Digital Insights

How Google’s Pigeon Update is Affecting Local Search Referrals and Leads

Published: September 22, 2014

Google’s Pigeon update has rolled out across the United States, creating a boom in search engine referrals and leads for some businesses and a devastating bust for others. Designed to provide a more pleasant experience for search engine users, the update represents a major effort on the part of Google to integrate more organic search indicators into local search results. The Pigeon update will also provide improved location and distance ranking signals that enable users to be matched with results closer to their physical location.

Major directory sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Yahoo, and Urbanspoon are among the biggest beneficiaries of the Pigeon update, which has propelled many directory sites to a dominating first page position for many search queries. The losers are smaller, independent local businesses across a variety of niches that apparently lack the resources and clout necessary to create and maintain a strong SEO presence.

The Facts About the Pigeon Update
While the actual intention behind the Pigeon update is unknown, it may well have been sparked by Google’s desire to reverse the trend of favoring local listing results to the detriment of large directory sites, many of whom have been complaining long and loudly about Google’s so-called biased ranking algorithm. Some of the more dramatic changes to local search include

  • A reduction in the number of local results being returned.
  • An increase in the number of directory sites being returned for local search queries.
  • The reduction or outright removal of Google Local and Google Carousel results for a number of search queries.
  • An increase in the relevance of results returned when geographic modifiers are employed.

How Specific Industries or Niches have been Affected by the Pigeon Update
Business niches that have experienced an increase in Google Places referrals and leads after the Pigeon update was released include hotels, restaurants, education, spas, attorneys, various medical fields, transportation, and fitness.

Categories that reportedly lost ground in Google Places results include employment, real estate, movies, insurance, financial, furniture, and government.

How Local Businesses Can Compete in a Post-Pigeon World
Since the original idea behind the Pigeon update was to add traditional organic SEO indicators to the local search process, local business owners would do well to include these traditional tactics to their local search SEO campaigns, paying particular attention to on-page SEO.

Best practices for on-page SEO include having proper title, heading, and alt image tags; topical content targeting that focuses on multiple related keywords rather than 1 or 2 keywords; and high-quality, beefy website content of at least 1,000 words.

Add your business listing to all appropriate directories and review sites that have a presence in your local search results. Make sure that your business information is consistent across all directories and listings.

Claim your Google Plus Local business listing. If you already have a listing, double-check your business information for accuracy.

Add location-focused content to your blog.

Maintain a strong and consistent presence across your various social media channels. Link all of your social channels to your main business website.