoo (yet), it was important to isolate search query data from Bing only. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I couldn’t slice and dice Bing Webmaster Tools data.
I analyzed several timeframes and compared the data to prior levels — for example, three weeks out from lyrics hitting the SERPs, eight weeks out, twelve weeks out, etc. Based on segmenting both desktop and mobile Bing organic traffic data from the United States, there were many examples demonstrating the impact of lyrics being displayed directly in the SERPs.
Similar to what I saw with Google, the impact could be seen across many queries and song pages. Again, I wasn’t able to isolate impressions data for the United States and just from Bing, but there were many examples of traffic dropping to songs that now yield lyrics in the SERPs. The good news for lyrics websites is that this is only in the United States (for now) and only for certain songs (due to licensing restrictions). This is not only a threat to lyrics websites, but also to YouTube, where lyrics videos are a huge draw. Based on analyzing five large-scale lyrics websites, you could clearly see the impact from song lyrics hitting the SERPs. Beyond lyrics sites, if you own a website providing data that could be consumed by Google’s Knowledge Graph or Bing’s Knowledge Repository, this should be a wake-up call.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, is a digital marketing veteran with over 20 years of experience. SMX Advanced, the only conference designed for experienced search marketers, returns to Seattle June 22-23. Trying to find examples of musical lyrics being used in visual artworks (painting, print, film, etc). I immediately thought of Peter Blake to see if he'd done anything along those lines, but the pickings are slim - perhaps because of the copyright problems involved. Also of interest - any 'visual reenactments' of lyrics that aren't what we ancients used to refer to as music videos. There's a site called My Favorite Typo' Music where people create typographically based art pieces using song lyrics. Ask MetaFilter is a question and answer site that covers nearly any question on earth, where members help each other solve problems.
It’s just another example of the search engines providing direct answers to questions.
This time, it would be Google’s Knowledge Graph and Bing’s Satori presenting new challenges, as both search engines started providing lyrics directly in the SERPs in the fall of 2014.
Each search engine has its own unique take on providing lyrics in the search results, which I’ll cover in this post. Of course, just as a number of those sites recovered traffic-wise (in the summer and fall of 2014), song lyrics began hitting the SERPs.
Some sites saw a drop of 60%+ from Google organic due to Panda or the April 2014 update, only to recover and then face lyrics in the SERPs.
After that case study was published, two more lyrics websites also agreed to let me analyze their traffic and use their data for my research.
My initial case study provides all of the findings, but I’ll include a quick summary below. Only certain songs yield lyrics in the search results due to licensing restrictions, so it was important to segment those songs to identify the impact. You can read my case study to learn more about the process I used and the filters I set up.
It was clear that many users were getting what they needed by viewing lyrics in the search results instead of traveling downstream for more information about the song, artist, etc.
Bing rolled out that functionality in early October, while Google rolled it out in late December.

There are definitely differences between how Google and Bing trigger and display lyrics, so I was extremely interested in seeing how the traffic differences matched up. Lyrics hit the search results only in the United States, and only for certain songs (again, due to licensing restrictions). It was only for Bing proper and not Yahoo — remember, Bing drives Yahoo search (both organic and paid), but Yahoo does not provide lyrics in the SERPs yet. How the lyrics are presented can absolutely impact subsequent traffic from the engines, so it’s important to point this out.
Google provides most of the lyrics directly in the SERPs (revealing most of the lyrics from the start). From what I can tell, Bing is only monetizing the Xbox Music transactions since Xbox is owned by Microsoft.
Bing still requires you to click the “See more” link, but Google simply provides the lyrics in the SERPs. Some of the lyrics sites I analyzed have over 60% of their traffic from mobile devices now, so the mobile treatment is extremely important. That wasn’t a problem and would surface queries and pages that saw significant changes in traffic once lyrics hit the SERPs.
Sure, you have six months of data to play with, which is great, but I was trying to isolate Bing data from the United States only.
Bing providing lyrics directly in the SERPs seemed to have a strong impact on downstream traffic to the lyrics websites I analyzed. But again, that could change if Bing expands lyrics in the SERPs to other countries and for more songs. And of course, Spotify is one level up the food chain from Google and Bing — in other words, if users get what they need directly in Spotify, there’s no need to search Google or Bing to find lyrics. Time will tell how this ends up for the lyrics niche, but for now, the limited rollout is keeping the drop in traffic at bay. You need to start thinking beyond basic data, start building out killer functionality that others don’t have, build a strong community of users, and explore new areas of technology, devices, and services.
Glenn currently helps clients maximize their online marketing efforts via Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Social Advertising, Social Media Marketing, and Web Analytics.
So, not looking for a discussion of the copright problems, just those few examples where someone may have gone ahead anyway.
Video is simply scrolling lyrics presented in different typography over a minimalist background. For example, would users simply get what they needed from the SERPs and move on, or would they still visit lyrics sites for more information? So in total, I heavily analyzed five large-scale lyrics websites to determine the impact of song lyrics hitting the search results. But just wait until you see lyrics in the mobile Google SERPs — they take up the entire screen! The lyrics-seeking audience skews heavily mobile, so understanding the impact to both desktop and mobile was important. When you combine the traffic from all five sites I analyzed, Bing organic drives close to three million visits per month. You can then visit Google Play for the full lyrics — and of course, you can listen to or buy the song right there.
Then, I wanted to isolate desktop and mobile traffic to see the impact for both (separately). Also, the data for the Search Keyword report in Bing Webmaster Tools contains combined data from Bing and Yahoo. It’s definitely a fluid situation and it will be very interesting to track this over time. During the past 20 years, Glenn has assisted clients across a wide range of industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), e-commerce retailers, startups, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, military, education, non-profits, online auctions, real estate, and publishing. And how extreme of a drop in traffic would the sites experience (across both Google and Bing)?

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