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Google’s “Pigeon” Update Boosts Local Directories

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Photo Credit: meneame comunicacions, sl via flickr

On July 24, Google went public with a new algorithm change that, as opposed to affecting online retailers and businesses, pertains mostly to brick and mortar stores by modifying local directory listings. What does it do and how does it affect your business?

The Update and How it Works

While Google gave no name to its recent algorithm change, in keeping with the animal theme – Panda, Hummingbird and so on – Search Engine Land has aptly nicknamed the latest update Pigeon, after the birds that tend to fly back home.

While most of the changes are to the back end of the network and how it runs searches, the impact is clear for searchers on the front end. The algorithm is designed to provide relevant and accurate search results for local businesses that are more closely related to traditional search rankings and signals.

According to the network, the new algorithm uses Google’s web search capabilities on a deeper level, meaning that the way local listings are displayed in results will be more like how standard search results are generated with less favoritism toward Google Places listings.

The Pigeon update currently affects only US English results, and no information has been released as to when the update will be rolled out in other languages and locations. The main affect of the algorithm change? Local directory sites and listings are receiving better rankings and visibility in search results on Google than ever before.


While the reason behind the update has not been made public, there has been speculation as to why Google made the algorithm change.

Starting back in 2012 with the release of Google Places, online directories like Yelp started to notice a decline in the prominence of their listings. The “Yelp problem”, as it became commonly known, referred to the appearance that Google was manipulating results to put its own listings ahead of other directories, regardless of search term, popularity or other traditional SEO practices. Yelp’s report detailed one specific search term – “gary denko yelp” – and found that the results listed the official Gary Danko, a well-known restaurant in San Fancisco, California, website and multiple Google+ listings and pieces of content ahead of the Yelp listing that was specifically searched for.

While this is not listed anywhere as the actual cause or motivator behind the update, since the change, the same search term now lists the Yelp listing for Gary Denko first in Google results.

Who it Impacts

While the “Yelp problem” has been addressed with the update, other local directories will also likely see an increase in search rankings and overall popularity.

Sites like Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor that list local eateries and attractions will no longer have to battle Google’s listings. Instead, retailers and restaurants that use online directories can focus on the directories that attract the most attention, instead of catering to the requirements and needs of Google.

The update will also affect retailers and local businesses relying on traditional SEO for their own websites. Because of the new prominence of listings, going at it alone, without the support of larger networks may be more difficult than ever.

Increasing the Exposure of Your Business

In theory, Google’s new algorithm change is straightforward and easy to understand. But, what does it mean for your business? How can you be sure you benefit from the update instead of falling short? Follow these tips for success:

Study Your Listings

Maybe you switched to Google Places because of the prominence of the results and left behind a directory that was driving more traffic and receiving more attention. If this is the case, now is the time to step back. Look at where the traffic to your site is coming from and focus on that source. Because all directories now receive prominence on Google, understanding which site drives the most traffic to your site is important when deciding where to focus your attention and efforts.

Don’t Forget Google

New updates and algorithms are released daily – 500-600 times per year to be more precise. Because of this, you can never be sure of when a new algorithm will be released that will affect your business. Maintaining an active Google Places and Google+ presence is always recommended.

Focus on Major Directory Sites

As previously mentioned, the update will make it harder than ever for individual websites advertising local businesses to maintain a high search ranking with Google. Instead, directories are more prominent – and therefore more important – than ever. Take the time to create a business page on large directory sites – like Yelp and to optimize where possible.

Get Your Customers Involved

The best way to attract attention is to increase the number of positive reviews. Take the time to ask your customers to participate and to leave reviews. Link to your Yelp – or other directory – listing in your email newsletter and on your website. Leave pamphlets in your store or restaurant. Use social media pages to ask your followers for reviews. The more positivity you can generate, the more your listings will work to your advantage.

Maintain an Active Home Website

While your website may be more difficult than ever to promote through Google with the new algorithm update, that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. It’s still the focus of your business and where your directory listings will send visitors. Be sure it is current, hosts relevant information, attracts attention and promotes your business in a positive manner.

Google’s Pigeon update may very well revolutionize the way listings are displayed in search results. Take the steps necessary today to ensure your business benefits from the new release.

About the author


Adrienne Erin

Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like Map Business Online succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.


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  • I have a question regarding the same. If i am located in country A and i am offering my services to my customers in country B. Will this algorithm of local listing effect to my business. If yes, how can i improve my search engine rankings.

    • Google went all-out local in Panda. Optimizing for areas outside your local area have become a major problem. And even AdWords is no guarantee of a top listing in another location. Not even either designing a page, listing content specific for that area or country as you suggest, nor making a web site specific for that area, will guarantee you a top ranking anymore. It used to be that you could list the locations you serve on your home page and at least get some kind of ranking (even if it was not on the front page), but Panda stopped that. Now they are telling people to have a specific address in all the areas they serve especially if they want to benefit from Google Places.

  • There are other ways Google is sneaky, too. This trend of all sites using encryption, apparently started by Google, is of very little value in by far the most cases. I know how private/public key encryption/decryption works. What’s the use of encrypting an image (it’s just bytes, it can be encrypted) or text with no security value whatsover? This is a way Google hides their search terms. Only if one has a Google Web Master or Analytics account can one see the terms used by users to get to one’s site. Good bye competing services, like Clicky and the MS service doing much the same thing.

  • Please clarify. If i am a plumber in new york for instance and currently my personal business website ranks on the 1st page of google for the search term new york plumber, are you saying that with the introduction of this new update my website could be replaced in favor of lots of business directories instead? Thus pushing me off the 1st page.

  • Let’s hope this will help small website owners and businesses when it comes to Google. Google tends to make it hard for the small person. Great write up as always.

  • I think this is great news and because I use and run directory listing for my clients. It is nice to see that Google is not using their “power” to keep sites like Yelp out of the top spots, if they are deserving of them.

  • Thank you for sharing this article. This has certainly given me an insight of Pigeon. I didnt know if there was anything like that, only heard panda and penguin. Great Stuff. thanks

  • Thanks very much for sharing this useful Article. We need to be up to date in order to do better in internet marketing. Google banned many site directories but never officially announced not to use them. There are so many websites today which have huge traffic. So, we can consider local directories for positive link building. great information for all the internet marketers.

  • I think the time has come, the websites which has good number of local listings and backlinks will boost their rankings on SERP’s.

    Thanks for this informative article.

  • Google is trying everything they can to hurt small businesses that are working to grow their national strategies. As a business that works outside of our region we have found it increasingly difficult to market organically to customers. Google Pigeon has made it increasingly difficult for small businesses like ours. Here is an article we wrote venting on the latest update. Even included a picture of a Pigeon pooing <a href="http://terrostar.com/blog/google-pigeon-update&quot;

  • This update is killing my business. We’re a services business and completely dropped out of the map results — even though we have a store that customers can walk into. The google update seems to favor businesses that don’t show their address now…as they are all over the search results. Not sure how a business with a shop will be outranked by one without one, but that’s google, killing businesses one day at a time.

  • So if Google want to do this, we should look for other search engine that would be happy to show on the map the address of businesses. Any help for this please??

  • i think google is sometimes very unfair in the way they implement this changes. Webmaster spend allot of time and money in their projects and sometimes dont get enough exposure

    • SEO is constantly changing…I’m not a fan of the larger directories dominating the SERPS. Most people like myself enjoy dealing and viewing local websites.

    • Good to see local directories and Google My business listings still have the power when it comes to page 1 rankings in Google. These two go hand-in-hand… If your local directories and business citations are not congruent, you will not rank in Google map pack (some may not even be seen period).

  • I know I am late to the party, but directory sites seem to be way too expensive for what you are actually getting these days. I have a hard time forking over $200 for a directory that will not actually drive traffic. I think there are a lot of other way to get quality traffic.

    • Yes I agree Nate. Especially if your not sure how it could impact your website after investing in the $200. Referral Traffic from instagram could be more profitable than just purchasing a directory link. 😉

  • Adrienne I just wanted to take the time to thank you for this article. This is one of the more thorough articles I’ve come across regarding the pigeon update. It was definitely a tough update, but we always figure out how to prevail.

  • I think this is great news and because I use and run directory listing for my clients. It is nice to see that Google is not using their “power” to keep sites like Yelp out of the top spots, if they are deserving of them

  • Our agency has indeed seen some increase in local placements. Here are some tips: make sure you have reviews with your keywords you want to rank, second make sure your maps listing is in the central of the city sometimes if you are far from the central your map will not show in google search. Third make sure you optimized the google map listing with GEO location pictures and proper links to your website.

  • It seems to be a secondary verification than a primary ranking factor. I get that consistency is key but at the end of the day it’s just a “link” unless it is actually seen as a Directory of other value by Google.