Google’s Pigeon Update Changes Local Search

Google’s recent algorithmic update, unofficially named ‘Pigeon’ is aimed at providing more useful, relevant and accurate local search results and is closely tied to traditional web search ranking signals. The changes, visible within the Google Maps search results and Google Web search results, have impacted local search.

PigeonRank™, a system for ranking web pages developed by Google’s founders is at the heart of its search technology. It is based on the superior trainability of the domestic pigeon’s capability to distinguish objects regardless of spatial orientation. PigeonRank™ provides the search engine with the ability to select relevant websites from among thousands out there. The main aim of this system is to allow the most relevant results for each query to show up quickly.

Features of the Pigeon Update

This is not a penalty-based update but more of a basic change to the local search ranking algorithm. Here are some of the basic features of this algorithmic update

  • It has impacted local search results rankings
  • It is deeply connected to the search engine’s search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals used in search as well as features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, and synonyms
  • The Pigeon update improves distance and location ranking parameters

Although Google stated the “core changes are behind the scene”, some local businesses seeing an increase or decrease in website referrals, leads and business. The update has been rolled out for US English results and it is not yet known if the update will roll out more widely in other countries and languages.

Reasons for the Update and its Effects

The exact reasons for this are not known but there are assumptions that it follows a recent accusation made Yelp, the online urban guide and a social networking site that allows users to post reviews and rate businesses. Yelp accused Google of manipulating their search results to put their own pages and local listings above specific Yelp queries. Yelp’s study found that around 20 percent of people looking for the San Francisco restaurant with the search “Gary Danko Yelp” on Google got the restaurant’s website as the top result, in addition to links to Google+ reviews and their Google+ page. Links to Gary Danko Yelp pages appeared in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th places.

The Pigeon update has corrected this issue, placing the Yelp review page at the top above the restaurant’s webpage:

Gary Danko Yelp

It seems that beyond Yelp, other local directories seem to have been promoted too. A search for “Seattle restaurants” brings up nothing but popular directory style websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon, whereas the second page shows periodicals based lesser known articles and directories about the top restaurants in Seattle. Individual restaurants show up only on the third page. It is believed that Pigeon also helps larger directory style sites and those with high SEO signals and negatively impacting the ranks of smaller restaurants and businesses. However, individual businesses seem to be the beneficiary as they appear on top.

Dealing with Pigeon

Here are some tips to deal with these changes:

  • Create an Individual Google Plus Business Page – The page must be properly categorized so that name, address and phone number are the same on both the personal as well as the local webpage. Use a local area code on the Google+ page.
  • Periodic Checking – Ensure that keywords or terms for your industry search haven’t changed. If the ones used are no longer appearing, focus on organic search results. Make sure the business shows up on the search engine result pages with lots of directory listings and review sites.
  • Make Customers Happy – Encourage them to positive comments and reviews on the Google Plus page. Search engine results have always been positively impacted by a brand’s reputation.

While industry watchers hold that this is a testing phase, this update comes with winners and losers. One thing is for sure – the Pigeon algorithmic update has made organic SEO a significant component of local search.