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Google Pigeon Update – What It Means

Google Pigeon Update – What It Means

Google Pigeon Update

Google SEO updates come and go, and as internet marketing professionals, it’s hard to know when Google will release a significant algorithm update, and harder still to know when those updates will affect your clients. Which brings us to last month’s new Google “Pigeon” update.

While the effects of Pigeon are still being sorted out, two things are clear: online directories are benefitting and many verticals lost valuable Universal Search real estate.

As the popular SEO blog searchengineland.com reported last week:

Google has released a new algorithm to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. The changes will be visible within the Google Maps search results and Google Web search results.

While, the full impact of the update will take a while to be fully known, we at Forthea have already begun seeing some effects on local search. For anyone optimizing websites for businesses that depend on local search, pay attention.

The Yelp Problem

A common narrative surrounding this update hinges on a dispute between two internet giants: Google and Yelp. Recently leaked documents showed that Yelp believed that Google was manipulating search results in a way that negatively impacted Yelp’s business. While we can’t know for certain that this complaint had any impact on Google’s algorithm update, we do know that Yelp (and other directories) benefited from the changes.

Google queries are now giving favorable positioning to directories (so your search engine result pages are now filled with links to another directory’s own results page, brilliant move, Google).

So while the algorithm update took care of Google’s “Yelp Problem,” now there’s a problem everyone else has with Yelp.

Universal Problems

While Google claims this update improves local search for users, the net result is frustrating for businesses . Not only have they lost SEO leverage to directories like apartments.com and Yelp, but there has been a significant cutback in local universal search elements.

Forthea works with several real estate and apartment groups across the country and we saw a dramatic reduction in universal search listings over the last two weeks. The reason?

Google has almost totally removed the map results from apartment queries and it’s hard to rank for a universal search term that’s no longer there.

Here’s an example of a common apartment query that receives roughly 600 searches a month: apartments in midtown houston.

Among the first 22 results we have:

  • 11 ads
  • 6 directories: Apartments.com, Rent.com, Homes.com, Zillow, Apartment Guide, and Apartment Finder,
  • 4 apartment websites, and
  • 1 news article

If you’re an SEO professional working on a property website, those aren’t great odds (18% if you’re curious). Before the Pigeon update, most apartment related searches brought up a local map with 6-10 listings (linking directly to the property page). These results were valuable, lead-driving resources that has been replace by third party websites.

While it’s too soon to know the implications of the update, we have seen SEO fluctuations across several industries that we work closely with including:

  • legal,
  • online retail,
  • medical,
  • home builders, and
  • jewelry

What Now?

Google is constantly changing its search algorithm and it is not uncommon for them to correct course after a major update like Pigeon. We’ll be keeping a close eye on all of our client’s keywords and organic traffic over the next few months and make adjustments where needed.

One of the positive changes purported by Google with the Pigeon update is the improvement on distance and location ranking parameters, so in the meantime, it’s more important than ever to have local businesses optimized on Google+ (another recent update has merged Google+ Business Pages and Google Local, so make sure you’ve got everything up to date). By having as much accurate information in this key Google platform, you can improve map and local results.

Have you noticed more Yelp results in your search query? Has your organic traffic taken a hit over the last few weeks? Let us know what you’re seeing the comments below.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Edd Turtle.


Nick Lindauer
Nick is the vice president, client services and operations at Forthea. He’s been working in internet marketing since 2002, when – ironically – he answered an ad in the newspaper. When he’s not at work, he’s off spending time with his family, working on his house, building furniture, cooking on his two Big Green Eggs & brewing hot sauce.

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