Digital Insights

Google’s Pigeon Update Favors Big Directories Over Local Businesses


Published: July 31, 2014

Google’s recently unveiled Pigeon update to its search algorithm was engineered to improve local seach, and the big directory sites with a local presence are already enjoying improved search visibility for their listings. According to Google, the Pigeon update strengthened the ties between organic and local search indicators, and delivers improved accuracy over location rankings. Larger directory sites that have strong SEO signals are expected to be big beneficiaries of the update; unfortunately for many smaller local businesses, local search ranking is going to be an even tougher proposition.

The update appears to have also resolved a particular problem with displaying results for Yelp pages. Prior to the Pigeon update, results for Yelp pages appeared well below other returns even for search queries that included the word ‘yelp.”

Highlights of the Pigeon Update

  • Pigeon was first launched in the US but is expected to roll out worldwide in the coming weeks.
  • Big directories with a major local presence and strong SEO signals such as Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Urbanspoon are already seeing an increase in page one rankings for their web properties.
  • Because the update places greater weight on the relationship between local search and organic ranking signals, the stronger directory sites are bound to gain search visibility at the expense of weaker individual business websites.
  • Those niches most influenced by directory sites such as dining, lodging, and tourist-oriented businesses are still represented individually in carousel results, but have lost much of their organic search presence to the more dominant directory properties.

How to Compete Against the Big Directory Sites
Prior to the Pigeon update, it was relatively easy for many businesses to rank for local long tail search terms. Depending on your business niche, that may no longer be the case. To remain competitive and grab your fair share of the search engine ranking pie, you’re simply going to have to work smarter as well as harder.

  • If you don’t already have a mobile-optimized website, get one. Mobile search is literally growing by leaps and bounds, and you simply can’t afford to miss out on any opportunity to connect with potential customers.
  • Consider adding pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to your marketing program. Mobile PPC might be a particularly lucrative option considering that less than 10 percent of businesses have a mobile optimized site. What’s more, Google offers lower click rates for mobile than for a comparable desktop-oriented campaign.
  • If have an email list of current or potential customers, use it. If you don’t have an email list, start one. Email might be one of the oldest and least glamorous digital marketing tricks around, but it still works – email has a phenomenal ROI of 4,300 percent and is second only to paid and organic search in terms of customer acquisition.
  • If your niche’s search pages are being overrun with directory and review site results, get your business listed in as many relevant directories as possible and start collecting positive reviews from your customers. You can create a list of the most relevant directory sites for your area from the most frequently occurring results for your local search terms.
  • If your website experiences a drop in local search rankings, adopt more aggressive organic search tactics such as improving on-page optimization, acquiring additional authoritative backlinks, and adding social media signals.


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