Last week Google introduced a major local search algorithm update, and the change is sending shockwaves throughout the SEO community. While Google has not officially announced a name for the update, it has been dubbed “Pigeon” for the winged urban explorers that are known for returning home, appropriate for a local search update.
While the overall impact of this development will take time to fully appreciate (Google itself has yet to release details about how local businesses will be affected), the update does seem to create significant ranking changes that make it worthy of exploration. As the update has reportedly affected the ranking of some businesses positively and others negatively, let’s explore what Pigeon means for local searches and how businesses can best prepare for the changes.
(And keep in mind, this Pigeon update has nothing to do with Google’s PigeonRank April Fools Day joke from 2002, as much as you might want to imagine actual pigeons deciding the “pecking order” of search results.)
How Will Pigeon Effect Local Searches for Businesses
The Pigeon update is designed to provide more useful, accurate and relevant search results that are more closely tied to traditional web search ranking signals, according to Google. The algorithm is engineered to do so by taking into account the hundreds of ranking signals, including the knowledge graph, spelling corrections synonyms and other features, as well as improving the relevancy of distance and location ranking. The update impacts both the organic local listings within Google Map Search and Google Web Search, and currently only applies to U.S. English based search results.
By factoring in a more comprehensive set of parameters into local search results, this update looks to provide local businesses with more exposure to consumers in their area if they have adequately prepared for the change. It also can provide them with a fighting chance to compete in search results with larger national or international brands that might have a more advanced marketing strategy. While ultimately these changes are expected to have a positive impact on local businesses, the initial shift has created some turmoil in some industries. Mike Blumenthal, Local Search marketing expert, tells Ignite:
Whenever Google changes things in Local, it always takes some time for them to fix the bugs and for us to understand the implications. We are still in the understanding phase.
In a broad sense it seems that Google is providing more specific geo targeted results, reducing somewhat the display of 7-packs and the change that seems to have the biggest impact is changing the radius used to calculate the mapping “view port” of the locale used to display results. That in and of itself has huge implications as it means that different businesses will be shown regardless of any ranking changes.
Over night many businesses noticed a significant change to search engine results when the Penguin update took place. In particular, some noticed that businesses such as real estate companies and lawyers, who rely heavily upon local search results, noticed that those that had previously appeared in the local ‘7 pack’, that highly valued set of 7 business listings with contact details, were no longer showing up in search results.
A noticeable decline in the appearance of 7-packs has been noticed in other fields as well, though not as dramatic as first projected. In some cases, the search query returns a 3-pack, while in other cases a searching customer might just find an authoritative single box with one listing. This shift seems to suggest that the update is attempting to return more refined and relevant local searches rather than a larger group, but this will no doubt effect local searches for many businesses. We’ll need to wait and see exactly how the full impact will be felt.
On the other hand, many local directory sites have found that they are getting much better visibility and the change seems to have fixed the “Yelp” issue. Yelp recently accused Google of prioritizing Google’s own local listing over Yelp pages, even if the searcher specifically included “Yelp” in their search terms. While this may be a boon to local directory sites, it can prove a challenge to small businesses that may not have SEO signals that are as strong.
Additionally, there have been some confusing blips in some search engine results likely due to Pigeon, such as the listing of Expedia as a New York City hotel. As with any new algorithm update, there are going to be glitches, unexpected results and unintended search results, but the Expedia example provides an important lesson for local businesses in the age of the Pigeon. The incorrect listing of Expedia was fixed by changing the category that the company had listed on their Google+ page from “travel” to “corporate headquarters.” What this indicates is that assigning the correct category to your business, along with taking other important SEO steps, will help better position your business in search results now, more than ever.
How to Prepare Your Business for the Pigeon Update
While the long-term effects of the Pigeon update remain to be seen, there are certainly a variety of steps that a business can take to help improve the likelihood that they will rank higher in local searches. Last year Moz.com featured the top 20 local search ranking factors in a handy illustrated guide. So, while there may be some kinks that have yet to be worked out with how Pigeon affects local searches, following these guidelines will help prepare for the change. Among the numerous important considerations, businesses should focus on the following factors:
- Proper category associations for the business in their Google+ listing.
- Ensure that contact details are correct and consistent across listings, including address, phone number and web site.
- Include location, as well as product/service, in your landing page title.
- Maintain a presence on quality, authoritative indexes and directories for local businesses.
We’ll continue to keep an eye on the effects of the Pigeon update on SEO marketing and how businesses can best prepare themselves for the change.
Have you noticed a shift in your search results since the Penguin update? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.