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Taming Google’s Pigeon: How to Prosper with Local SEO

Published: March 23, 2015

Google’s Pigeon algorithm update swooped down on the digital marketing community in July of 2014 to mixed reviews from local marketers. According to a Search Engine Land study of more than 600 local SEO practitioners and business owners, 37 percent reported having lost traffic following the Pigeon rollout, 28 percent gained traffic, and 87 percent reported only minor changes in traffic volume. Of those respondents, 53 percent characterized the Pigeon update as being bad for business, and 58 percent either had changed or planned to change their SEO strategy in response to Pigeon.

What was the Pigeon Update Supposed to Accomplish?
According to Google, the Pigeon algorithm update was intended to provide search users with more relevant and accurate search results more closely aligned with traditional (non-local) search ranking signals. In addition, Pigeon supposedly helped Google improve distance and location parameters to provide more accurate localized results.

Here’s what Google is really saying:

  • Local search will now incorporate more standard (organic) optimization ranking signals such as backlinks, social signals, and online customer reviews.
  • Additional weight will be given to review sites and local online business directories.
  • Hyper-local search factors will be used to help drill down into suburbs and neighborhoods within a given city to match businesses with user’s location-specific search queries.

How to Take on the Pigeon – and Win
As with many Google algorithm updates, Pigeon has caused the rankings for many individual businesses and even whole niches to dance up and down and on and off the search results pages. That’s just the nature of the beast, and eventually Pigeon will stabilize as it adjusts to the marketplace. In the meantime, there are a handful of important SEO strategies that you need to be implementing to leverage the new rules of local SEO in your favor.

1. Claim and optimize a profile on local review and business directory sites. Be sure to include the sites that are ranking for your search terms in your local area. It’s critically important to make sure that your business information is 100 percent consistent across all listings. The easiest way to ensure consistency is to create a file containing all of your information such as business name, address, and phone number. Whenever you claim a new listing, simply copy and paste the file information to your new profile. When updating your information, update your file first then update each individual listing from the file.

2. Optimize all of your online properties such as website, blog content, review and social media accounts with geo-specific keywords, including the specific neighborhoods or areas of your city that you serve.

3. Create and optimize a Google+ Local (Google My Business) account. Don’t forget to add geo-specific keywords.

4. Create and maintain a solid social media presence, starting with Facebook and Twitter – add LinkedIn if you market products and services to other businesses. You can’t just create a social profile and leave it at that – take the time to regularly post updates and engage with your followers and fans.

5. Actively pursue positive online reviews about your business from actual customers. Set up a Google Alert for your business name, and regularly monitor review and social media sites. Respond promptly and professionally to any customer service issues that arise. While you can’t control what people are saying about you, you can and should control how you respond to problems and issues.

6. Make sure that your website is mobile optimized to display well across various mobile devices.

7. Include high-quality photos and videos in as many of your various online properties as possible, starting with Google+.

8. Focus your link building efforts on relevant local authority sites.