The latest Google update, unofficially called "Pigeon", was rolled out on July 24, 2014 and has been cited as one of the biggest local search algorithm updates in years. The new algorithm is meant to provide more useful and relevant local search results and is impacting the local search listings associated with Google Maps (the 7-pack). Google says the new local search algorithm leverages a ton of ranking signals and search features such as spelling correction, synonyms and Google's knowledge graph. This is critical for local businesses and SEOs as it appears that the search queries will now be tied more closely together.
While it is too soon to tell the full magnitude of the update, one thing has become clear. With the new "Pigeon" update, has come the resurgence of the term "SEO". Thisword has been marked as tarnished and dead in the past several years but this update has give new life to SEO. Many businesses are already seeing the impacts of this update both positively and negatively.
The Early Results:
1. Significant change in which local search terms display in the 7-pack of Google Maps. This includes SEO, Web Design and Marketing in the local results for the first time in roughly 5 years.
2. Businesses that rely heavily on directories and reviews seem to be showing up in the Google Carousel but the Organic listings on the SERPS are all directories. Given that the "Pigeon" update pairs Local Search more closely with regular ranking signals, it makes sense. Businesses such as Yelp and TripAdvisor have stronger search signals than individual businesses.
3. Local Listing Packs: A major change is that the number of queries that include a local listing pack on SERPS has been reduced. According to Moz Cast, a decrease on July 27 to 3.3% from 12.1% just 4 days prior. Businesses should work on getting their missing search listings back for the keywords that are affected.
4. Traditional rankings are back and local ranking will now be more dependent on things such as website authority, backlinks and other SEO ranking signals. Businesses that are not optimized for local search, might want to think about hiring a company that specializes in SEO.
Businesses such as real estate have had their landscape of local search rocked with the "Pigeon" update. This is especially true for real estate relate inquiries. The major players in the real estate game such as Zillow and Realtor.com seem to be coming up first in the rankings. But as the SERPS's are shaking out, there are a few independent agent websites that still rank in the organic section. This plays to the idea that true organic SEO is making a comeback and should be a pivotal part of your online marketing plan.
Even big companies such as Expedia have been affected by Google's "Pigeon" update. A recent search for "New York Hotels" in Google brought up the carousel, with the regular hotels you would expect. But there was one you wouldn't expect: Expedia. Why is Expedia coming up as a hotel you can stay at in New York? Simple: Expedia's Google+ local listing was listed in the travel category. Someone (at Google we assume) recently changed it and put in the category of "Corporate Headquarters". Over time, this will fix the issue and no longer bring Expedia up in the search results for that query. Google was made aware of the problem and admits that this was not the expected outcome from the new local search update. There is obviously still work to be done.
What You Can Do
If you are looking to be found on Google, there is always Google Adwords. By paying to be at the top of the searches, you will most likely be found first. But the problem is, only a small percentage of people actually click the Ads to begin with. And when you decide to stop paying, your placement goes down the tubes. Here are some things you can do to boost your placement organically:
1. Keep checking your industry/business related Local Search terms to ensure they haven't changed and evaluate your marketing strategy if they do.
2. Be sure your industry keywords are not resulting in the local search 7-pack. Organic SEO will help make sure you appear in the organic results.
3. Register your business, completely fill out the information and get positive reviews for directory results. This will ensure that your business shows up.
The "Pigeon" update from Google has made Organic SEO a more influential component of Local Search and the basic principals remain true. Businesses should continue to make sure they are practicing SEO techniques and that their website has strong SEO characteristics.