Google Pigeon and its impact on local businesses

Usually the words ‘Google algorithm’ or ‘algorithm update’ can inflict a state of panic in webmasters. Although Google’s algorithm updates intend to bring positive changes to the ways in which the search engine works, the effects can sometimes be detrimental to small or unwitting online businesses, especially since Google has become more and more secretive over the years about each new update and the potential consequences for companies’ search rankings and revenue.

Unlike some of the algorithms that came before it though, such as Panda and Penguin which sought to de-rank and downgrade, the Google Pigeon algorithm was not a penalty-based update. Instead, it aimed to give local businesses an advantage in the search rankings by pushing them forward. The algorithm was first released in July 2014, and was Google’s biggest local search update so far.

The intent behind the algorithm was to provide more useful, relevant and accurate search results by ranking websites according to their geographical location and physical distance from the user; it’s what brings up that little map with the multiple red pins, highlighting the nearest relevant businesses to your search. The term ‘Pigeon’ was coined by the industry’s leading SEO resource ‘Search Engine Land’, and was said to be tied to some of the more traditional search ranking signals such as spelling correction, synonyms and the Google knowledge graph. This implied that more importance would also now be placed upon domain authority, back links and all other types of SEO ranking factors when determining local rankings.

Google Pigeon and its impact on local businesses

However, when Pigeon was first released, webmasters reported considerable changes in their local rankings; some complained their rankings had decreased, while others reported significant improvement. Yelp and other directory sites were among those that had been given a boost (following an earlier dispute whereby Google was accused of pushing its own reviews ahead of Yelp’s, even when the searcher specifically asked for ‘yelp’ in their query).  This meant even if your main website was less visible in an organic search, at least your potential customers would be able to find you via local directory sites (if you had registered with them). In light of this, many website administrators, such as Cheltenham web design agency MA Design, recommend that you build a solid business presence on leading local directories, such as Yelp, Google My Business and TripAdvisor, among the potential others in your industry.

Following the algorithm’s initial release, Pigeon received an update to how it displays local results by eliminating all 7-pack SERPs and moving exclusively to mobile-optimised 3-packs. These 3-packs shortly replaced the 7 packs altogether, which SEO bloggers predicted would have a huge impact on click through rates; local business now had only 3 opportunities to sit above the organic results, as opposed to the previous 7. However, having conducted a number of studies into click-through rates, experts found that despite the new pack redesign, the top organic search results were racking up more clicks than local. This just goes to demonstrate that although the changes in SERPs can seem quite considerable, the basic principles of local SEO are expected to remain the same, so it’s just as important as ever that you keep practicing your general SEO efforts, while also taking the necessary steps to improve your local rankings.



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