Well, that's all she wrote - it took less than a week for Thumbtack's penalty to be lifted. But the story's not over.
Here's Search Engine Land's write-up of it. Interestingly, Thumbtack has not only wriggled out of a penalty...it bounced right back like a rubber ball into its old SERP slot.
It seems, although we don’t have proof, that all Thumbtack did was ask businesses nicely to remove or nofollow the links. They didn’t seem to disavow any links or take any additional measures to remove the bad links? If they did, you’d think all those old links wouldn’t count anymore and their rankings wouldn’t simply bounce back. But in this case, their rankings bounced back, which may imply those links are still counting.
A couple of choice comments from the peanut gallery:
I'm sure the team over there is just so good that they somehow audited the links, disavowed them, then forced recrawls on every single link, then somehow got that back into the index, then got a reconsideration request in for good measure right when the queue was super low so it could be looked at immediately. I'm sure any one of us could pull off the same :/
I recall someone in the previous Threadwatch post I made about this saying that it could be considered a bad user experience for Thumbtack to be penalized. A commentor on the most recent SEL article had similar thoughts:
There was probably a ton of work in bringing about a manual action against thumbtack rather than target lots of the small sites - after all the search quality team must have targets like any business unit. So this action wouldn't have been just one persons decision. Users probably expected to see Thumbtack in their results and removing them could have been bad for user experience on Googles part. Also you have to factor in that the SQ team involved is probably a lot more active than say their counterparts in other regions.
Thumbtack was (and now, is) apparently VERY well presented in SERPs:
Thumbtack ranks in the top 3 for pretty a large amount of local service-based keywords across the country. I just searched "cleaning services, landscaping services" etc. and they are pretty much #1 and #2 for every example I tried and in every city I tried it in. They charge pretty decent amount for local service based companies to message people looking for those services, so I'd have to imagine they are raking in the doe.
According to some data from Cognitive SEO, after the penalty Thumbtack's links couldn't be found within the first 40 positions. Now that it's been lifted, "they now have at least 60 words for which they rank in the top 3 positions and over 200 for which they rank on the first page." They did lose a lot of links, though. That data is pretty interesting, give it a look if you want to learn some of the secrets behind the magician's trick.
Finally, the SEM Post has an awesome article that digs even deeper. Originally, it was thought that the "badge" links that Thumbtack was soliciting were the real problem. Jennifer Slegg went into Majestic and saw that they were cleaning up OTHER links too, though. They'd been cleaning up their backlink profile since before the penalty - so maybe the "badge link" exchange was a way of transitioning to a newer, and what they hoped would be better, system?
On May 21st, Majestic recorded a loss of over 10,000 backlinks. A few days earlier, on May 18th, they lost over 8,000 backlinks. That is definitely indicative of someone doing link cleanup, especially when there were nominal backlink losses in the previous two months.
So, as Slegg presents it, "...the fact they were able to have the penalty lifted in only a week isn't as surprising as it initially sounded...there was already ongoing work on removing links being done."
What do you think? Does this change your opinion about the whole thing? Give you any new thoughts? I still feel like Thumbtack played with fire and nearly got all of its users seriously burned. But I'm more in awe now than I was before. This feels like a very complex scheme and I'd love to have my hands on all the juicy details of it.