Towards the end of July, Google launched a new local search algorithm which is aimed at improving the quality of local search results. Though Google has not officially named this update yet, the SEO community has taken to calling this update “Pigeon”.
The details of this update are still somewhat blurry – Google has made some general statements like “the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.” This explanation offers some general clues on the nature of the update, but does not offer too much specific or practical advice for marketers or business owners in Dallas to act on.
However, for anyone running a local SEO campaign in Dallas – which really means any local business owner – it is important to be aware of this update. In this post, we’ll cover what we currently know about Pigeon and how local business owners should react to this update.
Taking a Step Back: What is an Algorithm Update?
For those with less SEO experience, the whole subject of algorithm updates may seem confusing. What exactly does a Google algorithm do? What does it mean to say that Google has launched an algorithm update?
As we talked about in our previous post, “How Does a Search Engine Actually Work?”, a core part of the operations of a search engine is determining which pages to place at the top of the results for any given search term. To make this determination, Google uses technical processes called algorithms, which are basically computer software systems designed to automatically evaluate web pages for various factors.
There are hundreds of factors which are evaluated by Google’s algorithms, and the specifics of how these algorithms rank pages are highly secret. However, SEO experts know the basics of how Google ranks pages, with factors like keyword usage, PageRank, page quality, and more.
When Google launches an algorithm update, it means that Google has changed they way they evaluate how pages should rank in some way. A new update means changes to rankings, which is why SEOs and business owners should be concerned.
Basically, the Pigeon update signifies that Google has made some change to how local businesses in Dallas will rank in search. Google’s updates generally focus on removing spam, producing higher-quality results for users, and generally increasing the sophistication of their results.
What we Know About the Pigeon Update
Google has been fairly vague about Pigeon. No specific guidelines have yet been released to webmasters about what exactly it does or how to optimize for it. However, we have gotten some clues from Google.
Firstly, this seems to be a pretty major update. In a recent Search Engine Land post, Andrew Shotland notes, “Local appears to have been hit with the most far reaching update since Venice, and one that has flung more kaka than Hummingbird.” Various sources, including the team at Moz, have noted a substantial drop in “7 pack” local results, being replaced with more traditional web results for local queries.
Many analysts have pointed to mobile as being a potential driver for Pigeon. With mobile search query volume continuing to soar, Google has been aggressive at optimizing search results for mobile devices. It may be that removing too much “local clutter” and flattening local results to be more like web results is designed to be a mobile usability improvement.
When Google says “new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities”, this essentially seems to mean that local results are becoming more integrated with standard web search signals. Rather than having 2 parallel ranking systems, one for local and one for everything else, it seems like Pigeon is merging search closer into a single rankings system.
Although it’s hard to point to any specific data on this yet, we can also imagine that Pigeon will have some impact on some of the more common types of local SEO spam. This generally includes “service area businesses” and virtual offices, and commonly impacts hyper-competitive verticals like attorneys and real estate agents.
Local Directories Get a Boost
One confirmed impact of Pigeon is a lift to local directories. Previously Google had taken some criticism for not displaying local directories with sufficient prominence, in favor perhaps of promoting their own Google-native local platform. This problem is covered here by Matt McGee, including some interesting screenshots with Yelp-branded queries.
This seems to make sense in overall context of Pigeon making local rankings more like standard web results. If “7 pack” prominence is dropping, then locally-relevant pages like Yelp, YellowPages, and similar directories must therefore be climbing.
For local business owners, this represents at least one very practical takeaway from Pigeon: local directory listings are important. Although local listings management has always been a key part of local SEO, Pigeon only reinforces the value of having claimed and optimized listings across major local directories.
Ultimately, aside from this local directory lift, we’re still early in the game to really understand and optimize for Pigeon. However, businesses that have been relying excessively on pure-local signals should take this update as a sign that core web SEO elements are more important than ever for local search success.
If you’re a local business owner in Dallas looking to optimize for local search on Google, or just looking to better understand the local SEO landscape, the team at Tech-Critic can help. Contact us today for a free local SEO consultation.