It’s been nearly a year since the so called Google Pigeon update was released in Australia and the UK. The update caused quite a few ripples in the water when it was first released in the US in July 2014, and the ripples grew wider still when the update rolled out in Australia and the UK in December of the same year. As it often happens when an update comes out, there was panic, SEO became less generic and concentrated a little more on user experience, everyone adapted their campaign strategies, and lo and behold, we saw some positive changes come about.
Of course this is a very vague description of this update’s history, it has been a busy year for SEO campaign managers because of it. So let’s look a little bit more closely at what Pigeon has done to the industry in its first year.
What was the Pigeon update?
To put it simply, the aim behind Pigeon was to boost the importance of ‘location’ when it came to a website’s relevance, thus increasing the quality of the user experience. It would do this by taking note of the user’s IP address and location, and use that to retrieve local results for their queries.
It did this by making better use of the principles of traditional SEO rankings like domain authority, relevant backlinks, and site quality. Additionally, they reduced the search map radius to fetch more local, and therefore more relevant results to the user.
This caused a reduction in the amount of displayed result packs to just 5, and in some cases even 3, depending on the user’s query.
Google also used this update to boost results in local directories like the Yellow Pages, to give internet users efficient contact information search results, which became a new strongpoint for adaptive SEO agents.
All these things, Google claimed, were aimed at improving their distance and location parameters. As you could imagine, this didn’t go down well with businesses who suddenly found they were not turning up on any of the local results they had once found themselves in by simply using terms like ‘Australia’ or ‘Brisbane’ in their keywords.
The reception of Pigeon
The initial receptions of Pigeon when it rolled out in both the US and Australia were not great, with many agencies feeling like it was bad for business. Searchengineland.com released these results from a poll they had done when the update rolled out:
The update would force 58% of local marketers to change their tactics
69% welcomed the changes
53% felt that the update was bad for business
The reasons for these statistics vary from, not being affected at all since their SEO was already in line with the update’s principles; strategies having to change to accommodate the benefits of the update, changes which lessened the use of black-hat techniques like keyword flooding; and annoyed people who watched as shady agencies spammed and reaped immediate results (as is always the case when an update first rolls out).
Whatever the reasons though, something became very clear to everyone involved, a certain amount of adaptation would have to take place to accommodate Pigeon.
What did this mean for SEO and small businesses
While Pigeon definitely caused a shakeup in the SEO world, some agencies welcomed the change and saw the opportunities it could provide for smaller businesses. These are the ones that knew that by boosting any local business’s web activity they could use their location, directory and index to further boost their website’s rating. It seemed to be an organic amalgamation of traditional and digital marketing techniques that got the job done.
Some of the first websites to benefit from this were those belonging to small, local businesses like cafés, coffee shops, boutique hotels, and guesthouses who relied heavily on their locations already. But what did this update do to those who were just outside of the search radius?
These websites were finding that using location names in their keywords were not effective, and this posed a big problem. It meant that when it came to keyword research and usage, these sites would have to settle for less popular (and therefore less lucrative) queries. But all was not lost, this was just a call for some adaptive strategies.
Adaptive SEO strategies
A couple of months after Pigeon’s release, Moz.com published an excellent article with some advice from successful SEO professionals who had gotten quite comfortable with the principles surrounding the update and each of the six interviewees had some very good pieces of advice to give. Here was the overall feeling behind much of what they said:
Businesses who found themselves excluded from the search radius they wanted to be in, should put more emphasis on boosting SEO activity for the area their business represented and use less competitive categorical search keywords.
Those who have lost rank within the search radius should go back to basics. Put more time and effort into streamlining your site to boost optimisation in other areas.
Push SEO activity towards location listing. Make sure that all pages with directories, contacts and location information are very crawlable by posting regular content on those pages.
Make sure your business is listed in directories that are ranking well in local packs. The reduction of displayed packs means you’ll want every advantage you can get.
A 5 point Pigeon checklist for SEO
It seems like an awful lot to take in, but here we are nearly a year down the line and business is still flowing as it should. But just in case you’re having trouble figuring out what this all means to you, I’ll conclude with a 5 point checklist that you can use to make sure you don’t get caught out by Pigeon:
Optimise your website; make it as clean, quick, content rich, and user friendly as possible.
Clean consistent citations and backlinks are more important than ever thanks to Pigeon’s emphasis on local directories.
Remember that with your campaign you are building relationships with actual people and not just mindless consumers. Put effort into quality content and user experience and success will come.
Report spam when you see it, if you are so inclined. By reporting unethical business practices you are doing your bit to create an SEO market with fairer competition; and also you’re less likely to lose out on a listed result pack to someone who only speaks keyword. It’s because of practices like these that Google has to keep releasing updates.
Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.