Search engine leader Google quietly added another update to their search engine algorithm at the end of July, making some changes that could prove significant for SEO marketers. This will always be the case as SEO experts attempt to guess how Google will rank and organize results with their next update. While Google themselves haven’t attached an official name to their algorithm or its update, Search Engine Land has dubbed it “Pigeon.” Seeing that some of the updates were rather substantial they felt it deserved a name much like the updates before it.
So far the effects of “Pigeon” seem to be contained to local results but perhaps the most significant update comes in the form of how Google will now handle and rank local businesses. Google has told Search Engine Land that the new local search algorithm “ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.” Google has also stated that improvements have been made regarding their distance and location ranking parameters. The new results seem to give heavier preference to local businesses over local brands. Search results for “pizza” now show more “Mom and Co’s Pizza” and less national brands like Domino’s or Papa Johns.
Whether these changes are good or bad is still being debated, but some possibly negative effects are already beginning to take shape. First and foremost, a significant decline in 7-pack results is being seen by many local businesses. Data from Moz has shown a 60 percent decline in 7-pack results since the end of July for a number of queries analyzed. Another change touches on an issue that was brought to Google’s attention before the update, as Google rankings were controversially the top result for searches such as “gary danko yelp” and the yelp results themselves were getting 3rd or 4th rank on front pages. But since the update a significant boost in local directories results has been seen.
This new algorithm is only being rolled out currently for US English queries and is attempting to provide more relevant results for local users. As far as early results show however, many local companies who have spent a significant amount of time and in most cases money perfecting their keywords and search engine optimization have seen themselves booted off of page one results. It is likely too soon to tell however if these kinks are going to stick around or if Google is still ironing out the finer points of their update.
Google has not commented on the percent of queries that have been impacted by the algorithm update, trial and error is still the best option right now to see if your listing is still where it was. Keep an eye out for referral or ranking changes. This shuffling usually proves to be a temporary nightmare for SEO. Wired estimated that the 2011 “Panda” update changed about 12 percent of search results overnight, leaving the SEO marketers scrambling to regain rankings for their clients.
The preference for local businesses should end up being an overall positive as attention is diverted from the big box brands and the limelight has a better chance of hitting a local shop. Hopefully brand power can be leveled and local brick and mortar shops will have a better chance to compete. This update like all updates before it will require a bit of adapting and flexibility from SEO marketers, but should ultimately prove beneficial once the dust settles.