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August 26, 2014

Google’s Pigeon Update: What’s Changed?

Photo Credit: … intense look …. a little scary! by Laura Pontiggia Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You know the drill: everything is humming along as usual on the Internet, and then one morning, your SEO rankings are all wacked out. After a little research, you discover yet another unannounced algorithm change from the world’s biggest search engine. And the quest resumes for readjusting your strategy and undoing any damage.

Last month, another Google update surprised the world, with some major ramifications. While most of Google’s algorithm shifts either go unnoticed or equate to little more than a rankings dance, the “Pigeon” update (not called that by Google, by the way), as it’s been named, had a few far-reaching effects. Those most impacted: businesses in the local search space. While Google neither confirmed nor denied the update in the beginning, as per usual, it’s clear that Pigeon has shook things up. And yes, by now they have fessed up, but without a lot of detail. We just know things are happening!

Pigeon’s Goal, Although Murky, Centers Around Local Search

Again, because Google is often mum about these updates until well after they are released, it can take a lot of analysis to decipher what the intended goal was likely to be. In the case of Pigeon, it’s fairly straightforward: Google was after a significant improvement to local search. Specifically, they tried to create a better experience for searchers using Google’s local search functions to locate nearby establishments that provide targeted goods and services. Local search needed a bit of an overhaul, as search query terms weren’t always accurate enough, forcing searchers to shift queries or dig deeper into the results.

If you’ve noticed that searching for specific hotels, restaurants, and local businesses has simplified and become more accurate, that’s what Pigeon has carried to the masses.

Why call it Pigeon you ask? Google has already had a habit of naming major updates after animal names that start with P (Panda and Penguin). Because pigeons are famous for being “carriers,” and therefore sport a more local vibe, the name seemed to fit.

Cracks in the Pigeon

As with almost all Google updates, it didn’t all run smoothly. One of the reasons the search giant does not announce everything they do in advance these days is so they can quietly address unforeseen issues behinds the scenes. Eagle eyes across the Web, however, often spy issues as they are released. For example, a SearchEngineLand author found that shortly after the update, a search for Expedia (the travel site) yielded a hotel close to New York. Google fixes such snafus very quickly, but they can still cause business owners significant headaches.

The challenge here is a sophisticated one: problems like the Expedia mistake are highly visible, and therefore fixed quickly by Google. Similar mistakes encountered by small businesses, however, can go unnoticed for eons, and as the businesses themselves find and report the issue, there’s no clear or easy way to get things remedied.

Furthermore, businesses do their very best to follow current protocols around SEO and search rankings, and often feel powerless when updates like these upset the apple cart.

Feeling powerless? There is an easy answer.

How to Avoid Search Ranking Plummets in Future Updates

Don’t let the complexity of Google’s search algorithm make you feel overwhelmed. All nuances aside, SEO is actually a straightforward process. Google is in the business of giving people what they want. When a searcher submits a query, they want the best sites that fulfill their wishes. So your job as an online business owner is to provide that high quality content.

If, for example, you’re a small local business that has built an intuitive, informative, and effective website, coupled with viral content marketing techniques that provide free quality content to your audience, Pigeon likely increased your search rankings. The trick is to stay focused on stellar content and a high-performing website. Take the burden of following every last SEO trick off your marketing plate, and instead focus on what really matters long term. That way Pigeon and similar future updates are far less likely to have any sort of negative impact.

We never know what new tactics and algorithm updates Google has planned next, but do yourself a favor and don’t fret about upcoming changes. If you don’t already intimately understand the needs of your customer, that’s your first priority. If you’re combining the great content and site you produce with top tier customer support and marketing efforts that hold these ideals as sacred, Google won’t be the reason your company succeeds – you will be. As big and gnarly as they are, Google doesn’t hold all the power to decide your fate unless you as a business owner give it to them. Stay true to what your audience is looking for, and provide the best possible experience. In that space, a little old pigeon can’t do anything but pass on by.

Have you seen any shifts in your rankings – negative or positive – as a result of the Pigeon update?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile