Google Pigeon – named such by professional SEOs, not Google themselves – is a new algorithm update that targets local business search results, tweaking how businesses appear and where business directories sit in the rankings.
The Purpose of Pigeon
The goals of the Pigeon update are fairly simple; make local search results for businesses or services clearer and more accurate. To do this, Google is returning to more traditional ranking indicators and away from more local-specific indicators. If this seems like a backward move, perhaps it is; it remains to be seen how permanent these changes are. It’s possible Google is testing different scenarios and the current plan is different from what will eventually be finalized.
In either case, what we currently have is an algorithm that puts less emphasis on location and more on site value. Consequently, some of the most dominant sites are actually directory sites and review sites, like Yelp. Thankfully, this change has not given a distinct advantage to national chains over small businesses; location is still important enough that it can supersede other SEO factors.
Why Rankings Dropped for Local Business
In this case, Pigeon has dropped the rankings of many individual businesses in favor of business directories and resources consumers would use to pick from a list of potential businesses. As such, business sites aren’t demoted so much as these directories have been promoted. Unfortunately, it works out to the same result either way; local businesses fall on the rankings and have a harder time pulling in traffic compared to just a few short weeks ago.
Local businesses also may suffer from the lack of the business pack result. These packs, which formerly appeared in upwards of 12% of queries for local businesses, now only appear in a meager 3%. Google may be testing their relevance compared to the carousel of businesses at the top of the screen, or they may be on the verge of removing it completely.
One thing Pigeon is not, is a penalty. Local businesses suffering under the change are not penalized for something they did or did not do. This is good, in that it means there’s no new rule to comply with to avoid penalties. On the other hand, it’s bad for many local businesses, as this is the new way the world works. Ranking as a local business just got a lot harder.
What May Continue to Change
One thing to note is that this is a very recent algorithm change. Pigeon has only been active for a week at this point, and it has changed at least once since then, on a wide enough scale to be noticed. Google may have other changes up its sleeves. Any change is subject to further change. Maybe directories will be demoted. Maybe location will be an even more important factor. Maybe the business packs will come back, or be removed entirely. Maybe the carousel, which has remained untouched through this update, will be tweaked. The fact is, until things settle down, there’s no easy way to react and work to get back to your former spot in the rankings.
For now, it’s best to just start up a few PPC campaigns to boost your traffic, watch how Google shakes up their new algorithm and do what you can to improve your SEO in a general sense.
How to Build Back Up
There are a few ways you can work to promote your business in the face of these new restrictions.
First, run a search for your keywords and industry. Identify the business directories – like Yelp, Urban Spoon or TripAdvisor – and make sure you’ve claimed your account pages. Make sure these pages have complete and accurate information, including your local address, phone number and business description. Upload a few compelling pictures.
While you’re working to maintain these profiles, scan through the recent reviews. Every positive review is a good thing, unless it’s obviously generated by a fake account. Every negative review is a chance for customer outreach. Use them for obvious customer service attempts, don’t try to delete or hide them.
Next, make sure you have a Google+ page for your business. Google+ is one of those tricky business directories that show up in the results in places it probably shouldn’t. In fact, Google+ showing up above Yelp in Yelp-related queries is part of what triggered this whole update. It’s not quite as blatantly pushed as it was before, but you can still make a lot of use out of an active Google+ profile.
On Google+, as well as your other profiles both on directories and social media, make sure your contact information is local. If your address is for your corporate headquarters, Google is more likely to assign you to that location rather than your actual location. Phone numbers benefit from local area codes, if you don’t have an 800 number. Also, make sure your business name is the same throughout all of these sites. If any of this information is different from place to place, Google is likely to consider each entry a different business, which hurts your overall brand image.
On your own website, promote the local aspects of SEO. Local keywords are becoming a bit more prominent, as are business product or service keywords. This is part of Google’s return to traditional SEO metrics with Pigeon.
Pay attention to where your business appears other than the organic results. If you’re number seven on the first page, but you’re second in line on the carousel, it’s probably a good idea to focus on the metrics that put you there. Work to gather more positive testimonials on the aggregated sites, including Google+ and Yelp. Make sure your picture is a compelling image of your business storefront, rather than the default “this profile is blank” map location.
Set up tracking and analytics for the links in various directory profiles. You can use Google Analytics for this, just make use of URL tracking parameters. You may want to see what users are coming in from these directories and what they’re doing when they arrive.
While you’re at it, work on the traditional SEO metrics, including quality content, minimized duplicate content and quality backlinks. Links are of particular importance; try to gather links from local aggregators, such as newspaper top 10 lists and local directories. Yelp is good, but a local newspaper is likely better.