What the Pigeon Update Really Means for Local



Last Thursday night, (July 24) Google launched a new algorithm update that impacts local search results. Without a formal release announcement by Google, or even an algo update name, Search Engine Land has named the algo update Pigeon for the time being.

Initially this update appears to be a significant one, however some of the major discernible ranking impacts that were occurring on Friday (July 25) seem to have shifted back a bit already now on Monday (July 28). As the days go on we may find that it’s just an iteration of the “Venice” algorithm or one in a series of local updates to come in the future aimed at tying together Google’s new Google My Business database with the knowledge graph database.

In light of the Pigeon update our teams began running local ranking audits on our entire client portfolio and we are seeing a new disparity that now exists between the ranking on the old Google maps view and the ranking on the new Google maps view. Additionally, the new algorithm update is also impacting the local pack results appearing on Google’s main search results. Here are some of the immediate impacts seen from Pigeon:

  • Less 7 pack, 3 pack and 1 pack local listings were displaying in the search results July 25, a day after the Pigeon launch.
  • More IYP/User Review type sites (like Yelp) seemed to be displaying in the search results instead of the local listings pack, store location pages, or local business websites.
  • Some verticals seem to have taken a ranking hit across the board, such as realtors.
  • There have also been limited early indications that during the Pigeon launch some SMB listings saw ranking positions surge above listings of multi-unit brands.
  • A new ranking disparity seems to now exist between the old Maps view and the new Maps view
  • Ranking orders in local pack results, which had been previously achieved via comprehensive Local Listings Management, are now fluctuating pretty dramatically. See Linda Buquet’s screen shot examples below of before and after ranking results:

local listingA significant part of Google’s Pigeon algorithm update seems to be focused on search results for terms where the user includes a geo-modifier and, in particular, the term “near” along with a modifier.  Google told Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land that this is so they can tie “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.” These types of searches are subsequently showing more listings for Yelp and other search traffic aggregators.

This is a major element of Pigeon that is surprising. The early ranking changes being seen — IYP’ s and user review sites have gained more search result prominence over the local listing pack results as well as over other more locally relevant websites and store location pages — is in theory contrary to one of the elements of the Venice algorithm update. With Venice, Google was intent on displaying more localized results such as store location pages and SMB websites, rather than showing other aggregator sites like Yelp, YP, etc. But already things do seem to be shifting more back to “normal”, with Yelp and other search result aggregator sites giving partial space back to local listing packs again. This leads us to believe that a piece of this new algorithm update is directly related to Google  attempting to appease the Yelp Level Playing Field claims that has had Google in front of the FTC going back to 2011. The heavy early shift seen on search results was likely Google tweaking the algorithm update and improving the end result.

It would make sense if this is, in part, Google’s response to the FTC hearings and ongoing discussions with the US Government. The US Government is the only entity that could “inspire” Google to make a major change to its practices, specifically in this case, because it could legislatively sideline the advancements being made in the area of end-to-end user conversion tracking.

As technologies find more compelling value-adds to convince consumers to concede their privacy rights, Google has bigger fish to fry on the horizon and would likely want to give a bit now in order to get a bit later. Tracking end-to-end consumer purchases is not only a long-term goal for Google but it is also a long-term goal for every brand, agency, platform and SMB doing business today and therefore would take precedence in a long-term strategy that ultimately includes governmental negotiations.

The potential repercussions of seeing the search results skew to Yelp listings could be significant. What if small businesses across the US now merged together in a class action lawsuit against Google claiming there is no level playing field for SMB’s? Since Google does not want that to happen I’m sure these skewed results will even out soon.

It is likely that the end result of this new algo update is that it will ultimately be aligned with prominent elements of the Venice update and it will only reemphasize the importance of comprehensive local SEO strategies as opposed to “automated SEO”. This term is gaining popularity these days as everyone looks to marketing automation for increased cost efficiencies. But  real SEO strategy is based on improving the user experience and funnel, not cutting corners. Efforts in local link building, local citation creation, local content development, content syndication, internal linking strategies and proper schema formatting remain crucial for standing out in search results and having your website and store location pages compete with and complement local listing results. These efforts require manual time and resources and can’t be skimped on. Sites like Yelp do a great job with SEO so brands need to continue to recognize the importance of local SEO strategies as a crucial part of their marketing mix.

In summary, based on the early, noticeable results it appears that Pigeon was a big change but it will take some time to see if it was big enough to ultimately land up there alongside the likes of Penguin and Panda. Ranking results have certainly not stabilized yet for the local packs. We have seen instances of local 7 packs results that had ceased appearing on July 25 but are now reappearing on July 28. Additionally, as mentioned earlier we are beginning to see ranking differences between the results in the old Google Maps view and the new Google Maps view, with the new Google Maps view results being identical to the Carousel view. So Pigeon is likely addressing a couple of things; 1. Evening the playing field for competitors like Yelp who have made a lot of noise about Google Bias; and 2.Better integrating Google’s databases to improve upon location recognition and knowledge graph results moving forward. The latter should be something that has significant impacts on the local business listings environment and the local SEO environment moving forward as it means further integration between the two areas is certain.

Optimization strategies for websites, store location pages, and business listings are certainly becoming much more intertwined.  Universal search results, Google Venice, Google My Business, and Pigeon all lead to an integrative approach to SEO that involves proper content optimization, frequent listing updates, local ecosystem data consistency, citation creation/maintenance, location page back-linking, internal site linking, Schema formatting, page structure optimizations, and content syndication. SEO is SEO regardless of if the results rank in a 7 pack, a maps result, or a localized result on the main SERP.

I want to give special thanks to the amazing Local Services team hear at Location3, and to Mike Blumenthal and Linda Buquet for their early and valuable research and contributions to this topic.

Photo Credit: ZeroOne via Flickr


One thought on “What the Pigeon Update Really Means for Local

  1. I am looking for Local SEO help to move above Yelp listings for a sister city. Google gives so much juice to Yelp.

    Owner CEL Financial Services
    Registered bonded California CTEC Tax Preparer

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