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A Guide to Google’s Pigeon Algorithm Update

Yes, there’s yet another Google search algorithm update that has an obscure name and this time, it concentrates on linking local search results closer to traditional search signals. So what’s it all about and what can you do to ensure that your site performs well in local search?

Let’s find out.

Pigeon (not to be confused with the recent Penguin update) launched in the US in July of this year and since then it’s been found that the algorithm affected certain sectors both positively and negatively. Whenever there’s a large Google update it’s inevitable that some sites will suffer, but unlike Panda, which was updated again recently, Pigeon shouldn’t see you drop out of the rankings unless of course your site is poor quality and affected by Penguin or Panda.

Winners and Losers

According to Jim Yu, writing for Search Engine Watch, directories showed an improvement in the rankings following the release of Pigeon, probably due to large sites such as Yelp having better domain authority than local business sites.

Other winners included:

  • Hospitality which saw a 28% growth in Google Places results
  • Food rose 19% growth
  • Education enjoyed 13% growth

These figures are quite significant for these industries and so it’s to be hoped that these improved rankings also increased quality traffic and conversions. However, whilst these were impacted positively, some industry sectors search terms lost out.

  • Jobs saw a huge 68% decline in results
  • Real estate fell by 63%
  • Movies dropped by 36%
  • Insurance saw an 11% decline

The latter has been reported far and wide across the net with Search Engine Land describing the data for real estate queries as having “dire consequences”. However, it seems that many of those that are studying the algorithm data agree that “the Pigeon update has not quite settled into its new home”. This is due to constant flux still taking place as Google are thought to be testing out two or three versions of the algorithm.

Local Search Study

According to research carried out by SIM Partners, which studied 5000 location pages across a variety of industries, businesses that were negatively affected by Pigeon suffered a decrease in both traffic and conversions.

“Pigeon is doing nothing to affect the quality of your traffic and is just giving you less of it,” wrote Adam Dorfman in a blog post.

He went on to say that in order to get the best results from Pigeon, it’s important that brands have a strong domain. What this meant with the release of Pigeon was that large brands with a national reach were the biggest winners alongside directories. Page authority scores seem to be a part of this as the study found that those with an authority score of less than 55 have been the ones to see a negative decrease in performance for local search.

Location, Location, Location

The research also looked at the impact of how close a business is to the city centre on search results. To do this, researchers mapped out the 5000 listings to see if proximity makes any difference to the results.

They found that Google shows a clear preference to businesses that are closer to the centre of the city, although it was also found that locations in large markets situated just outside of urban centres also showed a slight preference to those outside of the city. For businesses based 20 miles away from the centre it was found that there was a sharp drop in rankings.

Multiple Locations

Many sites list the surrounding areas that the business supports when optimizing for local SEO but according to the study, “the over-optimisation dial has been turned up significantly with the Pigeon update.” This means that if you’re adding in too many surrounding areas or postcodes, you could find your ranking is suffering. It’s common practice to optimize in this fashion and many black hat SEOs still create pages written especially for each area which don’t appear on the site’s visitor-facing content pages.

If it’s the case that Google is cracking down on over-optimized local pages then it’s probably intended to discourage this. In order to overcome it, local businesses should try removing an area or two at a time from the site and monitor analytics to see if it makes a difference.

Recommended Actions

Firstly, as discussed above, clean up any over-optimized pages, removing the names of some districts and making sure that those that do appear do so naturally. By this, I mean check the keyword density of any area-specific pages isn’t too high and couldn’t be considered keyword stuffing.

Don’t use hidden pages, instead write high quality posts on things going on in each area such as events, local markets, group meetings – whatever’s appropriate to your niche.

When it comes to your domain and page authority, these can be slow to climb upwards but can be speeded up by posting relevant, fresh content that’s high quality daily. When doing this, you should pay attention to internal links too as this is a signal to Google that the site is high quality as the study showed that big brands tend to have more of these and so performed better.

Make sure that you have a list of your directory listings handy too and if necessary, clean these up.

Ensure that you:

  • Remove listings from low quality directories with poor domain and page authority.
  • Clean up listings in popular directories to ensure that NAPs and citations are uniform on each and information is correct.
  • Disavow those listings on potentially damaging sites which you can’t access to remove.

If your industry has been negatively affected then carry out some local SEO optimisation and ensure that you’re following best practices. If you’re not sure where to get started and you’re new to performing local SEO techniques, then check out my beginner’s guide here.

All-in-all the algorithm has some impact for local search so those sites that rely on it for business could be affected either negatively or positively depending on how close to the city they are, the quality of the site and the industry they’re in. It’s important to remember though that Pigeon is not a penalty-based algorithm so even if your site is not fully optimized for local it’s not going to disappear from the SERPs overnight unless there’s something else very wrong with it.

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