What is Pigeon Update? How it Impacted Local SERPs – Granular Level Analysis

It was a sunny day, I was cross checking my campaign rankings to watch out for current stand on SERPs and to my surprise I noticed a major fluctuation in rankings as compared-to a week before.

Immediately, I referred major SEO blogging domains to know in detail about the reason behind this fluctuations. Alas! It was another Google Update for Local Search being rolled out on 24th July 2014 (which industry’s leading SEO resource “Search Engine Land” called “Pigeon” update). Over the week, Webmasters & Marketers were aware of the Google Update being rolled out but the exact reasons & domains that were affected or benefited were still unknown. I thought of diving deep into this update providing some of my major observations as my contribution in this research phase. Here, we go to know more about Pigeon Update -

A Short compilation to explain the following pointers:

  • What is “Pigeon Update”
  • How it affects our Rankings
  • How to adapt our SEO strategy for the changes

So, what do we know about the “Pigeon Update”?

Google confirmed that the update started to roll out on July 24 for US English results, and it’s assumed that the update rolled out more widely in other countries and languages.

The aim of the update was to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results. And unlike Penguin and Panda updates, this is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), but a core change to the local search ranking algorithm.

Now, to give you a better idea of the update, here comes in the outline of all the changes going on (both those claimed by Google and noticed by webmasters) and give some advice for website owner’s who’ve been affected.

Below are the observation along with “What’s Happening?” & “What Should we do to Overcome it?”

1. Local listing packs disappear for a huge number of search terms

What’s Happening: One of the key changes seen after the update is a drastically lower number of queries that now include a local listing pack on their SERPs. The motive behind this listing is to exclude exact match domains, fake virtual addresses which contains generic queries meant for grabbing the prime position on SERPs.

Before Pigeon Update SERPs Listing (Local Listing):

After Pigeon Update SERPs Listing (Domain + Local Listing):

According to SERP feature graph by MOZ Cast, this number descends from 12.1% of queries on July 23rd to only 3.3% on July 27th. Source:

What Should we do to overcome it: If over the past few days your website has encountered a traffic drop, this may well be due to the disappearance of certain of your local listings. If that is the case, in the short run you may need to cover the traffic losses with a PPC campaign, and in the long run – focus on getting Web search listings for those search terms.

2. Local rankings are expected to depend more on website authority

What’s Happening: The new local search algorithm is said to be more tied with the traditional web search ranking signals. Simply speaking, this may mean that local rankings will now be more determined by domain authority, backlinks and all kinds of other SEO rankings factors.

What Should we do to overcome it: If your local rankings have suddenly dropped over the past few days, this may mean your site’s general SEO characteristics lack behind those of your competitors. Run a thorough competitor research to see how your backlinks, content and other SEO characteristics stand to those of other high ranking websites.

3. Ranking boost is seen for Yelp and other local directories

What’s Happening: According to the first post-update researches, Yelp and other local directory sites have seen a considerable boost in rankings. For some queries, the entire SERP is built from well-known local directories only.

What Should we do to overcome it: Even if less of your potential clients may now be able to find your biz website, many more of them can find you via local directory sites. This makes it crucial to build a solid business presence on leading local directories in your industry.

  1. Find the most influential local directories in your niche: See which directories are currently ranking high for your targeted search terms after the update.
  2. Make sure your business is listed in each of these directories: Submit your business to those directories, that are currently ranking high for your keyword, but don’t list your business yet. You can also check out this list of “Best local citations by category” for more local directories ideas from MOZ as well.
  3. Track how rankings change for your different listings: This way you always know which of the listings should be your priority in terms of freshest data, biggest number of reviews and so on.

4. Local carousel remains a way to gain extra exposure

What’s Happening: Unlike the usual local listing packs, local carousel results remain unaffected by the update and show up with almost the same frequency as before. This means they can still be a great way to gain extra exposure for some local search terms (though carousel listings are present for just 1% of search terms queries.)

What Should we do to overcome it: Carousel results put a heavy emphasis on your listing’s image and rating, while showing all options side-by-side. So make sure to put a nice, high-quality and attractive photo in your Google+ business profile and encourage your customers to review your business. Getting Reviews to your Google+ page adds value to your local rankings.

Though the changes in SERPs now seem to be quite considerable, the basic principles of local SEO are expected to remain the same. So here are some general recommendations for our local business to get better Google exposure.

Following below are the 8 Best Practices which has to be done for your campaigns -

  1. Individual Google+ Local page for your business
    Creating a Google+ Local page for your local business is the first step to being included in Google’s local index. Your second step is to verify your ownership of the listing. This typically involves receiving a postcard/letter from Google containing a pin number which you must enter in order to complete verification.
  2. Proper category for your Google+ Local page
    If you wish to appear in the local results for a search like “dentists in Jacksonville”, your business must be categorized as a dentist. If it is categorized as a certified public accountant, you have no hope of appearing for your important search terms.
  3. Local area code on Google+ Local page
    Using local area code phone number as a primary phone number on Google+ Local page is considered a best practice. The area code of the phone number should match the area code/codes traditionally associated with your city of location.
  4. NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) on your website matching NAP on your Google+ Local page
    Google will be looking at the website you’ve linked to from your Google Places/Google+ Local page and cross reference the name, address and phone number of your business. If all elements match, you’re good to go.
  5. NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistency in all your business listings
    Make sure your business name, address and phone number are also consistent in all local directories where your business is listed. Different addresses listed for your business on Yelp and TripAdvisor, for instance, may put your rankings to nowhere.
  6. Large number of positive customer reviews on Google+ Local page and on third-party sources
    The number of positive reviews has a proven influence on local search rankings. So make sure to encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews of your biz.
  7. City or state included into your website’s title tags
    Another important factor for your “local” landing page is to have the city or state you’re targeting included into its Title tag.
  8. Product/service keyword in business title
    It is also believed that having the name of a core product or service in your business name may give you some advantage over competitors who lack this.

Post the Update following pointers I have added additionally as mentioned in SearchEngineWatch for your reference -

Who Benefitted From the Pigeon Update?

Pigeon Update seemed to reward some local directories and so did certain queries. The latest analysis using BrightEdge’s massive data set from June to August 2014 shows an uptick in the results for queries related to the following:

  • Hospitality (28 percent growth in Google Places results)
  • Food (19 percent growth in the Google Places results)
  • Education (13 percent growth in the Google Places results)

Additional wins occurred in smaller percentages for queries related to:

  • Spa +4.64 percent
  • Shop +4.32 percent
  • Law +3.55 percent
  • Medical +1.83 percent
  • Transportation +1.31 percent
  • Fitness +1.12 percent

Who Experienced a Loss From the Pigeon Update?

According to the analysis in BrightEdge’s data set, we found queries related to the following topics being the most negatively impacted by Pigeon:

  • Jobs (68 percent decline in Google Places results)
  • Real estate (63 percent decline in the Google Places results)
  • Movies (36 percent decline in the Google Places results)
  • Insurance (11 percent decline in the Google Places results)

Reports across the Web from multiple sources show real estate queries experiencing dire consequences from Pigeon, and as you can see, the BrightEdge’s data confirms the same.

Other queries related to the following showed somewhat negligible losses:

  • Finance -6.21 percent
  • Furniture -3.34 percent
  • Government -0.07 percent

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