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.
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
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
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.