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The New Local Search – A Google Pigeon Update

The New Local Search – A Google Pigeon Update

Google Pigeon Update

About three months ago, I wrote about a Google algorithm update that SEO’s have been calling Pigeon. Not to be confused with Penguin, Panda, Porkpie, or Pirate (okay, I made one of those up). For most, Pigeon is a simple blip on the radar, an update that will never affect their business or their life.

After all, Google’s Pigeon update impacted a very small percentage of queries. This update seems miniscule, right? Just a harmless update that no one needn’t worry about. Right?

Well for every 1% of Google searches, there are thousands of businesses who depend on organic traffic from those queries. The Pigeon update, which impacted the way local search is rendered, hit four industries hardest (source):

  • Jobs
  • Real Estate
  • Movie
  • Insurance

If your website falls under one of these verticals, I’m sure you’ve noticed a change in your organic rankings and traffic. If you’re wondering how Pigeon impacted local search, stick around.


While the initial implications of Pigeon weren’t immediately clear, in the intervening months, we’ve noticed a few trends in local searches that require some readjustments.

Up until July, when Pigeon first flew the coop, we had been touting the great potential of universal results for a few of our clients who rely on local search. It seemed that Google was pumping as many searches as it could with everything from map packs, to carousels, to news results.

And while ranking for universal results is still a great indication of overall site health, this algorithm update showed the finicky nature of Google.

A recent study by Moz.com reported a 23.4% decrease in map results on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), but that undermines the significance of the change in search results for those industries most impacted.

For real estate (and more specifically for apartment websites), the disappearance of map results in Google queries are frustrating. Just a few months ago, authoritative domains that feature apartment complexes across the country had literally thousands of map results ranking across Google SERPs.

Pigeon Universal Search Results

This domain was ranking for high value terms like “Apartment for Rent in Los Angeles” and “Apartments in Houston” in June, but then saw a 95% decrease in map results in just a few short months. So what happened?

First off, this isn’t an isolated case. Real estate websites across the country have seen a decline of 90% or more in map results. Today, “Apartments in Houston” provides only advertisements and traditional blue link listings, where a few months ago it had map results, carousels, and photos.

I believe that Google attempted to create better SERPs with the Pigeon update by limiting map results to branded terms. So while key terms like “Apartments in Houston” may no longer present map search results, a more targeted search such as “Metropolitan Apartments San Mateo” populates the page with map results, reviews, and photos.

Pigeon Universal Search Results 2

Frustrating? Certainly. But this isn’t the end of the world for most sites. This requires a slight pivot and redoubling of SEO basics.

Adjusting to Google

There might not be a Google-related headache than getting your business locally verified by the search engine giant. A steady stream of Google services and rebrands have left a bad taste in the mouths of business owners and SEOs alike. I won’t go into all the various platforms Google has used to coordinate local verifications, but for now the industry is focused on Google My Business.

It’s as important as ever to ensure that you’ve set up your Google My Business account up correctly. A side effect of Pigeon is the tightening of geographic indicators. On a practical level, this means making sure you’ve got your name, address, and phone number (NAP) accurate and consistent across all your digital properties. For users searching for local results, Google is limiting their search radius to 10-20 miles, so be sure you’re properly represented for users in your area.

Additionally, a thorough analysis of over 5,000 pages by Search Engine Land recommends tightening your site’s geographic focus. Historically, it provided value for sites to optimize around terms that encompass many overlapping neighborhoods. This wide net approach was designed to capture keywords in a large geographic area. Early indications are that this wide net keyword strategy may be less effective than it was a few months ago. New best practices indicate that it’s more productive to double down on your hyper-local location and win the battle that way.

In addition to cutting map results from thousands of SERPs, the Pigeon update dramatically improved the visibility of directories and internet yellow page services.

If you’re a business that relies on local search visibility, it’s vital that you identify those directories and review services that may have obscured your business website. An easy way to do this is to simply search Google for your highest value keywords and see which listing services have real estate on those results.

Creating profiles with accurate information on these sites (bonus points if you work in optimized anchor text that match your on-site optimizations) can go a long way in anchoring your business on these result pages even if you’ve fallen off the coveted first page.

For a full guide on how to best optimize your listings, I direct you to this helpful guide over at Search Engine Land.

A Conclusion

It’s best not to overreact to Google algorithm updates. Google has made their intentions of recent updates known. They’re looking to provide the most relevant results to users at any costs.

One thing remains clear through all updates, any of the older “black hat” SEO methods are a thing of the past. If you’re buying bad backlinks or spamming directories, eventually you’ll get penalized (hard) for your digression.

Otherwise? Remember that Pigeon, Penguin, Panda, and Pirate are always evolving what it means to be an SEO. Keep up on trends and know that mastering the basics will never go out of style.

Ryan Chauvin
Ryan is a senior specialist in corporate marketing at Forthea. He’s worked on everything from SEO to social media marketing and he spends his downtime obsessing over the New Orleans Saints on his blog The Black and Gold Review.


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