How Did Thumbtack Get Out Of The SEO Penalty Box?

June 16th, 2015

This is Thumbtack

The SEM Post and Search Engine Land are both reporting that Thumbtack.com has experienced a seemingly complete recovery after receiving a manual link hammer to the head from Google (they don’t like the term “penalty”) which rendered the site all but invisible in Google’s SERPs. Jennifer Slegg goes into great detail speculating as to what Thumbtack may or may not have done to earn their get out jail free card so I am not going to dig into this one too deeply. In fact I would put money on the answer being pretty simple:

  • Thumbtack has three main sources of backlinks: Quid-pro-quo links from Thumbtack advertisers, links from advertisers trying to push their Thumbtack profiles to the top of the SERPs, and links from PR-related activities.
  • The “quid-pro-quo” links from its advertisers were likely the source of Google’s ire as they were the ones actively pursued by Thumbtack in a clear attempt to game rankings. Spammy links from advertisers, while problematic, are not uncommon with most local directory sites and in general not at the scale where they can affect the rankings of a large site.
  • Thumbtack most likely had a comprehensive list of the QPQ advertiser links. They asked for them after all.
  • While Jennifer provides proof that Thumbtack had contacted its advertisers to try to get these links nofollowed and/or taken down, the reality is that in most cases such an effort would take a long time to be effective.
  • Given that Thumbtack likely knew the source of 99% of its problematic links, I am putting my money on them submitting a pretty large, precise disavowal file and it working.

Now it’s totally possible that Google coached them on what to do and/or was on the lookout for them and prioritized the review and recovery of the site. But since I am a blogger prone to provocation, let’s stick with the alternate reality that presumes Google did not have it’s finger on the scale. If that is the case, here’s what I think went down:

  • In cases where a client has received a manual action and we knew about the majority of the problematic links (built by the previous SEOs natch), comprehensive link removal and or disavowal resulted in almost complete recovery in less than a week after we submitted the disavowal file.
  •  Jennifer’s analysis suggests that Thumbtack had been actively trying to remove links. Google has stated in the past they like to see a little effort:

But even if the disavowal worked, how did Thumbtack seemingly recover completely when their link scheme had been devalued?

Outside of perhaps Yelp, I would argue that there has been no local service directory that has leveraged “content marketing”/PR as successfully as Thumbtack has to generate backlinks. Their annual “Small Business Friendliness Survey” has been extremely effective to that end. It has been a link-generating PR machine, with national and regional news outlets regularly covering it for the past three years. Here are but a few of the juicy links, links btw that go both to the “national” survey results URL and the local results URLs for states and cities, creating quite an effective flow of “PageRank” to its geo pages:


So perhaps Thumbtack didn’t need those links from their advertisers after all. Just a theory. Feel free to troll it.

→ 14 CommentsTags: Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Google My Business Locations Down To Two Categories?

June 9th, 2015

This morning we noticed Google My Business Locations starting to toss “error” messages whenever you are saving a location that has more then two categories.

Here is a location with no errors when saved (and only two categories):
GMB Locations Allowing 2 Categories
And here is what it looks like when you add a third category:
GMB Location with 3rd Category


Tested this across a couple of accounts (including ones where multiple categories make the most sense for the business e.g. multiple brand auto dealerships) and saw the same issue. Not really sure what is going on but it may be a few things:

  • A reduction in the number of allowed categories
  • Google applying rules about which categories are the most specific for a vertical
  • A glitch

Anybody else seeing this across there GMB locations account?


→ 10 CommentsTags: Google My Business
Posted by Dan Leibson

Thumbtack’s Teachable SEO Moment

June 9th, 2015

Thumbtack meme

Source: Memeswithtypos.com

It’s kind of big news in the Local SEO biz that Thumbtack.com* has received a manual action penalty from Google for unnatural linkbuilding. If you study Thumbtack’s backlink profile or read some of the articles on the subject, you can see that perhaps parts of their backlink strategy may have gotten them into trouble, which is really too bad because the start-up had been quite effective at using PR to drive both national and local links and generate buzz.

SPonge Bob Thumbtack

I am not going to delve into the particulars of their penalty or the typical controversy surrounding SEO and sites that have received investments from Google. Instead I thought it would be interesting to look at two of the oddities around Thumbtack’s branded SERPs to get a better idea of how Google’s different algorithms are connected, or in this case, not connected.

“Thumbtack” Desktop SERP

Thumbtack Knowledge Panel

Click to enlarge

The site no longer appears for brand queries for “thumbtack” but Thumbtack’s Knowledge Panel shows up. This suggests that the backlink algo is independent of the algo that drives Knowledge Panel results. This makes me think that Knowledge Panels are driven mostly if not entirely by brand queries and have nothing to do with backlinks/domain authority. I wonder how many clicks this Knowledge Panel gets from people searching for the service?  Enough to counter the lost traffic from the organic section? And while I realize this is a minor use case, isn’t this kind of domain suppression counter to Google’s intent to do what’s best for users? I mean I searched for “thumbtack” and I want me some god-damned local professional services not a Google News result with some weird site called “Search Engine Land” at the top.


Also of note in this SERP is that the Manual Action algo may not alter the Adwords Quality Score as Thumbtack is able to buy their way on via AdWords. Hooray for commerce.

“Thumbtack” Mobile SERP

Thumbtack.com Mobile SERP

Click to enlarge

Just as intriguing, a mobile query for “thumbtack” still displays the Thumbtack app in the SERPs. So again, we can see the potential disconnect between backlinks and app results. Given that their website is not appearing, I wonder if this has the effect of driving more app downloads? And more app downloads most likely means increased visibility in both the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. And more app downloads also means less of a reliance on SEO for users – I know, I know, you always need more organic visits – but still, is this maybe a win for Thumbtack?

I am sure the team at Thumbtack is having no fun this week, but isn’t it always the right time for a teachable SEO moment?


*Full Disclosure: On occasion Local SEO Guide may or may not have done SEO consulting for Thumbtack.

→ 6 CommentsTags: Google · Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Local Directories UnDoorwayed…

June 1st, 2015

When SEO Roundtable reported that Google had fixed a problem with the Local algorithm, I checked some of the local directories that I had earlier reported had been doorwayed and lo and behold:


(Click to enlarge)

So Google taketh away and Google giveth back…for now…

→ 2 CommentsTags: Google
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Welcome to Google Webmasters Search Console Tools Central!

May 29th, 2015

It’s really important to update your <title> tags when re-launching or re-branding a site

It helps create a better search experience, and decreases confusion related to your branding. For example, oDesk recently rebranded and relaunched their site as UpWork:


Their <title> tags are properly updated and there is no disconnect when you do a branded search. This is something that all big brands with top notch SEO’s do, right?

Hey Google Update Your <title> Tags!

Wrong, in fact some of the biggest companies get it totally wrong.


I know Matt Cutts is still on leave, but you would think someone on the web spam team would think to update their own title tags. I  mean, they do have a thing or two to say about them.

Also, it’s important to update the text on your login screen:

GWT err I Meant GSC

Honestly $GOOG, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you are trying.

Comments Off on Welcome to Google Webmasters Search Console Tools Central!Tags: Google
Posted by Dan Leibson