This is Thumbtack

The SEM Post and Search Engine Land are both reporting that 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.

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14 Response Comments

  • John  June 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    How did Thumbtack get out of the SEO penalty box? Google let them out. There’s zero chance in hell a company gets $100,000,000 investment and NOT have a contact that can help them more than the average small business. Likewise, if you gave someone $100,000,000 and another company you’re invested in shuts off 95% of their cash flow, you mean to tell me you’d sit on your hands and let them sink or swim? Will anyone ever admit this? Not unless they want to be sued and risk losing everything. Fact is Thumbtack has done some great stuff and not trying to take away from that, but they’re also doing more shady stuff (a little digging will make this apparent). I, for one, am surprised and disappointed at the lack of investigative journalism on Thumbtack and other Google-funded companies. They should receive much more scrutiny and be held to a much higher standard for that reason alone. And small businesses should be given more leeway since they have less knowledge, less funding, less resources, less connections. Once again, Google slaps small businesses in the face by talking out of both sides of its collective mouth and punishing small businesses while funding and providing preferential treatment to its own properties.

    • Andrew Shotland  June 16, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      John, please post an example or two of the shady stuff outside of the quid pro quo advertiser stuff.

      • Donnie  June 16, 2015 at 7:36 pm

        @Andrew find me two companies that use the same link scheme type strategies and got out of Google’s crap box 3 days after submission.

        And by crap box I’m not referring to their brand. I’m refering to pages they got rankings for with a link scheme.

        This just shows how important link building really is. Even Google uses link building schemes to rank on their own SERP.

        • Andrew Shotland  June 17, 2015 at 2:53 am

          A client was using an Israeli SEO firm that used a PBN to rank them for some pretty commercial terms. They got a manual action notice and were de indexed. They called me for help. I told them to get their SEOs to pull the links and do a disavow. They had the links down in 48 hours. They were reindexed and ranking well in less than 7 days. So it can happen.

  • John  June 17, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Thumbtack didn’t just rank well, they came back without a scratch, at scale. Very different result. And I won’t out specific things they’re doing but it’s not far from the surface and can be found with a little digging. And no benefit in burning more tactics.

  • Andrew Shotland  June 17, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Re the result, I would say the only difference between Thumbtack and the client I mentioned is returned rankings on page one for thousands of high value keywords v. tens of thousands. Not exactly the same I know, but in a similar ballpark.

  • Andrew Shotland  June 17, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    This just occurred to me – I would imagine once the penalty went public, got a huge amount of inbound links and citations. That would probably have helped it pop back once the penalty was lifted.

  • Shark Web  June 23, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Well, the truth is that Google is going to favor things / websites they have a vested interest in…. notice how YouTube was very quickly linked to Google + after the acquisition & after Google + rolled out?

  • Sol Orwell  June 25, 2015 at 7:27 am

    This smells like RapGenius all over again.

    Or that UK financial company (CCs I think?) that Google invested/bought, was busted for link buying, and then came back stronger than ever a few months in.

    It almost feels so common that I’m not surprised Aaron Wall hasn’t written about this one alas.

    • Andrew Shotland  June 25, 2015 at 9:06 am

      Sol, you obviously have not been following Aaron’s Twitter feed 🙂

  • Sol Orwell  June 25, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    Hahah – yeah I saw that, I meant a proper blog post!

  • Andre  June 26, 2015 at 2:42 am

    I have to agree with Shark Web and John’s original mention of Google funded companies. Different rules!

    Financial interests will always take precedence over anything else… user experience and factual accuracy (as claimed by the almighty G) unfortunately does not prevail as they would have everyone believe … sorry for the mini-rant Andrew!

  • Lee Mac  June 29, 2015 at 4:33 am

    So true “Financial interests will always take precedence over anything else… user experience and factual accuracy (as claimed by the almighty G) unfortunately does not prevail as they would have everyone believe” there s no bleeding heart at the center of Google its just an algo dressed up in pretty “we care” human face. THe only thing that matters to google is making money, the big vision thing is just rich people blowing their billions. What you going to do if you got that kinda money? Indulge yourself with expensive pet projects.

    Algo updates and penalties main driving force is not the welfare of net citizens, but increasing the market share of partner cooporations that spend a lot of money with google. The end !

  • Matt  June 29, 2015 at 9:13 am

    How convenient for thumbtack.. lol