Google's "Pigeon" update - what it means for you

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Google Pigeon updateNews from the US is that Google's pigeon update has been rolled out over there for the last few weeks, and this has given us SEOs a chance to see what it does, and anticipate how it will affect our clients in the UK.

At this early stage the view is not totally comprehensive, but it should help you to plan a strategy to mitigate its impact on your web site and your business.

Just a couple of initial points:

  1. You should already be listed on Google Local / Places directory. If not go and get listed first here:
  2. The pigeon update relates mainly to the way local search results are displayed, so is most likely to affect smaller "local" businesses.
  3. The name "Pigeon" was not given by Google, but the SEO industry.
  4. The update has rolled out in the US, and is expected in the UK and Europe soon. This gives businesses time to prepare for it.

So what is this update about?

Essentially it seems that Google has decided to show less "Google "Local" search results, those are the ones at the top of the Google page with the map pins, and which only come up when Google determines that a search is "local", usually by the inclusion of a place name, such as "Restaurant in Birmingham", or similar. There will both be less of these shown, and they will be triggered less often, so businesses offering local services who have been benefitting from these results will be the hardest hit.

Instead Google is proposing to show more results from other "local" directories. Yelp is the one that is mentioned the most, mainly because they have been quite vocal in criticising Google for showing their own local results instead of directories – such as Yelp. It will also show more "localised" pages from your own web sites, those being pages that mention the locality in which you offer your services.

So this leads us clearly towards the steps to take to mitigate any loss from the removal of Google Local search results.

1. Add your site to more local directories. If you haven't already then it is never too late to do so. When adding your site to directories there will be the usual range of offerings, some offering a good listing for free, some only with paid options, and others with a plethora of listing types to suit your pocket and ambitions. It makes sense to create a list of the options, their supposed quality and any costs, before making the decision on whether to list. Usually there is no harm in taking up the free option first however, so you may as well start with that in as many cases as possible.

2. There will also be directories within your own specific locality, or your vertical market. It will pay to search these out and list with as many of them as possible. For example a search for "directory of OSH inspectors" gives some directories in that vertical market

Some directories imply membership of trade associations, so there are other benefits than just a web site listing.

Similarly "Berkshire business directory" yields relevant listings in that area. Find your relevant ones and get on them.

To find your local directories, go ahead and Google them!

3. There is also work to be done on your web site, as its importance will increase if you have been relying on local results. You will now need your web site to rank in its own right for searches where you used to rely on the local listings. If you have not already got pages mentioning the locality in which you offer your services, then now is a good time to add them in. Sometimes having a page per locality works, but when done badly this can also look spammy, so you need to have something decent and unique to say about each place in which you offer your services. If you are hoping for your site to rank more highly for "local" searches, then it will also need traditional SEO, basically this is still the art of adding relevant new pages of content, and getting links from good quality and relevant web sites.

4. Finally your Google local page(s) will also benefit from more work. If there are less slots for the Google local pages to be shown in, then the competition for those slots will be higher. Your local page should have good content about what you do, as well as well selected keyphrases and categories relevant to the type of business you want to attract. Reviews have also become increasingly important in determining which "local" results make it to the top of the list, so there has never been a better time for inviting clients to give you reviews on Google local.

By putting in place the above strategies you should be able to ensure that you are on the winning side of any changes that come about as a result of the Pigeon update. If you offer your services nationally so that the Google local results mean nothing to you then you should escape relatively unscathed, and similarly if your web pages already rank highly for those "local" searches, then you will probably come out of this smelling; well not exactly of pigeon droppings, but perhaps of roses.

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