Pigeon Tracks: Google’s Local Update

What We Know About The Pigeon Algorithm Update

On July 24th, 2014 Google rolled out a major revision to it’s powerful search algorithm. Dubbed “Pigeon” by Search Engine Land, this update focused on improving local results, both in their presentation and by bringing them more inline with the companies non-local search signals.

Since the search giant is rarely forthcoming with how these updates directly impact rankings, it can often take months of observation for webmasters to identify these changes on their own. We’ve put together a list of some of the most interesting changes we’ve noticed.

The Update Impacts Traditional Search And Searches Within Google Maps

Before Pigeon, it was possible for a company to rank highly within Google Maps but not within local search and vice versa. While there are still a few variations, the results are now very similar to one another. This is a boon for local business that have brick and mortar locations looking to drive traffic, since they no longer have to split their SEO efforts between the two platforms.

Thanks to the increasing popularity of smart devices and consumer’s willingness to use them as a step in their purchasing process, a local result can quickly turn into directions for a driver thanks to the built in Navigation (beta) feature in Google Maps.

Reviews See A Boost

Popular review sites, such as Yelp!, saw a boost in the rankings for their location landing pages. When a customer looks up a local business the first question they want answered is “where is it,” followed closely by “is it any good.” Customer reviews on websites such as Yelp!, ZAGAT, or Google’s own network can help curious parties answer both. Other directories, such as TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, or Kayak also benefited from this update, as the search company rightly deemed these reviews to be of value for potential customers.

The update also addressed an accusation made by Yelp! against the search giant that it was artificially boosting Google’s own review network in the rankings, even when customers searched specifically for Yelp reviews. After pigeon, users are more likely to land on the page they’re looking for when they type in “Happy Ever After Cafe Yelp.”

Distance And Location Matter More In Ranking

Prior to Pigeon, searching in a dense metropolitan area would often show results with difficult to understand distances. Since the update, users will find it easier to identify which location is closest, and this proximity plays a greater role in overall SERP positioning.

Additionally, Google’s search algorithm is improving it’s ability to understand both the traditional and “local” names for neighborhoods. If you’re visiting Philly, this means that searching for places to eat near “N3rd street” and “North 3rd Street” will return similar results. Shops that brand themselves around their neighborhoods should see a corresponding boost in their rankings as well.

Pigeon Isn’t Done Yet

The Pigeon update isn’t finished rolling out worldwide, and we’ve experienced at least one major, though unconfirmed, update here in the US since the initial release. When it originally rolled out, businesses saw wild fluctuations, several “spammy links” showing up, and a largely inconsistent implementation of a “local map” appearing in the search results.

While most of these issues have settled down since then, the algorithm will likely see many future updates as Google learns to better tailor results for their users. With customers increasingly turning to their phone for more of their shopping needs, even when looking for local places to shop, it’s more important than ever to make sure that you’re optimizing your website to take advantage of this local traffic.

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