Earlier this month, the online marketing industry has once again been stirred by the latest casualty of Google’s manual action penalty for spammy links.  Every expert and enthusiast’s attention has been temporarily focused to Thumbtack.com, an online marketplace for local services.


A report (http://www.thesempost.com/thumbtack-google-manual-action-penalty-links) from The SEM Post, discussed in details why Thumbtack.com just suddenly vanished from the SERPs and can’t also be found using their brand name.  Jennifer Slegg reported that the website received manual action penalty from Google for link spam.


If you do a search for “Thumbtack”, you will not find them anywhere in the Google search results… nor will you see them for any of the estimated 25,000 keywords they were previously ranking for. They have been hit with a manual action penalty courtesy of Google. Thumbtack does not rank for their own brand name, which is usually the first sign to SEOs that something in their SEO has gone awry.”


It is important to note that before this report has been published, there were already complaints against Thumbtack regarding their snaky link building tactic that had somehow violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.


Slegg further reported that Thumbtack have asked their customers to link back to them using a pre-formatted badge code in exchange for a profile points.  This type of linking scheme, although doesn’t involve direct money, still violated Google’s link spam policy.  It was also discovered that most of the links from those badges are dofollow, thus everyone who noticed it before the report came to Google, has been wondering why the search giant haven’t detected such huge link scheme earlier.


Good news for Thumbtack.com though, as of this writing, the manual penalty has already been lifted off already by Google and everything goes back to normal except for the fact that the former has been aggressively asking their customers to remove the badges or make their links no-follow.

From a sudden debacle to lightning speed of a comeback, let’s discuss what we can learn from this incident that left a lot of experts and enthusiasts frowning and sighing in frustration.

Top 5 Lessons We Can Learn from Thumbtack.com’s Debacle

Before we’ll proceed with the “morals” we can pick up from this incident, let’s refresh ourselves a bit and remember that Google is one of Thumbtack’s main investors.  Last year Bloomberg reported that the search giant has invested $100 million to the latter.  Really shocking, right?

Now, let’s proceed to the important messages or lessons we can learn from this fiasco both from the incident itself and also Google’s intentional message to all those who are trying to game or manipulate their system.

1. No matter how discreet your link building scheme in gaming Google, you still can’t keep it a secret forever.

Of course, getting all hyped up to build more and more backlinks without considering its future implications is definitely a bad strategy.  As for Thumbtack’s case, despite the earlier warnings they received from concerned personalities in the industry, they still kept on denying that they did something wrong.  This only makes them look worse and has decrease whatever online credibility they have in the industry.


When it comes to gaming Google’s algorithm, nothing can be hidden that long.  Either automated filters detect what you are doing or you will get reported by your competitors.  You really have no other choice but to stick in producing highly valuable and relevant content.

2. Any kinds of incentive in exchange for getting a dofollow backlink means a violation of Google’s policy against link spamming.

Thumbtack kept on denying at first that they have violated Google’s linking policy.  Their main defense was there’s no money involve when they asked their customers to link back to their website by embedding their badge on their webpages and telling them they get profile points in return.  In reality though, it is quite obvious that they committed a violation.  When their practice has reached Google’s ear shot, their website automatically vanished from the SERPs.  Here’s the exact words lifted off from the search giant’s Webmaster Guidelines for Link Schemes.


Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.


  •         This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results: Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  •         Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  •         Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  •         Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Read the rest of the guidelines here (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356?hl=en).

3. Link variety is the key.

When Thumbtack’s backlinks were evaluated by a few experts, they found out that most of them are do-follows.  Lack of link variety is a major indicator that a website is engaging in some sorts of shady practices, thus the importance of building different types of links should not be forgotten if you are aiming for your strategy to last and not get penalized.


This is not actually the first time that I talked about diversity in organic link-building but it is worth to mention this again so that everyone can keep in mind its importance in creating authoritative and credible link profile.

4. Google favors no one?

When Google hammered their penalty against Thumbtack, it is easy to conclude that they don’t favor anyone even those websites of businesses wherein they invested millions of dollars into.  But, a lot of personalities in the industry are quite skeptic because while it would take a few months for an ordinary website to recover, Thumbtack was out of their misery in just a week.  This has been raising the eyebrows even those people who are closely following Google.  We can’t blame Google, right? I mean they already penalized their very own, it’s enough already.  Do you agree?

5. If Google can’t detect your scheme, your competitors can!

Of course, Google’s algorithm is not perfect, thus it is expected that every now and then some people can bypass their system and can get away from getting penalized.  But, you should not rely on that fact alone.  You should remember that you cannot hide anything online.  Your competitors are bound to investigate your website more especially if you are on top of your game.  Thus, it is definitely not a good strategy to use spammy or black hat tactics to rank well on the SERPs.

Final Thoughts

Getting a manual penalty from Google is not a very uncommon occurrence in the online marketing industry but what happened to Thumbtack is rather an interesting case.  They’ve been implementing their questionable link building strategy for quite a while and it only takes a few “concerned” individuals (who reported their practice to Google) to dissolve their stand that what they are have been doing violated Google’s linking policy.

It is also worthy to note that despite penalizing Thumbtack (for one week), we can never really conclude that Google is always fair.  Put yourself in Google’s shoes and penalize the website wherein you invested millions of dollars for a few months.  They are always bound to expedite the process because it involves their very own money.

How about you? Do you think Google is completely unbiased in implementing the manual penalty for Thumbtack? Kindly share your opinions in the comment section below.

By: Qamar Zaman. Qamar is a Dallas based SEO Expert and can be found on http://www.QamarZaman.com