The original 'Pigeon' update was released in the US on 24th July 2014, aimed at providing a more useful and relevant experience for searchers seeking local results. The changes were visible within the Google Maps and Google Web search results.
The initial consensus amongst search marketers in the US had been that some industries were affected more than others as well as businesses located closer to city borders, suggesting that the area in which results are presented is tightening. There were also contradictory reports that business listings on major directory sites such as Yelp appeared higher up the results, often before the business website itself.
The Pigeon update will undoubtedly have some kind of effect on rankings of both local businesses as well as non-local businesses that compete in rankings with local alternatives – ultimately resulting in potential increase or decrease in referrals, organic traffic, and keyword rankings for most sites.
Businesses in the UK do have the benefit of learning from post-Pigeon research from the US, however, Google may well have further 'tweaked' it's Pigeon algorithms since July 24th following heavy criticism especially in relation to the update re-opening local results to spam tactics.
In the past, similar searches on Google Web Search and Google Maps Search often yielded a very differing set of results. The Pigeon algorithm now connects the two in a more cohesive way - it ties deeper into the site’s web search capabilities, leveraging hundreds of ranking signals, along with search features like spelling correction capabilities, synonyms and Google’s knowledge graph.
The algorithm places greater weight on directories and directory listings for local searches with sites like OpenTable, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon etc. receiving higher visibility within the search results.
Yelp-specific queries will appear ahead of Google's own results. This is in result to Yelp criticising Google for 'pushing its own reviews ahead of Yelp’s, even when the searcher asked specifically for “yelp” in their query'.
Following an update, if the organic traffic sent to your website by Google is down, but the quality (conversion rates) is up, then this is considered a successful update from Google's point of view. For the Pigeon update however, the response has been a decrease in both organic traffic and conversion for businesses that were negatively affected. In other words, Pigeon does not affect the quality of your traffic, it simply gives you less of it.
Taking equity and page authority into account, links metrics still play an important part. Businesses with well-structured, mobile-friendly pages and optimised content actually saw an increase in traffic post-Pigeon. In other words, continuing with your SEO efforts, focusing on best-practises still works as one would expect, however, the approach to take does depend on the size and maturity of both the business and the website.
Proximity clearly matters as a search signal in the post-Pigeon world. There is a clear preference for businesses that are closer to city centre, a slight preference for locations just outside of urban centres in large markets but a sharp drop for any past 20 miles. Over time however, this affect is likely to subside as the location of the searcher becomes more significant. But for now, the prime position for a business is to be as close as possible to city centre.
This links back into your overall approach to optimisation, with the 'natural' approach winning yet again. Businesses that have previously adopted an 'aggressive' approach have seen the biggest drop.
As with previous Google updates such as Penguin and Panda, what works well for your business today could suddenly become catastrophic overnight.
Pigeon is in a state of constant flux with Google continuing to tweak the algorithm, creating more turbulence for brands that chose to ignore it, and opportunities for those that take the time to understand its implications.
It is best to develop your optimisation strategy with engagement and retention in mind, and to implement using a well-structured, 'natural' approach. Done right, the results will naturally follow.
To talk to us about how our expertise in local search optimisation can help your business, call us on 020 7183 4002 or get in touch via our contact form.