Stop the Pigeon!

Jenny Pearse | July 24th 2015

Introducing Google Pigeon

muttleyToday marks the one-year anniversary since Pigeon, Google’s local search ranking algorithm, was released in the US. Shudders were felt five months later, and confirmed on 22 December 2014, after the update was rolled out to the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

For those living in a coop, Pigeon has been big news in the local search world. The gurus over at Search Engine Land gave a general overview of what the update was designed to do.

‘Google has released a new algorithm to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. The changes will be visible within the Google Maps search results and Google Web search results.’

Some notable changes to local search post Pigeon included:

  • Local review sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, OpenTable and TripAdvisor receiving higher visibility within the search results.
  • A reduction and 23% drop in local packs according to Darren Shaw of Whitespark.
  • Better accuracy for local Google Maps results through improved distance and ranking parameters.
  • A reduction in rankings for specific business types.

The update was intended to give users looking for local businesses a better search experience. In short, authoritative sites and those with good trust signals were likely to be winners. If you’ve noticed drops in ranking you might be asking yourself ‘how can I be a winner?’ Well, keep reading and all will be explained.

Who Rose and Who Fell

While the Pigeon update fixed previous problems, an example being YELP, who now show at the top of search results for queries specifically include the word “Yelp”. This hadn’t previously been the case. But as we all know, the good comes with the bad and with Pigeon this was reflected in drops and disappearing acts in rankings and local packs for some businesses.

Below is a table of findings from the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, Jim Yu, showing which specific business types benefited and which ones experienced loss from the Pigeon update since late July 2014.


Those highlighted in green show data with a positive increase in traffic for hospitality, food and education, whilst queries related to jobs, real estate, movies and insurance (highlighted in red) were negatively impacted by the update.

What Can You Do?

‘Stop the pigeon, how?

Nab him, jab him, tab him, grab him.’

Dastardly and Muttley asked the same question, but [spoiler warning] never quite manage it. I’d recommend reviewing your website if drops in organic rankings have been noticed. Below is my take on what’s important for ranking locally.

1. On-site Optimisation

Are you using a page to target a city? Consider including a location in your title tags, Meta descriptions, H1 tags, page content and even image alt text. Knowing where you’re based is important to both Google and your users. In addition, having an embedded map and contact details marked with schema will only reassure Google of your exact whereabouts.

2. Local Listings and Citations

In May I discussed the power of NAP and its importance for local SEO. For the unaware, NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. Having multiple incorrect addresses and outdated contact details not only confuses Google but it might deter potential customers, so consistency is key. Having verified listings and citations that mirror NAP across local directories, social media websites, blogs, forums and other profiles is an essential way for businesses to rank well in local organic search results.

To get you started, here’s a list of 10 authoritative UK directory websites:

  • 192
  • Yell
  • Yelp
  • Scoot
  • Thomson Local
  • Hotfrog
  • 118
  • Cylex UK
  • Touch Local
  • Freeindex

3. Reviews

Reviews are displayed as yellow stars in the SERPs as rich snippets and are a great additional factor for any business looking to create or improve good trust signals. We shouldn’t be embarrassed asking for reviews – indeed they should be encouraged. Positive feedback is essential for any company image and they’re also a great way of enticing new customers through the door. It might be worth keeping in mind the following when considering reviews:

  1. Having a page on your site where customers can leave reviews is one simple way of receiving feedback.
  2. Never use fake reviews. In the long run this may have a negative impact on your business. Trust is a big issue for clients so this should never be abused.
  3. Be open-minded. Not everyone has a positive experience. If this is the case, address the issue in a polite and timely fashion.

What’s Next For Pigeon?

With all Google algorithm updates there’s bound to be a version 2 appearing in the near future. But don’t worry – I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for any new news. In the meantime I might celebrate by doing some origami. It is Pigeon’s paper anniversary after all!

If you noticed any changes in your local ranking, I’d love to know your thoughts.