On July 25, 2014, Google rolled out a new algorithm for its local search listings. No name has yet been given to this new order, but Search Engine Land (SEL) has provisionally called it “Google Pigeon”.
More Local Results Expected in Google Pigeon Algorithm
Google’s stated intention is to generate local search results that are more precise and appropriate, and therefore more helpful to the user searching for local results. Google informed that it will achieve this by linking the new algorithm to its long-established “web search ranking signals”. This means the changes will be evident in both the Google Maps and Google Web search results. This means more local results than ever before at the beginning of the search results page.
Focus is on Exact Locations
Google further indicated that the new local search algorithm would be closely linked to its overall web search capabilities. These include the multitudes of ranking signals that are employed in web searches, as well as Google’s many search features which include synonyms and corrections to spellings, as well as the knowledge graph. Google will be more effectively able to rank results in terms of distance and location. This means a business’s exact location will be closely linked with the search results. Local users, especially mobile users, will be better able to get the local results they are seeking.
For instance, those wanting to shop locally would get listings specific to their location, for whatever product they seek. The new algorithm affects only US English search results. No details were supplied as to whether the new order would be extended to other languages countries.
Effects on Local Businesses
Google has yet to provide clues on the level of queries affected by this new system but already, local search results rankings have been significantly affected. Various local businesses have experienced an upsurge or drop off in their organic traffic or rankings.
For instance, key search phrases such as “realtors” and “apartments” are failing to generate local results. But this increased focus on local searches has also meant that certain businesses have benefitted significantly. For instance, in some searches, businesses are popping up that were not there before. Other searches are bringing up bigger geographical areas than were there previously.
Effects on Directory Sites
Directory Sites appear to be the main beneficiaries of the new algorithm. They are receiving increased visibility in Google’s search results. Yelp listings, especially, have witnessed an upsurge in rankings. Yelp pages appear at the beginning of search results for all queries containing the word “Yelp”. This is a significant development because not so long ago, Yelp accused Google of manipulating it’s search results to put its own content at the top of search results even when queries specifically included the word “Yelp.” So the amended local search algorithm may be Google’s way of addressing the problem.
Negative Effects of the Directory Focus
While some local businesses have been unaffected by this seeming focus on directory sites, others have not been so lucky.
For instance a search for doctors in a particular area may generate multiple individual practices, while other keyword searches will generate many results for directory sites such as Yelp, Ubarnspoon, TripAdvisor and OpenTable.
Sometimes the search results for what is really being sought will appear only on the second page. However, a point to bear in mind is that these directory sites are gaining more visibility than individual local business websites because their SEO signals are much stronger.
How to Address the Imbalance
If you have a small business, you would have to work harder at your SEO signals in order to compete with these big local search directories. Monitor the local search terms for your business and if they’ve changed, update them in line with the new changes. But this new order emphasizes more than ever, the importance of working hand in hand with a professional SEO agency. This agency will know how to adapt your business to these changes. If you prefer not to go that route, you could try linking your business to directory sites such as Yelp so that the benefits can filter down.
If your rankings have changed for better or worse since the new changes, we’d like to hear from you in our comments section below.