Worried About Pigeon? Just Keep On Truckin’

Pigeon has rocked the local SEO world. How should we respond to Google's new local search algorithm update?

If you’ve missed the news somehow, or were lucky enough to be spared from its effects, Google rolled out a new update to the local algorithm on July 24th.

Since it had no official name, Search Engine Land dubbed it the Pigeon update. Google didn’t release many details about the update — just that it was supposed to tie in to the more traditional organic search ranking signals. They claimed it would provide more relevant and accurate results, and that the update applied to both web search and map search.

For many verticals, the rankings went completely haywire. The Local SEO experts dropped everything and started to study the new results, but no one could make any sense of the changes. Rankings and even page layouts were changing daily with no apparent rhyme or reason. Even a few weeks later, the SERPs are still in major flux; clearly, Google is still futzing around with the algorithm.

Where Were You When The Pigeon Droppings Hit?

It’s one of those days that will live in your memory forever. You’re expecting a nice, quiet Friday, and you’re already looking forward to the weekend — and then you pop open your browser and see the news about Pigeon. Your heart stops and you throw up a little in your mouth.

Articles surfaced about Expedia getting a local listing in New York City, or Hotels.com get a listing in Dallas. People were reporting all over that businesses way outside the standard centroid were outranking businesses right in the center. Some unclaimed locations without websites were suddenly ranking in the map pack.

Like most Local SEO practitioners, we dropped everything and started checking rankings for our clients. We work exclusively with auto dealers, and Google has been pretty vocal about targeting car dealers in the past, so we were worried. Amazingly, nothing had really changed. Sure, there was a bit of fluctuation in rankings, but nothing outside the norm.

So — if you’re an auto dealer, you’re in luck! Pigeon didn’t really do much…

What Did You Do After Pigeon Hit?

The phone calls started to roll in, both from our clients and from businesses that had seen me speak or read one of my blog posts.

Everyone wanted to know what to do next — how to fight back against Pigeon and get back their rankings. They were ready to drop everything and pivot to attack Pigeon, and they were calling all the experts to build a plan of attack.

The problem is — no one really knows what the next step is yet. We’re all studying the SERPs, but they’re fluctuating so wildly that no one can really figure out what’s going on. A SERP might have a map pack one day and nothing but standard organic results the next. A location might rank #1 one day and be gone the next.

What We Know So Far

More than anything, we know that we don’t know much… But here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what we’ve all figured out so far:

  • Pigeon only affects local queries in English in the United States
  • It’s not penalty-based, it’s a core change to the algorithm
  • There’s been a reduction in the number of 7-packs that show in local queries (23.4% according to MozCast)
  • There’s been an increase in 3-packs
  • There’s been a reduction of “duplicate” results; businesses are less likely to show in organic results and map pack on the same SERP
  • The search radius has been reduced for most local queries
  • Pigeon favors directory sites (most likely because those sites have more authority)
  • In most cases for SERPs that show the Local Carousel, the Carousel results show local businesses and organic results are mostly directories
  • In the Carousel and map pack, local businesses seem to be favored over local brands (the common example is that Domino’s no longer shows in the pack for “pizza” queries)
  • Even a few weeks in, the results are still changing daily

So What Do You Do? You Keep On Truckin’

Yes, Pigeon drastically changed (and is still changing) SERPs for many verticals. Supposedly, the update is more in line with traditional organic ranking signals – but since the order of organic results doesn’t match the order in the map pack, we know there’s more to it.

Instead of flying off the handle and changing everything you’re doing, you should just keep on using the tactics you should have been employing all along. Here’s what we’re telling all of our clients that call in about Pigeon:

  • As always, you should be concentrating on creating amazing content and making your site the best it can be for your users
  • You should be optimizing your site content for your important keywords
  • You should be optimizing your content for your local area (include city/state in title tags, H1s, content, alt tags, etc.)
  • You should have an claimed, optimized Google My Business listing
  • You should be engaging with customers and fans on social media
  • You should be working to collect positive reviews from customers

These are the core principles of Local SEO — and while the weight of some factors within the local search algorithm might have changed, the ideas are still the same.

Yes, there are some wacky outliers with local rankings that make zero sense. Yes, the map pack has disappeared from several SERPs. Regardless of the changes, you should still be concentrating on creating the best user experience possible.

Get Your Barnacle On

Barnacle SEO is the practice of attaching yourself to the “SEO authority” of larger sites and letting business drift on over to you. Now that Pigeon has bumped up directories in the local listings, there are more barnacle opportunities than ever.

Check your important keywords and see which directories are showing up now. Make sure you’re listed on those directories, and make sure your listings are completely filled out and optimized. Sure, they’re not the same as getting website visitors, but with the directories now taking over local results, you’ll still get more customer eyeballs.

The Answers Are Coming…

All of the experts are studying Pigeon daily. Eventually, the algorithm will level out, and we’ll get a handle on exactly what has changed. If you’re still working the core principles, you’ll have a solid foundation already built, and you’ll just have to make a few tweaks to change your mix for Pigeon.

If you were hit hard, it’s going to be a stressful wait — but there’s not much else to do. Keep an eye on Search Engine Land and other Local SEO blogs, and as soon as someone gets the algo figured out, the news will spread. Until then, just keep on truckin’.

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