October 2, 2015
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Google’s algorithm updates over the past several years, you know that it’s beginning to look like a veritable petting zoo out there. In addition to the many Panda updates that Google has rolled out, we also have the Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird.
While it may seem like these numerous updates are just the ramblings of a company obsessed with making things difficult for SEOs, it’s a bit more than that (or at least they would have us believe it is).
Aside from making it difficult for SEOs to guess what the search engine end zone of the future will look like, these updates also seek to make the web a better place, filled with better content that is easier for users to access.
The Google Pigeon update, however, went one step further and sought to make the web a bit friendlier for small businesses and the practice of local SEO.
Read on to learn more.
The Post-Pigeon World
When Google Pigeon launched on July 24, 2014, it changed local SEO forever. Suddenly, the layout of local SEO ran parallel to the traditional web search ranking results that Google users were used to. This change was right on point, however, because the goal of the Pigeon update was to provide more relevant local search results that were designed to look similar to traditional ranking signals.
Additionally, the new algorithm was meant to improve Google’s distance and location services in order to help customers find local businesses. The update affected US English search results first and, although Google didn’t give a specific number of queries that would be affected by the Pigeon update, it’s clear that the update affected many local search results for many users.
But, how, specifically?
Well, for starters, the update gave better search rankings to local businesses in a move that proved it was going to favor local businesses over local brands. Many SEOs assume that this was an effort to give small businesses a boost and they’re probably right.
Before the pigeon update, a person searching for pizza restaurants in Missoula, MT was likely to find themselves with a search results page listing all of the major brands like Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s, in the area. After the Pigeon update, however, that same user and the same search is likely to produce a list of small, local pizza shops to choose from. In addition to helping small businesses get found, this update is a great way to integrate community ties and help customers discover new establishments.
Secondly, the update allows establishments that have a Google+ presence to fortify their online search results with accompanying menus, reviews and user photographs that show up in the SERPs. In addition to being a great way to encourage customers to interact with local establishments, this update also encourages companies to interact more heavily with Google+, a win for the search engine giant itself.
Additionally, the Pigeon update changed the search results page format from the traditional 7-pack format to a new 3-pack format. This means that, while searchers who goggled “pizza places in Missoula” used to see 7 results (a so-called “7-pack”), they’ll only see a pack of 3 in the post-Pigeon world. That means that local search results will look like this from now on:
Image Courtesy of: SearchEngineJournal.com
Additionally, when searchers want to learn more about one of those top 3 results, they’ll need to click through the Google link to the businesses’ website or Google Maps page. This also means that addresses and phone numbers will be squirreled away on another page while store hours and reviews will feature more prominently in the SERPs. Additionally, the links to a company’s Google My Business page will be removed and Google users will see a warning notification if a business listed in the SERPs is closing soon. Aside from the notification, a company’s store hours will not be displayed unless the website offers the proper markup.
For searchers who want more than 3 results, it’s possible to expand the results page listings to feature up to 20 results per page. There has been some concern over what the new 3-pack format means for desktop users. Because the new 3-pack format caters perfectly to the screen of mobile displays, it’s obvious that Google is moving its local SEO updates to cater to its growing numbers of mobile users and, as a result, many SEOs are concerned that desktop users will miss local listings that don’t make it into the top 3.
4 Ways to Stand Out in Post-Pigeon Local SEO
For people who are worried about disappearing into the 7-pack Paleozoic era along with the primitive fish (which are notably not one of Google’s “P” updates), take a deep breath. This update, just like the rest of them, simply requires some alterations and there are plenty of ways to stand out in the new 3-pack format.
- Make Use of Social Media: As has been true forever, interacting with customers and producing great word-of-mouth interactions is a fantastic way to promote more business. Because the post-Pigeon Internet climate features customer reviews prominently, interacting with customers via social media can also be a great way to produce more positive reviews.
Customers rely heavily upon reviews when making purchasing decisions, so consider using your social media accounts to ask dedicated customers to give your business a good review. In addition to helping you show up more prominently in search listings, getting more reviews will also serve the purpose of helping you stand out from the competition.
- Optimize Content for Local Signals: The Pigeon update didn’t alleviate companies of the need to create high-quality content, but it did require that they begin to optimize it with local signals. By creating content that is targeted, informative and designed to rank for your local listings, you can help yourself compete for those pesky 3-pack spots.
- Make Use of Your Google My Business Listing: To add extra heft to your local SEO results, optimize your Google My Business Doing this can help you stand out and perform well in local search results.
- Ramp up Location Pages: Location pages can help you appear in search results for multiple listings. By optimizing your location pages, you can increase your chances of being found in local search results for more than just your given area, which can help you increase your customer base and reach more people.
What Not to Do
Just like there are several small tweaks that can help you show up in local search results, there are several things you shouldn’t do, lest they bump you from the now more competitive ranking pages.
First of all, say goodbye to focusing your efforts on city search queries. When Penguin was implemented, it changed the way cities were indexed and, instead, divided them into specific neighborhoods. Because of this, it’s become tough to rank in city search queries thanks to redefined boundaries and the new division of neighborhoods. Thankfully, you can increase your chances of featuring in search results by focusing, instead, on your target neighborhood. Be sure to make use of any neighborhood synonyms in your SEO efforts.
Additionally, ensure that you’re not just going for any directory. Instead, it’s important to target top-ranked directories. This is due to the fact that, thanks to new Google updates, some directories are important while others simply aren’t. This means that the days of adding your company’s name, address and phone number to any directory for an index boost are done.
According to SearchEngineJournal, this is because it’s nearly impossible to outrank certain directories. Local results have top precedence now and, as such, it’s going to be difficult to gain yourself a top spot in local SERPs. With that in mind, focus on targeting directories instead. For example, if you were in the restaurant business, you may choose to target directories like Yelp, Open Table, Trip Advisor and Urban Spoon. Doing this can help you dominate local search results and come out on top every time.
Finally, it’s becoming clear that it’s now important for local establishments to dedicate themselves to content marketing and link-earning in addition to the old standbys of NAP, directories and reviews. Content creation is one of the best ways to ensure good ranking and companies can give their local SEO a boost by focusing some more attention on their content and links.
Because ranking in the new 3-pack format is often the result of organic traffic, it stands to reason that companies can boost their local SEO results by focusing on content output and general SEO.
“If your 7-packs have shrunken to 3-packs, striving to build greater organic authority may help you more than purely local signals like citations and reviews.”
The Future of Local SEO
While local SEO has undergone some serious changes in the post-Pigeon world, not all is lost. Companies can still boost their rankings and compete well in their industries by completing a series of easy changes. By focusing more on organic traffic, content creation and directories, local businesses stand a good chance of landing themselves a position in the competitive top slot of the new 3-pack structure.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.