Pigeon’s Aftermath: What We’ve Learned So Far

Pigeon’s Aftermath: What We’ve Learned So Far

Content Writer: Martin Poston Martin Poston Digital Marketing Strategist
Pigeon is the latest change to Google's local search algorithm. This is a much different algorithm update from the ones that Google has rolled out in the past couple years. You might even recognize some of these other notable algorithm changes. Do the names “Panda” and “Penguin” sound familiar? It seems like Google enjoys turning the Internet into a zoo every few months by introducing these major algorithm updates. That’s fine. We don’t mind being the zookeepers.
Google Pigeon

Pigeon, the local search algorithm, is a completely different animal though. This algorithm focuses specifically on the display and organization of local search results. It not only affects directory listings and the organic rank of their associated websites, but also those coveted “7-pack” listings. This includes the map and pushpins displayed on Google’s SERP. And in case you were wondering, Google didn’t give its update the unflattering name. The name “Pigeon” was introduced by the fine folks at Search Engine Land.
Why Pigeon? For most, pigeon doesn’t exactly evoke positive emotions. Pigeons are kind of messy and have earned the nickname of “flying rats.” Ouch. For me, it brought to mind an old Gary Larson Far Side cartoon that always made me laugh.
However, Search Engine Land explained simply that the update was to the local search algorithm and a pigeon’s instinct is to return home. So, that's far less insidious and it actually fits in pretty well with the “hyper local” concept of search. It also starts with “P,” so it keeps Google’s animal algorithm alliteration going.

So, what has this algorithm done to local listings? When I was first evaluating the algorithm’s changes, the thought that continually came to mind was, “sometimes you're the Pigeon and sometimes you're the bald guy in the convertible.”

Trying to pigeonhole it.
It's still early, but what we've noticed is that searches that generated local results in organic search (those “map-and-pushpin” results) have dropped off by nearly a quarter overall. Searches where we used to see seven local Google listings (“7-packs”) are now more likely to show three listings.

Another early trend noted by Search Engine Land is that the rankings on Google Maps and the carousel seem to favor local businesses over local brands. This means franchises like Dominos or Pizza Hut would not show up as prominently in local results as a “mom-and-pop” store.

Search radius also appears to be tighter, as Google is trying to do a better job of bringing relevant results to both desktop and mobile searchers. There is a clear push by Google to make local results more “hyper local.” This can have positive or negative effects depending on the industry and market you’re in.

As always, Google says its overall goal is to provide users more valuable and relevant local search results. As I've always said during my time here, Google is its own biggest fan. The search engine giant knows that it accounts for more than two-thirds of search  traffic. And it will continually update and refine its search algorithms to provide its users with the most relevant search results so that it maintains its dominance.

Other early research indicates that the Pigeon algorithm affects rankings by giving more weight to the traditional organic search ranking factors. This means businesses need to make sure their website is providing Google with the data it’s looking for. (Don’t worry, we have you covered.) It also helps to continue developing your content strategy and your social media presence. Relevant content and a smart linking structure create trust in Google’s mind. You want Google’s trust.

In Pigeon’s aftermath, different industries have seen varying effects. Local results came up more often in some industries, while others lost ranking in local search results, or local results dropped off entirely.
For instance, some of the biggest drops in local search results were in jobs (down 68 percent) and real estate (63 percent), while businesses related to insurance also saw a drop in local results (about 11 percent). The biggest increases in local search results showed up in the hospitality (28 percent), food (19 percent) and education industries (13 percent).
Pigeon Local Search Changes
Keep in mind that these are overall figures. Not all businesses in the given industries saw the same impact. Variables like market size and keyword competition come into play. A realtor in Market A is not necessarily taking the same hit as the one in Market B, and so forth.

What’s complicated is, ever since the change, rankings have been all over the place. We have some clients who were getting great local search results for great keywords completely drop-off and then pop back up again a couple weeks later. At this point, I believe it’s safe to say this shift in the algorithm is still in an early stage. We encourage you not to panic. Remember Y2K? That was pretty embarrassing for all of us. When it comes to Internet marketing, change is guaranteed. The advantage belongs to the businesses that embrace the change and adapt accordingly.