The Google Pigeon Update: A Developing Story

People may have noticed the disappearance of the Google 7 Pack last week in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) alarming SEOs up and down the country. The 7 Pack is the listing of businesses underneath the search bar when you type in a location-specific search term such as ‘tea shops in Harrogate’.

The change was initially having rather drastic consequences with a 60% decline in this search query type reported. With massive drops like that, the change would have had a dramatic effect on local businesses and people working in the local SEO industry who pride themselves on being able to get listings into that hallowed ground, the 7 Pack. However, the original reports of a 60% decrease have since been revised downwards, to many sighs of relief, to 24% at the last look.

There are a number of changes included with this new algorithm update, dubbed Google Pigeon by the writers over at Search Engine Land (I wonder if they had the name Pigeon just waiting for an algorithm? If so may I claim Peacock or Puffin for the next one?) . Were seeing 7 pack style results for some queries that previously didn’t use them. Rankings have also been reordered in a number of categories, however, this seems to be pattern-less at the moment, with suspicions that the local rankings are now based on those sites that are the best optimised.

Another change is that Google are coming down heavily on those listings that are not formatted correctly. In Places businesses need to supply a street address, even if that address is then hidden. For service businesses that have traditionally avoided this such as landscape gardeners this could be a problem as Google appear to have de-listed legitimate businesses that don’t follow their new rules, regardless of that company’s legality and optimisation.

This is all standard fare for a new Google algorithm though. There are often small bugs to catch and wrinkles to smooth before the smooth sailing that precedes another update.

Coverage for the update is focused on what Google have done. Now here’s the why.

Google is tying local results into more traditional web search ranking signals, using their mythical blend of signals to place listings in order of appropriateness and suitability for people searching for local businesses.

Some people have said that Google may have put a foot wrong here, by emphasising the use of traditional web search results to boost local listings instead of their previous methods. It’s all part of their relentless drive to make the search engine better and better with each iteration.

The change in local pack results has boosted directory listings in the search engine. Real estate is particularly highly affected, with local estate agent listings usurped by sites such as Zoopla, Craigslist and others. Other directories such as Yelp and TripAdvisor also seem to be benefiting too. This might be because directory listings are a much better way of getting true local feedback, something Google has been trying to achieve for a while.

Whatever is happening, it’s going to have an impact on local businesses and SEO agencies. If you need help optimising for local search contact us – it’s one of our specialties.