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Thumbtack For Lawyers: A Cautionary Tale

by Jun 10, 2015

Thumbtack is a service that offers to introduce consumers with professionals. You can compare professionals. You can look at reviews. You can get price estimates. And, according to their website, you can “Hire the right pro.” What kind of pros?

Well, there are lawyers:

Lawyers on Thumbtack

And there are pet care professionals:

Dogs on Thumbtack

And there are clowns:

Clowns on Thumbtack

And lots of other professionals. 3.31 million pages worth of content and professionals are currently indexed by Google.

Thumbtack has (or had) a lot of website traffic.

In fact, according to Alexa, they are roughly a top 1,000 website in the US, and top 3,869 globally. And they’ve raised a lot of money as well. According to Crunchbase, they raised $148.2 Million in 5 rounds of funding from some very smart sources of funding, including Tiger, Sequoia, and Google Capital.

But even with Google Capital as an investor, Thumbtack was not immune from the consequences of trying to game Google’s system.

We’ve been saying it for years, and for years it has been the truth. Selling or buying links on websites is against Google’s guidelines, as is obtaining “unnatural links.” It can result in a site being decimated, including manual removal, by Google, from Google’s index.

According to Searchengineland, Thumbtack’s co-founder confirmed that they received a manual action from Google.

Lawyers (presumably along with many pet care professionals and party clowns) have been induced by Thumbtack to add the unnatural links which presumably contributed to the manual penalty. The inducement? 10 points.

What is 10 points? Well, in lawyer-speak, it’s consideration. Consideration that is against Google’s guidelines.

So when Thumbtack got hammered by Google, they went into damage-control mode. Here’s an email that they sent to a LawLytics customer who had participated in the kerfuffle (he didn’t ask us, as we would have tried to talk him out of it).

Thumbtack email

So they revoked the 10 points! And now they are asking that the attorney remove the link, or add a “nofollow” attribute to it (which nullifies the ill-gotten benefit to Thumbtack).

This is dangerous. It’s irresponsible. It was against this attorney’s best interest to add the link in the first place.

All this leads me to make a few points, using this as an example:

Point One: Google is serious about unnatural links

Contrary to what the guy who cold-calls your office pretending to work for Google tells you, the links that he is offering to get you are not good. And yes, the lawyer SEO bloggers who talk about building links using directories (such as Thumbtack) are also wrong. Very wrong.

If the tactics don’t work for a Google Capital backed company, they probably aren’t going to work for some dude who spends his days cold-calling attorneys, or and SEO blogger.

When somebody tries to sell you “link building” in the name of “SEO” it is ALWAYS in your best interest to say no. Why? You are paying somebody to get links for you. It’s the consideration that matters. And Google is smarter than the “SEO” guy you are paying, and eventually they will turn over the rock he is hiding under, and you’ll be implicated and punished.

Point Two: Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they’re right

Google penalized a well-funded company. A company that Google Capital bet on, and presumably believes in.

Think about the many legal directories that give out awards to attorneys and induce them to display the awards on their websites. The awards usually contain links back to the legal directory. Ask yourself… is placing the link on your website the consideration for the award? Is it the other way around? Is there value exchanged? If so, no matter how ubiquitous the online legal directory, attorneys should start thinking about the potential consequences.

Point Three: Don’t give into the commoditization of lawyers

I’ve written about declining lawyer happiness, and the commoditization of lawyers extensively. That lawyers participate in Thumbtack and risk their own web presence for 10 points shows me that we have an uphill battle. It’s not that lawyers want to be treated like shelved goods (or party clowns). It’s that business has gotten more competitive, and it’s easier to join the race to the bottom than it is to become a thought leader and rise to the top (as Google’s guidelines clearly ask us to do, and reward us for doing).

The best way for lawyers to avoid being commoditized is to be aware that it’s happening, and question every new piece of technology, every sales pitch, every gimmick. Apply critical thought to business and marketing decisions. Do your research, and plan ahead. Do this, and when that rock under which the bad actors are hiding is inevitably overturned, you’re practice will be in a better position to thrive because your competition will be that much thinner.

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