Google rolls out change to local search algorithm
Last week, Google introduced a significant update to its local search algorithm, which is set to affect results in both map and web searches. As Google has not released a name for the update, it has been informally christened 'Pigeon'.
As ever, Google is not keen to reveal too much about this update, but it has said that it is increasingly linked to search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction and synonyms. Distance and location parameters will also be improved.
Thus far, Pigeon is only affecting US English searches, and Google has not revealed the percentage of queries influenced. There is also some debate as to whether webspam algorithms have been used in this update, although the general consensus seems to be that its goal is more wide-ranging than targeting spam.
It is not clear when UK site owners and users can expect to see the impact of this change.
7-packs and the 'Yelp problem'
Promoting local businesses online has become a vital task for any serious venture, and there are many things site owners have long been advised to do in pursuit of a position in those all-important 7-packs that position your brand at the top of SERPs, complete with handy map information.
The top 20 local ranking factors listed on Moz include local-specific requirements such as assigning the correct category to your business, ensuring contact details are correct and consistent and putting your location in your landing page title. It also cites generally desirable search traits such as domain authority and quality of inbound links.
However, Pigeon still appears to have some teething problems in this area, with blogger Mike Blumenthal reporting the disappearance of 7-packs in certain industries, including real estate and some legal areas.
Despite this, there are areas of improvement that have already been attributed to Pigeon. For example, high quality local directories have reportedly been given more prominence, with an issue surrounding 'urban guide' site Yelp seemingly rectified.
Previously, Yelp had accused Google of returning results linking to its own local listings and Google+ content even in cases where users had included 'Yelp' in their search query. This no longer appears to be the case.
Search Engine Land's Barry Schwartz says that the 'Pigeon' moniker was chosen due to the fact that pigeons are known for flying home, and this ties in with the idea of local search.
It also begins with a 'P', in keeping with other landmark updates such as Panda and Penguin, although whether it will have as great an impact as these remains to be seen (and don't forget that the potentially game-changing Hummingbird algorithm refresh also appeared last year - it might not begin with a 'P' but that would be silly reason to ignore it).
Some webmasters may remember that Google has previously been associated with the bird, after a 2003 'Pigeon Rank' hoax attempted to fool site owners into thinking Google based its rankings on the whim of a pigeon to create a literal 'pecking order'. However, you can rest assured that this time the change is real and certainly something to watch out for.