Thumbtack, Google’s penalties and the lessons you can learn

There are three content marketing lessons to be learnt from Google’s latest victim, writes Jake Quade, creator of Presence Relations.

Jake Quade Image

Yet another brand has fallen victim to the notorious power of Google’s penalties.

While it’s easy to label it as another marketing stunt gone wrong, the latest show of Google’s might has a few key takeouts for your own content marketing team.

Thumbtack is a talent sourcing site launched back in December of 2009, and the latest company to be hit with a manual action order by Google’s search quality team – an audit of sorts that’s usually coupled with a massive drop in referrals from the monolithic search engine (and according to co-founder Jonathan Swanson, that’s exactly what happened).

Looking at the events that unfolded chronologically, there are three key lessons from Thumbtack’s penalty that you need to be revisit in your content marketing team to ensure you’re not cutting any corners.

Genuine trust is authentic

The penalty came about primarily due to the company’s solicitation of overly optimised links from industry professional websites, as part of the process to complete their profile registration on Thumbtack’s site. While it may not have been the nail in the coffin for Thumbtack’s standing with Google, it’s most likely this gaming of their web presence played a massive part in being penalised.

More than anything this serves as a reminder to content marketers that if you’re looking for short-term associations with other brands, you had best be looking for combined interests and ensuring that your content actually delivers on their audience intent.

Are you solving a genuine need in their audience? That’s the only way you’re going to build respect, especially in the eyes of a search engine algorithm.

To drive this point home, Thumbtack was actually backed by Google last year, yet that didn’t secure them a place in the good books. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re not genuine you won’t gain trust.

Excellent content: if you create it, they will come

While being penalised is arguably the epitome of bad outcomes for any online business, this gaming of the system happens on a smaller scale every day, with SEO professionals choking content with keywords, positive associations and other tricks to side-step the Google-bots. The problem with an SEO-oriented focus toward your content, is that you might actually be overlooking the quality of the content itself, which is far more important in Google’s eyes.

We’ve all heard variations of that old adage around what you can’t polish, but it’s especially important in the already overcrowded online space. Instead of focusing on SEO, revisit your content and make it the best in the search results. Then use SEO as it was intended; to tweak already incredible material.

It’s never too late to fix your screw-ups

The happy ending for Thumbtack is that just weeks after their falling out, they managed to change their ways and have returned to Google’s graces. While your team might not be next in line for the search giant’s scrutiny, it’s worth using this example as an excuse to revisit your content marketing outcomes. Look at the metrics you’re using and instead of measuring the number of leads, perhaps it’s time to start looking at the number of genuine problems solved.

 

 

  • It seems, as always, honesty is the best policy. Great article!

  • James Norquay

    Thumbtack was targeted due to suspicious link widgets for clients created by the internal SEO team at the business they were not created by the Content Marketing team cutting corners. The business also recovered in around 5 days which is a crazy space of time, most normal businesses would not recover in this short space of time, it takes upwards of 30+ days to even have a manual penalty revived so one does wonder if favoritism was given here.

    • Jake

      Hey man – author here. Some really awesome feedback, the focus here is on what content teams can learn from the nature of the penalty rather than who was at fault in the Thumbtack team.