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:
— aaron wall (@aaronwall) June 14, 2015
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.