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How to Recover from Google’s Pigeon Update

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Google is always updating its algorithms, and while it’s great for searchers who are trying to get the most relevant results, it can also be problematic for business owners who have adapted their website and business to Google’s previously existing standards.

In the last few years, Google’s updates have been hard-hitting and somewhat radical, even though casual searchers probably noticed nothing:

  • The Panda Update, from 2011, targeted sites with low-quality content (usually in the form of keyword-stuffed or spam-like content) and penalized them by ranking them much lower.
  • The similar Penguin Update, from 2012, targeted spam and other black hat SEO practices, and penalized offending sites by ranking them lower as well.
  • The Hummingbird Update, from 2013, was a complete change of the entire search ranking algorithm—the first overhaul in many years—in order to produce ranks that respond to a searcher’s intent, rather than a searcher’s keywords. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird was not intended to penalize sites for black hat practices.

Now, we’re looking at the most recent animal-themed Google algorithm update—Pigeon.

What Is the Pigeon Update?

articleimage386What Is the Pigeon Update

The “Pigeon Update” is so named by Search Engine Land in the absence of an official name from Google. Despite the fact that Google has not named the update officially, it does appear that the algorithm is significant enough to cause some major waves in the world of SEO, particularly in local results.

Before we take a look at what the Pigeon Update specifically involves, let’s take a look at the possible motivating factors for its release:

  • Yelp recently accused Google of excessively favoring its own local results more than Yelp’s. This favoritism was evident even in branded searches. While it is logical for Google to favor its own listings, the search engine giant does tend to make changes with the best interests of its searchers in mind. It is reasonable to suspect that Yelp’s criticism was at least a considering factor in this recent local business algorithm change.
  • Google is a major proponent of advancing technology to favor mobile devices, particularly local searches. The Pigeon Update improves the experience of mobile search by adding location-relevant results, furthering Google’s greater agenda of optimizing the web for mobile.

The bottom line for the Pigeon Update is an improvement in local search results, both in traditional web searches and Google Maps. As an expansion to the overhaul algorithm update Hummingbird, the Pigeon Update will give a greater weight to the searcher’s location in generating search results, and more local results will be displayed at the top of the page.

Ultimately, the update will accomplish four things:

  • Locations and distances will be improved. This will work for both indexed locations and for the locations of search users. Local businesses will be seen in terms of their exact location, and searchers will be able to see more accurate locations and distances when searching for businesses in the area.
  • Yelp and similar local directory sites such as Zagat, Urbanspoon, and OpenTable will enjoy higher rankings, likely in response to Yelp’s recent criticisms. Previously, even branded search queries containing the word “Yelp” would not yield a Yelp page as a top search result. Now, local business entries in these local directories will be ranked higher than the actual business webpages in some cases, forcing them to the second page. This portion of the update has been met with mixed response.
  • Synonyms and misspellings will be handled differently. While the specific changes have not been fully released, business owners can anticipate more relevant results for searchers who do not accurately input the name of the business.
  • The knowledge graph has been updated.

Who Is at Risk?

Unlike the Panda and Penguin updates, the Pigeon Update does not appear to be penalty based. That is to say, your webpage will not suffer the wrath of Google for any black hat-related infractions. However, the changes to location and distance data and favoritism toward local directories could be problematic for some local business owners.

If you currently own and operate a small business, the Pigeon Update will probably cause some changes in the amount of traffic you receive and the type of traffic you receive. Depending on where and how you are listed in local directories, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Some local businesses might maintain or slightly improve in rank thanks to better, more accurate location-specific search results. Other local businesses will benefit peripherally thanks to a higher emphasis on local directory traffic. Other local businesses might suffer in terms of traffic, especially if their information in local directories is obsolete or lacking in relevance. While it’s important to keep in mind that Google is not penalizing local businesses without a strong local directory presence, the possibility of dropping in rank is real.

As a local business, you could therefore experience four possibilities, depending on your specific location and how you are listed in local directories:

  • Similar ranks, more traffic.
  • Similar ranks, less traffic.
  • Worse ranks, more traffic.
  • Worse ranks, less traffic.

If you aren’t targeting a local audience, the Pigeon Update will not affect you.

Steps to Recovery

articleimage386Steps to Recovery

If you’re a local business suffering from less traffic as a result of the Pigeon Update, there are a handful of steps you can take to correct your drop. Since you have not been penalized by Google, don’t think of this as domain authority recovery. Think of it as an adjustment to your SEO strategy in response to these new changes:

  • First and most importantly, claim your space on every major local directory and industry directory you can find. Hunt down all the major review sites relevant to your business and register your business with them.
  • Take a consistent effort to improve the number and positivity of the reviews on these sites. Do not pay for reviews and do not force people to write them, but do encourage your best customers to take a few extra minutes to write up a complimentary review after their experience.
  • Monitor your appearance for your target keywords. You may no longer be in the local search 7-pack after the update, or the local search 7-pack may not even exist for those keywords. Likewise, a local search 7-pack may exist where it didn’t before. Take note of these changes and be sure to update your strategy accordingly.
  • If your overall ranking has dropped as a result of the algorithm changes, step up your onsite content game. An extra post per week with associated syndication and backlinking could be the recipe to help you move back to your original rank.
  • Double check your NAP (name, address, and phone number) on your website as well as on all local directories you are listed for. Any inconsistencies, even in formatting, could lead to negative consequences.

Moving forward, it’s important to note Google’s broader intentions. Its primary goals are giving more weight to informational directories, improving the accuracy of local searches, and catering to mobile device users, so the more you can do to stay in line with these trends, the better. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly, update your local listings whenever you can, and keep watch for new directories to stay ahead of the game.

If you need help determining how the Pigeon Update affected your business’s listings or need help responding to those changes, get in touch with us!

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Nick Wilson

Nick is AudienceBloom's publication wizard. He works his magic to perform outreach for external content marketing campaigns.

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