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What Google's "Pigeon" Update Means for Small Businesses

SEO Becomes Localised

The Pigeon has landed! But to hear Google talk about it, you wouldn’t know. In fact, they didn’t even name it, instead it swooped in at night, unannounced, in a very un-pigeonlike way. Usually they’re not so sneaky. Nevertheless, despite its stealthy nature, the good people at Search Engine Land quickly named it “Pigeon” for its focus on local search results. Google promised that the update would bring these local search results into better alignment with standard organic search results.


Experts at Search Engine Land and elsewhere quickly noted that it impacted some industries more than others. Food, education, and hospitality industries reported 13-28% increases in Google Places results. But in the zero-sum game that is SEO, this also means that some areas took a substantial hit. Google Places for jobs-related searches were down 68%, and movies, real estate, and insurance results were also negatively affected.

Divining Google’s Intent

According to Google, this update is no big deal: just a strategic strengthening of certain aspects in order to bring local results more in line with regular web searches on Google. Google originally designed PageRank as a way of calculating a page’s value based on how much it’s linked to around the web, and Pigeon embodies these ideals perfectly.

Before Pigeon landed, local search results were determined chiefly by proximity. A poorly-rated restaurant near you would often appear higher on the results than a great one a block further away. This worked alright, but as in the example often led to low quality results being featured first and foremost, simply because they were more centrally located. Pigeon should bring those high-quality results up to the front.

Intent Vs. Results 

One of the most visible aspects of the sneaky update is the boosting of local database results, most obviously Yelp. Before, a search for “Mexican Food Los Angeles” might return a bunch of small taco shops. Now, it will still return these, but also link to databases like Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Zagat. In a way, this seems like Google admitting that it can’t possibly be a local expert for the entire world, and would rather cede that responsibility to companies that can be.

The update seems to have made the process of getting real, local results much easier, simply by boosting these databases. One caveat: the new results are more dependent on traditional SEO cues than before, so some mom-and-pop operations might find it difficult to stay afloat without some substantial work because the highly-developed SEO of Yelp or TripAdvisor will drown them out.

What It Means For You

First, you need to assess if you’ve been affected. Like all Google updates, this is relatively simple, as the change will be immediate on the day of the launch (July 24th). If you see a sudden jump or fall in your analytics on that day, followed by a levelling off at the new value, you were probably affected by Pigeon.

Pigeon makes registering and maintaining your presence on local databases even more important than it used to be. There is now virtually no downside to being registered for these sites. Doing that and maintaining your white-hat SEO practices should keep you on top of the game. Google may be continually and constantly updating their search algorithms, but the philosophy never changes: make content that people want to read and share.


Russel is a business consultant specializing in Customer Relationship Management. In his free time, he contributes predominantly business-related articles, something he enjoys doing tremendously. You can follow Russel @RusselCooke2.

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What Google's "Pigeon" Update Means for Small Businesses Reviewed by Emile Cole on Friday, October 24, 2014 Rating: 5
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