On July 24, 2014, Google updated its local search algorithm, setting out to make local search more relevant, more accurate and more useful for users. Pigeon aimed to do that by incorporating ranking signals into local optimization that are similar to traditional web search ranking factors.
Along with bringing traditional search ranking back into the local fold, Pigeon improved Google’s location and distance parameters. This was coupled with a somewhat sweeping redesign for local optimization thanks to Google Pigeon, where cities are no longer geographical entities. Pigeon effectively sliced and diced cities into “neighborhoods” resulting in a smaller search radius for local search queries.
This shook up the SERPs. Some businesses lost the rank they had achieved by optimizing for cities, while some local businesses ended up in different places, at first causing a panic and leaving local SEOs begging the question “what now?”
If you feel you have been Pigeon-holed into a less desirable position due to changes in the local search algorithm, you are in luck because we have some suggestions to help you get back on your feet.
1. Neighborhoods don’t go by just one name
Neil Patel pointed out on Search Engine Land that there is a colloquial name that a neighborhood has as well as a formal one. Making a comparison similar to his, a local New Yorker might say “Alphabet City” whereas a tourist might call it the “East Village.” Not only that, Patel went on to posit that the Pigeon algorithm updates would return better results for queries that incorporate usage for both colloquial and formal terms. By optimizing for both types of keywords you leverage this fact, and for competitive niches, it may be easier to rank higher and capitalize on the less competitive neighborhood synonym.
2. Optimize Your Local Directories, and Use them as a Source of Information
Pigeon places importance on local directories such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Urban Spoon. Make sure you have a presence on all local directories that are important to your niche and make sure they are well optimized. Directories are a great source of information for your local optimization efforts. If you want to harvest keywords that tourists are using, read relevant reviews.
3. Don’t Change Your NAP
Although your city keywords may now have to be oriented with neighborhood keywords, don’t change the NAP (name, address and phone number) that you have been using. Your NAP is integral to a successful local SEO strategy.
4. Have Traditional Values
Shift some of the focus on your local optimization to traditional SEO optimization tactics. According to Moz, on-page signals total out to 21% of local ranking factors. So place your keywords in the title tag, work on increasing your on-page domain authority, and pump out that optimized content.
5. Don’t Panic, Make a Good Website Instead
Finally, to quote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – Don’t Panic! As with any major change in the SEO community, the initial reaction to Pigeon seemed to be very large. After the dust settled with it, however, the feelings about it became somewhat neutral, according to a poll run by BrightLocal during a webinar called The Impact of Pigeon Update back in December 2014. 53% of the respondents thought the change was negative – making the consensus about 50/50. 69% felt that the user now enjoys positive changes from Pigeon, and the majority felt as though there were little or no changes to their business.
This of course varies in context – the niche and circumstances of the business definitely come into play. Most local SEO experts now advise local businesses to beef up their brand recognition and focus on optimizing for location.
The Bottom Line:
Although at this stage in the game, this last word of advice may seem cliché, it will be offered. If you place most of your focus on just maintaining a quality site that is relevant and helpful to your audience, you should be able to navigate through algorithm changes with ease. The fact is Google wants to keep its job as a search engine, and it does this by returning quality sites that are relevant to what users are looking for. Focus on this fact, and you ultimately won’t find yourself pigeonholed by updates to algorithms.