Google Releases “Pigeon” Update - Local Search Results Affected
On 24 July, Google launched a new algorithm (christianed Pigeon by Search Engine Land in the absence of any official naming by Google). Its aim is to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results. At present the effects are only being felt in the US, but if these things follow the usual course of events Google is likely to roll it out globally over the coming weeks. (UPDATE on 23/12/14: Google actually waited to iron out some creases - Pigeon eventually came to the UK on 22 December 2014, but we're still seeing some wrinkles - read here for the latest news.)
Let's start by defining local search results. When users look for a business, service or product in a particular area, Google already tries to adapt search results to meet that need for more local knowledge. The first page usually looks a bit different to regular search results. In this example we searched for “Chinese restaurants in Bournemouth":
Local Pack search results
The first thing you’re likely to see is the local pack search results. This gives you a list of local businesses (usually a 3-pack or 7-pack) with links to their website, a summary of Google reviews, a link to their Google+ page, address and telephone number. A letter corresponds to a placement on a map, normally on the right hand side of the page.
Google’s maps are also very prominent for local searches. You can drill down into the local results for more information, reviews and directions to each establishment by clicking on Google’s map.
Under the local search pack and Google maps results, you’re likely to find results for individual businesses’ websites and directory listings such as Yell or Trip Advisor. You might see review features on some of these directory listings too.
What can we expect from Pigeon?
So how will Pigeon shake this up? Google says the new update
“ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.”
They added that it should also improve Google’s distance and location ranking parameters.
If Pigeon does what Google intends it to, users will hopefully see more accurate, better quality and genuinely helpful listings for local searches. Time will tell if that is actually the case.
As for website owners, the day after the release, feedback was mixed. Some are reporting better visibility in local listings, while others say their rankings have dropped away, with Google no longer providing a local search pack at all for some search queries (realtors are particularly noticeable among those complaining of their key terms disappearing entirely).
In this blog post from Understanding Google Places and Local Search, Mike Blumenthal notes an apparent reduction in duplication of search results in the local 7-pack and organic listings. If this is a direct effect of the Pigeon update, it should make for a better experience for users, where local-pack listings are often mirrored below in organic results, wasting valuable front page real estate.
In other feedback from Search Engine Land, it looks as if local directory sites, particularly the bigger, more influential ones with a bit of SEO clout, are getting much better visibility in local search results, relegating links to individual websites further down the page. Depending how widespread this effect is, we doubt this will go down well with business owners, who may suddenly find their own website's page one ranking suddenly replaced by Yelp, Trip Advisor or a local review site.
It may also prove annoying for users who don’t like directories and review sites (they can be open to manipulation and abuse) and who may find themselves having to go to page 2 of search results or beyond to find direct links to local business websites.
It’s very early days, of course, and we’ll defer any hasty pronouncements until after a suitable bedding-in period, but it seems to us that local search may just have got a whole lot harder for smaller websites.