The update affected U.S. English local search queries and resulted in many local businesses panicked as they were no longer visible in the seven-pack results. The new algorithm was released to provide local search results that are more relevant, accurate and therefore more useful to Google users.
Google directed that the new local search algorithm works deeper into their overall web search assets – traditional ranking signals as well as the Knowledge Graph and including features like spelling correction, synonyms and more. Google claims this improves their distance and location ranking parameters.
Almost immediately, it was reported that the Pigeon update rewarded Yelp, and similar directory sites, with higher visibility in some verticals. These big directory sites have much stronger SEO signals than individual restaurants and hotels are going to have, so it makes sense and coincides with Google’s statement that the update adds weight to the standard web ranking signals of local results.
Some experts, like David Mihm, Director of Local Search Strategy at Moz, believe that this kind of update actually downgrades the quality of local search results as big brand directories, like Yelp, appear numerous times in a single search. After all, a local search performed on Google is using the search engine as a directory, and now those searches are leading to more directories. How is it beneficial for users to get “search results within search results?”
Moreover, experts commented that the former seven-pack on the SERPs has narrowed to three or four-packs. This means a loss in organic traffic for small businesses that may have lost their spot to a directory. A loss of organic traffic has been seen where listings compete against paid ads that have star ratings.
The industries that saw the most benefit from the Pigeon update were, in order, hospitality (+28%), food (+19%), and education (+13%). Other industries – spas, shops, law firms, medical offices, transportation and fitness facilities – also saw an increase in their local search visibility.
Still, the more severe change occurred to searches that experienced a negative impact: jobs (-68%), real estate (-63%), movies (-36%) and insurance(-11%)as well as many others who suffered but much less.
This outcome is not set in stone. Apparently, Google is still testing two or three versions of Pigeon’s results and many are reporting a constant flux in data.
There are some adjustments that can be made to your local SEO strategy to accommodate the algorithm update. Google said they improved distance and ranking parameters and reports have hence shown that results displayed are reflecting a much smaller radius. You can optimize by thinking hyperlocal and including neighborhood indicators in your SEO. Also, remember to optimize for the Google Carousel.
Most importantly, keep up with the standard best practices for local SEO. Get listed on Google My Business and directories like Yelp. Create and implement a robust and competitive content strategy. Keep your social media presence engaged and active. Continuing your SEO and managing your listings well is vital to your visibility, no matter the update.