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Is Pigeon Helping or Hurting Your Local Business?

Google Pigeon Update

It is our belief that major algorithm updates from Google are generally meant to help, not hurt, the businesses that are following the rules, and prior to now, there seemed to be a big push to come to the aid of SEO-law-abiding businesses. Our stance on white hat vs. black hat has not and will never change (100% white hat), but there are occasions where Google, king of search, leapfrogs over these certainties, leaving us puzzled (a fun game they like to play to keep us on our toes, perhaps?). This latest update targeted at local search, deemed Pigeon (sometimes spelled Pidgeon) for now, could possibly be hurting the small, local companies and also making things more confusing for nationals and globals that have multi-location situations.

Enhancing the confusion, we don’t have access to Matt Cutts to confirm or deny the rumors (though we fully support his time-out!). Thanks to Search Engine Land, one of Google’s primary reporters, we have access to what is considered credible insight into the situation. The following statement from a recent report helps define Pigeon, “Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more”, though further detail has not yet been released by the man behind the curtain (a.k.a. Google).

Quality vs. Quantity

You might recall the weirdness that surrounded the Hummingbird update and how maybe not everyone felt there was an improvement in the resulting results. This, according to David Mihm, Director of Local Search Strategy at Moz, is a similar thing. In a Search Engine Land article, he says, “Just like last time, I would argue that the quality of the SERPs has been downgraded, with ‘search results within search results’ (i.e. directories) getting rewarded relative to their pre-Pigeon position.” Yelp has been cited as the red-headed, whiny stepchild that is the primary beneficiary of this update; could this be a signal that Google is eating humble pie after allegedly hindering Yelp results back in 2011? We can only speculate but this directory site and others appear to have vastly improved search results (and not necessarily improved user results), according to Mihm.

Leader of the map packs.

What is a map pack? To many of you, it may sound like something your purchase for popular gaming sites. For our purposes, a map pack refers to the local results that show up as a cluster (two-pack, three-pack, and seven-pack) within the organic search results.

Your phone and your desktop do not typically display the same search results; could Pigeon be an attempt to close that gap? Mike Blumenthal, Search Expert and blog author, speculates that “there seem to be fewer seven-pack results than before although the drop is not as big as first reported as Google seems to have changed the impact of some local query modifiers.” From his perspective, this update cuts down on duplicate organic and local results and the differences between your desktop and phone queries. From our assessment, if you are a local company that was seeing good results in the local pack listings and, therefore, decided to avoid SEO, you may want to reconsider that decision.

Why is this potentially harmful?

If directories are showing up more often and we are seeing map packs more often, then the organic real estate on page one of Google becomes extremely limited. Worse yet, this update makes it tougher for the smaller, local business to compete in the map packs, especially if they are not directory-based. According to Chris Smith, President and Strategist at Argent Media, “If these ranking changes for local-intent queries were intentional upon Google’s part, it seems clear that they feel that there are many cases where searchers desire to perform comparative research to decide upon businesses prior to selecting listings. Businesses will have to adjust their strategic approaches accordingly.” (Source)

While strategy adjustments are the name of the SEO game, not all small locals can afford to dedicate these extra resources to forge ahead. Nor can they spend more, if any, on paid ads in order to capture a piece of that prime real estate. Nicole Hess, Senior SEO Strategist at Delphic Digital, states, “Being out of the local pack correlates with a loss of organic traffic for a few locations. A loss of organic traffic is also occurring where listings are competing against paid ads that have star ratings.” (Source) We urge you to continue your white hat SEO efforts (or start an SEO campaign ASAP if you haven’t already) while keeping these local updates top of mind. Be sure your site is registered with Google My Business (formerly Google Places) and Google+.

In (potentially) related news, algoroo.com reports over a week of hyperactivity from Google starting on August 7th and ending on August 15th. While this activity came in post-Pigeon, the two could be related. Perhaps by this time next week, we’ll be able to tell you what that was all about. Our guess? Penguin 3.0!

A few disclaimers: 

  • Pigeon is not a name confirmed by Google (yet).

  • All websites are subject to penalty, even Google

  • We may or may not favor penguins, pandas and hummingbirds to pigeons. =]