Google’s Pigeon Update: What does it mean for the SEO world?

Google Pigeon

Recently was unveiled Google’s pigeon update to its search algorithm, engineered to improve local search.

The name Pigeon has been coined by the folks over at SearchEngineLand and not Google itself. Google, in reality, has not even indicated that there has been an update.

However, fluctuations in the SERPs and other tell-tale signs have led us to conclude that there has been a major update.

This update is expected to strengthen the ties between organic and local search indicators as well as deliver improved accuracy over location rankings. This update aims to provide local search results that are relevant, useful, and accurate and will not be penalty based. It seems that they want to tie together local search results with Google Maps results. Also, there seems to be some effort in the direction of making mobile and desktop SERPs aligned.

Changes brought about by Google’s Pigeon Update are:

1. Local listings disappear for a huge number of keywords:

a).  According to Mozcast Data, 7 packs have been dropped for many queries on desktop. Others like Daren Shaw are reporting a 23.4% drop in local packs. (See MozCast Data: 7 Packs Dropped But Probably not As Much As MozCast Indicated  and We’re Seeing a 23.4% Drop in Local Packs).

If you don’t understand what’s meant by local packs, look at the image below.

local packs

Earlier, mobile local results had more than 3 packs. Prior to the updates, only some of the queries were returning results in 3 packs. But after the updates, an increase in results with 3 packs has been observed. There is a logic behind the limited number of local results for mobile queries.  First off the screen is small and mobile users are generally impatient. Also, for mobile queries, Google knows the location of the user precisely. A variety of methods are used for this ranging from accessing data from the mobile browser, date and time settings etc.

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Moz data from July shows a 60 percent decline in 7-pack results for a lot of terms for queries made on PC. In other words for no local pack results appear for those queries at all. You can see that in the image below.

decline in results


(Source Is Google’s New Local Algorithm ‘Pigeon’ for the Birds?)

The effect will be a reduction of traffic to your website in the first few days of the update. If local packs appeared say 10 times earlier for a query, with 60% reduction, it will now appear only 4 times.

b). To remedy this situation in the short run, you may try to cover the traffic losses with a PPC campaign. In the long term, you will need to focus on getting web search listings for your keywords.

c). As always, there are some bugs. When searching for New York hotels, Expedia was among the local carousel results for a few days. Expedia, being a travel search company, and also being on the line of fire by Google a little while ago, it seemed a little weird. It was fixed later on when the situation was reported to Google.



( See Expedia becomes a New York Hotel after Google’s Penguin update)

2. Website authority is now more important

Website authority may play a bigger role in determining local search rankings because this new local search algorithm will be more tied to the traditional web search rankings. Local rankings will, therefore, be determined by the domain authority, the back-links and other SEO ranking factors. If you don’t have a local presence, then work towards establishing it. If the local rankings of your website have dropped over the last few days, then it means that the SEO characteristics of your site are behind those of your competition and you will need to run competition research to see how your content and back-links stand.

3.  The Yelp problem is gone

A ranking boost from Yelp has been noticed. This implies that there is a need to build a solid business presence on the leading local directories in your industry. In short, Google fixed the Yelp problem.

Earlier, Yelp had complained to Google that even when users were specifically searching for Yelp results, Google showed Google plus pages to searchers. Previously, when people searched for something listed on Yelp, Google had trouble placing the pages at the top of the search results. The results would appear below other returns, even when the search queries included the word Yelp. Therefore, Yelp and other local directory websites are now having higher visibility.

Here is an example of the same

yelp google plus

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(see Google’s Pigeon Update Solves Yelp Problem, Boosts Local Directories)


Yelp’s report specifically looked at the search term, “gary danko yelp,” (it’s a San Francisco restaurant). As you can see below, Google had listed links to Google+ content such as reviews and its Google+ page.

While for this particular query the Yelp results do appear on the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th spots, there were many queries when people search for local information and the Yelp page appeared at the very bottom or not at all.

After the Pigeon update, Yelp pages are dominating the SERPs.


 4.  Benefits for other local directories

Decrease in the number of local pack results will definitely boost the local directory results. Now these results, which are organic, have a higher chance of showing themselves on the SERPs than ever before.

Well-known directory sites Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Zagat, and OpenTable are back. Also, lesser known directories are seen in the search results.

5. SEO and web design results are back

According to Antony Shotland (See Picking through Google’s pigeon droppings), “Previously, these verticals were not deemed worthy of local-pack results, although they occasionally showed in certain places for specific queries; but now, they seem to be back across the board.”

Even as early as 2009, there were no local pack results for search terms like “webhosting denver” or “seo plano”.

This is a screenshot from 2009 for one such query that shows that there are no local pack results for seo, web design queries.

seo web design

However, they seem to be back now.

back again

At the same time, it has been observed that those that are back are ranking purely based on mass spam backlinks.

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How to survive Google’s pigeon update and ideas for improving local listings?

1. After the update has been fully rolled out, look for the high-ranking local directories in your niche for your targeted keywords. I say that the update is not yet fully rolled out because all major updates take more than a week to fully roll out.

2. Find the directories which will appear for the relevant search queries and ensure that your business is listed on every directory. You then need to add content that is enhanced with a quality description and pictures, have a link to your website, and any other relevant information the directory will allow you to add. Make sure you are listed in as many directories as possible because this will increase the odds that your business will be found regardless of the directories Google boosts in algorithm updates.

3. Ensure that your businesses have a Google+ local page and verify your ownership of the listing. Make sure you have the proper description for your business. Your business name, phone number, and address should be consistent in the local directories where your business is listed.

4. It is important that you track how your rankings change for the different listings, this will help you know which listings should be a priority to you.

5. Local carousel’s importance in the results have not been affected by the update and this can be a great way to have extra exposure for some of the local keywords. Make sure therefore that you work on your listing’s image and rating. You can do this by having a high quality and attractive photo in your Google+ business profile and encourage customer reviews for your business. Reviews are rewarded by many directories in an attempt for higher rankings.

6. Include your local business in its proper category. Changing the category may lead to erroneous search results.

Advantages of Google’s pigeon update

1. It will provide better search results for people searching using the Google Maps or Google Places platform.

2. Local businesses that are trying to build their online presence organically will benefit from it because Google has given local directory sites more authority and better search visibility. However, this is debatable as local pack results provided a major CTR and they are now dwindling.

3. With the update, Google has improved its ability to see past spelling errors in searches. So a company’s search results will not  face any problems in SERPs by spelling mistakes. Also the ability to recognize synonyms has improved.

Disadvantages of the Pigeon update

1. The stronger directory sites will gain greater search visibility as compared to the weaker individual business websites.

2. Local sites that haven’t had much SEO help may face a downward spiral as Google shifts the focus to authority, which again comes from backlinks and SEO.

3. It’s possible that local directory listings may dominate the entire first page of the results, giving little scope for others.