What is Google Pigeon?
When Pigeon came out, it caused one of the biggest changes yet to Google’s local and local organic results. This update was given its name by Search Engine Land, a trade publication that asked Google directly what Pigeon was meant to do and got an answer.
The pigeon was made to make Google’s local search algorithm more like their web search algorithm and to improve how distance and location are used to rank results.
After Pigeon was released, the local SEO community reported changes to local and local organic rankings every day for weeks. For example, the older 7-pack style of local results was often replaced with packs that only had 3 listings.
Let’s look at some of the most important things that changed in the Pigeon update:
1.) One of Google’s stated goals for the Pigeon update was to make the connection between their traditional web algorithm and their local algorithm stronger so they could use all of the hundreds of ranking signals that go into the web algorithm.
With these new ties to the web algorithm, it’s even more important for local businesses to have a strong organic web presence if they want to compete for local rankings.
2.) At the same time, Pigeon was supposed to improve Google’s ability to figure out how far away and where a local business is. In many cases, it seemed like the search radius had been shortened, giving more weight to businesses that were close to where the searcher was standing.
For example, if a user in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco searched for “pizza san Francisco,” they wouldn’t get results for the whole city. Instead, they would get results for just their neighborhood.
It was hard to figure out the full effects of Pigeon on the local packs because rankings changed a lot in the weeks after the update. Some local SEOs think that Google may have been A/B testing different sets of results.
3.) After Pigeon, when the map boundaries were changed to have a smaller radius (either as part of the Pigeon update or as part of an A/B test going on at the same time), many businesses suddenly found themselves outside of the packs in which they had been ranking.
After a few years, Google has become very good at figuring out metrics like how far away a searcher is from a business, and Pigeon may be seen as a step in that direction.
4.) One of the most important results of Pigeon was the loss of Google’s 7-pack local results. These were sets of 7 local business listings that were often shown when a search engine query had local intent, like “pizza in Chicago” or “attorney in Denver.”
Over time, Google has steadily cut down on the number of local business listings it shows in its local results packs. It used to show 10 listings per pack, but in 2015, it switched to showing only 3 listings per pack in almost all cases.
The pigeon came out a year before most people switched to 3-packs, so it could be seen as a step toward everyone using these smaller packs. Because the size of the pack was cut, many businesses were no longer shown in the local results, making it harder than ever for them to be seen.
5.) As with many Google updates, the Pigeon update seemed to temporarily increase the number of spam listings that made it into the packs. This showed how weak the local algorithm is and how important it is for the public to report people who break Google’s rules.
One of the most frustrating things about Pigeon was that Google still couldn’t tell the difference between real business names and ones that had been changed to include exact match keywords. Local packs with spammy business names grew in number, forcing businesses that followed the rules out of the packs.
Keeping Pigeons Out of Your Website
Pigeon is a challenge for local business owners because it didn’t just punish bad practices; instead, it changed Google’s view of relevance by taking into account some things that businesses can’t or don’t have much control over.
For example, a business can’t change how far out from the searcher’s location Google looks to find local pack results.
Even if a restaurant on the west side of a city has the best food, it may not show up in the search results if the searcher is on the east side of the city. A business can’t control things like these, but other things can be controlled for success in a world without Pigeon.
Focus on traditional, organic signals: Smart link building, publishing great website content, and growing Domain Authority all help high local and local organic rankings.
Focus on hyperlocal content. Creating text, video, and image content that connects your business to a specific neighborhood or local region will strengthen your authority as a resource for a smaller search radius.
Focus on the basics of local SEO: To compete in the 3-pack, you need to do everything on a basic local SEO checklist right. You should do things like make your citations more accurate and complete, get rid of duplicate listings, get good reviews, and do many other basic things.
Large brands should pay special attention to these basic things to do. If they don’t do them right, it could hurt their local rankings in their hundreds or thousands of locations.
Spam Reporting: If Google doesn’t do a good job of checking its local results, you can help. First, make sure you know Google’s rules inside and out. Then, you can help all local businesses by reporting any rules that have been broken.
Even if Google doesn’t always act on your reports, it’s still worth it to try, especially if demoting a spammer could give your business a better spot. Of course, you shouldn’t report a business just because it belongs to a rival. You should only report listings that don’t follow Google’s rules.