Google Pigeon: The New Local Algorithm Explained

After the infamous Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates, we can welcome a new member to the Google family: Pigeon! This past July 24th, the company launched an update to its current algorithm. Still awaiting for an official announcement, so far very little information has passed through as to what the real changes have involved.

Dubbed “Pigeon” by Search Engine Land experts, this update, which is currently running only in the US for queries in English, aims at giving internet users more relevant and accurate local results. These changes are already noticeable and visible both in search results and Google Maps.

The Impact of Google Pigeon

First of all, this new algorithm does not seek to penalize web sites with poor SEO practices, as was previously the case with Google Penguin. These changes will mainly affect geographically targeted local queries. For instance, the query “Seattle Restaurant” would get search results automatically targeting the city of Seattle, no matter where the user actually is.

Another novelty: the local algorithm will take into account over 100 ranking signals, as with traditional organic results. Functionalities such as Knowledge Graph, autocorrection and use of synonyms will now be part of the equation.

One of the other main changes with this update is a significantly lower number of results in Google’s famous “7-pack”, that is local results displayed on the map and listing of the companies’ phone number and address. American specialists have reported in several cases seeing this number reduced to three or four results, instead of seven.

Also, there seems to be fewer duplications of search results between organic and local results. Therefore, chances are a company will no longer come out in 1st, 2nd and 3rd position in the local results.

The “Yelp issue” Finally Resolved

Earlier in the month, Google faced accusations of allegedly manipulating local search results, and displaying results from Google products such as reviews or G+ page, before Yelp results, even when “Yelp” was specifically entered in the query.

Moreover, it seems that the problem resolved automatically with the deployment of Google Pigeon! At first glance, the update promotes the bigger sites with local directories that usually have bigger SEO signals than smaller individual sites of hotels and restaurants, for example.

Consequently, sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon now show up on top in the search results.

Before Update / After Update

Bad News for Local Businesses?

If Google Pigeon pushes forward rating sites such as Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor, chances are it will be at the expense of smaller sites.

As we have seen until now, online directories get a better exposure in local searches, often overriding small local businesses. With some specific queries, you sometimes have to wait until the second or third page of results before seeing a site other than a directory.

This is an additional issue for those smaller local businesses that will have to invest greater efforts in SEO if they hope to be well positioned.

What to Make of It?

Finally, as with most Google updates, this is no doubt a first step, a “testing phase” that will undergo several adjustments and improvements before its worldwide deployment.

It will also take a few weeks before we can truly understand the impact of Pigeon in search engine results. One thing is clear though, this is the perfect opportunity to review your local search engine optimization strategy and prepare yourself for these upcoming changes. So get ready, Pigeon will make its mark in Canada sooner than later!

This article was originally written by Laurence Soucy.