The Pigeon algorithm rolled out in July 2014 and has been the biggest algorithm update ever released specifically targeting local search results as well as Google Maps. It was initially to penalize businesses that were using the same address to generate leads for multiple businesses. Here are some of the most important changes that were introduced by the Pigeon update.
Traditional ranking signals
Prior to Pigeon, local search and traditional web search often produced very different set of results because they used different algorithms for the most part. With the local search algorithm, it was possible for local websites to outrank their competitors simply by collecting more quality citations than their rivals – all things being equal. This changed with the Pigeon update.
With Pigeon, Google blended the local search algorithm with the traditional web ranking signals. As a result, Google now looks at organic ranking signals like domain authority, trust, quality of backlinks, content optimization, etc. This is in addition to traditional local ranking signals such as citations, reviews and directories. This has made local SEO more challenging because it means that you’ll have to take a holistic approach to ranking if you want a chance to be featured prominently in local search.
Google Pigeon gave greater weight to local businesses who optimized their content with geo-specific keywords. This means that more local users can find you online as long as you have optimized your business website, Google My Business page and social media listings in such a way to reflect a more specific location in a neighbourhood of a city, rather than simply including the name of your city or region.
Furthermore, with Pigeon, searchers are now able to quickly find nearby businesses without having to search geo-specific terms themselves. For example, if you were searching for keywords with a local intent but did not include a search location, you would get results that were completely different from a search using the local keywords: “family photography northampton”. Since the update, both keywords would generate the same results.
Improved ranking for local review and directory sites
Google Pigeon gave a major ranking boost to review and directory sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, OpenTable, Kayak and Trip Advisor. This means you should aim to get listed in as many top-ranked directories as possible that show up for search querieds related to your targeted keywords. Aim for media rich citations, rather than simply dropping your name, address and phone number
Shortening of the 7-pack
One of the most significant changes that occurred with Google Pigeon was the shortening of the local pack, which Google began experimenting with. Just over a year after the update, Google officially rolled out the 3-pack and replaced the 7-pack in August 2015.
When it did, an estimated 57% of local businesses lost their front page visibility and with it, a lot of potential business leads in the process. There have been lots of reasons given for why Google shortened the 7-pack to 3, but the fact of the matter is that the 7-pack simply took up too much ad space, and Google makes its money on ads. It wasn’t a penalty or an algorithmic update. It was more of a business decision for Google.
- The algorithm returns improved search results for queries that use both the conventional term for a local neighbourhood as well as the colloquail term for the same neighbourhood.
- With an emphasis on accuracy and specificity, the algorithm reduced the radius around specific locations, which created more neighbourhooods. This meant that the algorithm emphasized neighbourhood-focused keywords and citations.
- If you’re a local business, you need to be more specific with your location targeting in your keyword optimization. This means optimizing your social profiles, website and citations to reflect your specific location in the neighbourhood of a city or region, rather than the city or region.
- In your keyword research, look for all of the neighbourhood synonyms that apply to a specific region and optimize your web properties for known colloqialisms.