Google “Pigeon”and its effects
We all know what pigeons do. Fly around in flocks and cr** on everything. Which is why when Google released a new algorithm to improve local search engine results, it didn’t call it pigeon. In fact, it didn’t call it anything. One of the most significant features of this new development is that there was no Google announcement – in fact the company has been pretty quiet about the whole process.
It was Search Engine Land (SEL) that nicknamed this algorithm “pigeon”, because, the site claims, pigeons fly home and this is an update that improves local results. Either SEL has a very short memory or it is being ironic, because in 2002 Google chose this name for its own April Fool’s Day prank – called Pigeon Rank.*
Will you benefit from Google “Pigeon”?
It’s a very good question – the benefits that should be observed are around better local search engine results and in harmonising those results with classic web search ranking. These benefits should be seen in Google Maps searches as well as Google Web searches and the improvements will show up in better distance and location ranking.
If you’re in the USA you’ll get the full force of “pigeon”right away, and US English results generally are being impacted by the new algorithm. There’s no answer to the question about whether this update will extend to other countries/languages and the always complicated overlap between US English and other English variants will probably emerge over the next few weeks.
Most analysts are reported increased organic traffic for locations – so localised (geography based) searches are likely to work more effectively, and “hyperlocal”searches (based on the USA version of a neighbourhood) have definitely been boosted – for US English based searches there are now neighbourhood specific settings to amplify location details in searches so that searchers get more relevant, more local, results.
Why has Google updated?
Good question! The answer may be more related to Yelp than any desire on Google’s part to fine-tune search results. Yelp has been making noises about Google being manipulative. Specifically, in manipulating search engine results to penalise Yelp in the USA, but not in Europe …because the EU is looking again at complaints about Google’s behaviour. Whilst a USA settlement on this matter last year was reassuring to Google and a recent agreement at EU level was also comfortable, the company probably knows that European regulators are likely to revisit decisions much more rapidly and to respond punitively to any evidence that Google isn’t keeping its side of the deal.
Certainly the huge directory sites: Yelp, Trip Advisor, Expedia are already ranking higher with “Pigeon’assistance, although a few anomalies have already emerged. In the first day or so of re-ranking a minor bug in the system decided Expedia was a hotel, rather than a directory. These little glitches always happen with new algorithms and it seems this one has been easily ironed out, unlike the punitive results of Google Penguin, but there may be a longer term negative effect for small businesses if directories are likely to be prioritised over local results.
The link between mobile results and “Pigeon”is going to be really important – if the hyper-localisation of results is to be extended, neighbourhood results will become vital because they will give priority to locating results for potential consumers in a narrow ‘nearby’range, quite possibly whether the searcher has asked for geographic results or not.
What hyperlocal means and why it matters to Google
Imagine you’re driving through a town you don’t know and you get a call. Maybe it’s a job interview offer or somebody asking you out on a date. Whatever the reason, you’ve got a short time in which to prepare yourself to make a good impression – the meeting takes place tomorrow. You look in the rear view mirror – uh oh! That haircut you’d been putting off …suddenly you wish you’d been a bit more organised. You punch ‘hair salon’or ‘barber’into your phone and the results appear immediately – there’s a place just around the corner and another supported by three positive reviews, within half a mile and so on. Your search results were hyperlocalised to your phone’s location and that might just be about to earn you a new job, or the beginning of a lifetime’s romance …
That’s hyperlocal in action, and Google understands that consumers are increasingly seeking two different kinds of search experience. The first could be called ‘show me everything’and is for times we want to survey the field, perhaps when we’re seeking wide information or (if shopping) when looking for something special and we’re happy to pay more or wait longer to get it. The second could be called ‘show me local’and relates to everyday needs: pizza, school shoes, haircuts, printer cartridges etc. It’s for when we know what we want and we want it immediately, or within a very short time frame.
Google knows this matters. A Neilson** report in February 2014 shows that we now spend more time accessing the Internet via smart phones than PCs – the average is 34 hours per person per month via phone, compared to 27 hours on desktop devices. While over 80% of that time is spent utilising apps, it’s a big market area, and for Google, and others, to capitalise on it, requires hyperlocalism to work in real time.
Google Maps is designed to make hyperlocalism central to our search experience – we go online to find out both what is closest to us (a place to get a prescription filled, watch a particular film at the cinema or buy nappies at four in the morning) and to find what we could never otherwise see (for example, Area 51, part of Edwards Air Force Base in the USA, commonly considered to be a potential location for UFO monitoring). As people use their phones more and their desktop computers less, Google aims to be providing solutions to consumer questions, regardless of the platform on which the search is created.
Pack result changes
One thing that most commentators agree on is changes in the pack. Previously, the vast majority of results returned by Google were a seven pack: a key result backed up by six others, and that’s been the standard for Google since it dropped its ten pack result grid back in 2012.
Since “Pigeon”hit, many searches are producing a results as narrow as two or three packs. If the seven pack is shrinking, web based searches will really start to mirror the smartphone style results which can often return results based on a tight geographical location.
How to thrive with “Pigeon”
Long term engagement to win the Google game
Pigeon has stripped out some aspects of search ranking that people relied upon. ‘Ranking’used to be quite a big element of traffic driving, but Google is increasingly updating algorithms without warning, so your website should be designed to easily accommodate Google’s new ‘let’s change everything’habit. For example, after rolling out an authorship of images update, Google appears to be back-tracking on it somewhat. If your only way of managing website ranking is to read about the latest Google update and try to change your site to meet it, you’re wasting time and money. Many businesses struggle to break out of the static website mindset and Google is increasingly punishing them for it.
Here’s a way to change the focus – you wouldn’t expect your customers to be wearing flip-flops on a rainy February day, or to turn up with gloves and umbrellas on a scorching August one, would you? And a smart business might be putting out footfall mats to catch all the drips and spills in wet weather, whilst using awnings in summer to give overheated summer shoppers a reason to stick around and buy. Your website needs to be similarly adjustable to conditions. If you don’t have in-house expertise, this is the time to find a great search engine optimisation specialist (we like to think we’re pretty special, so why not call us to discuss your needs?) and get them onboard.
Simply put, nothing in Pigeon changes what the highest ranking web businesses already do, they will just do it better, faster and more often to ensure they stay at the top.
On the other hand, If Pigeon has been a wake-up call for you, this is the time to start implementing a content rich, locally relevant web strategy. This allows you to sail above Google updates with no need for anything other than a bird’s eye view to check your tactics are still on target – a bit like Google Earth, really!