On July 24th, Google rolled out an update to its algorithms designed to improve the value and relevance of local searches. In the absence of an official name, Search Engine Land christened the update ‘Google Pigeon’.
According to figures by MOZ, Google rolls out somewhere in the region of 600-plus algorithm updates every year. Some of them – like Panda, Penguin or Hummingbird – result in big changes for SEO while others are small tweaks and refinements that go under the radar.
With Google Pigeon, Google has stated that the new local search algorithm will tie deeper into Google’s core web search capabilities, “including features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction and synonyms”, as well as the hundreds of other ranking signals that determine which websites appear where in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Through this algorithm, Google hopes to link SERPs more closely to the location of the person searching and how far they are from your business. In other words, if someone’s searching for a local business, Google Pigeon should help them see relevant companies that are just a stone’s throw away.
I should point out that, for the time being, Google has only confirmed that this algorithm has been rolled out for US English results. No word has been given about dates and plans to roll it out more widely to other countries.
How Google Pigeon has changed Google Maps searches
That being said, if you head over to Google Maps you’ll notice that the Google Maps search has already changed in the UK. Now, when someone does a Google Maps search, local businesses with a Google page will appear on the map and on the scrollable display panel on the left-hand side of the screen. This facility gives searchers instant access to reviews, your location and further information.
One change that webmasters in the US have reported as a result of Google Pigeon is a greater presence for directory sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable and others. This is interesting because, on July 9th 2014, TechCrunch ran an article about leaked documents which suggested that Yelp had alleged that Google was manipulating search results to favour Google+ over Yelp in US searches, but not in Europe. It would appear that Yelp and other directories are definitely seeing better rankings since the algorithm rolled out, which may go some way towards resolving this issue.
Optimising your local business website for Google Pigeon
Even though we don’t know when Google Pigeon will affect UK English searches, I think it’s important for small businesses to think about proactive steps they can take to optimise for local searches, especially if you have physical premises and rely on local custom.
Arguably, Google Pigeon could help your small local business to attract more enquiries and sales. Initial opinions from the US are divided – a recent article on the Search Engine Roundtable website showed that the search results for a generic term ‘ice cream’ were far more relevant to the local area after Google Pigeon, whereas before it had turned up results including Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins. The ‘after’ results were certainly of more value to a person who wanted to know where they could buy ice cream locally.
There is a flipside. If Google Pigeon is doing more to make directory sites visible, small local businesses could be hit with decreased rankings. It makes sense that large sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are bound to have stronger SEO signals than a small site for a local craft business or solopreneur, for example.
If you are trying to attract local business, I think it’s important to optimise your website with that in mind. Here are a few quick pointers:
- Make sure your company address is featured on your website
- Mention your location where it feels natural to do so and speak directly to your local customers through your copy
- Feature your location in your SEO title and your heading tags, especially the main H1 title (Not sure what these are? Check out my SEO 101 blog and 7 quick & easy SEO boosting steps)
- Feature images of your location or of you working locally with relevant alt tags
- Make sure your website is responsive or that you have a mobile version, as – back in 2012 – a study by Search Engine Land found that 70% of smartphone owners use location-aware apps and carry out an average of 21 local searches per week; those figures are bound to have gone up
- Register your business with Google, so that you have a Google for Business page – this means that you will show up in searches on Google Maps
- Optimise your listings on local directories, so that you’re communicating a consistent message regardless of how people come across your business
- Ask your customers to leave reviews on your Google page, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other prominent directories
- Get active on social media, providing content that people want to comment on and share
If you run a business that relies on local custom, have you noticed a change to your website’s rankings yet? Is your business listed on popular directory sites? How do you go about optimising your site for local traffic?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below or over on The Freelance Copywriter Facebook page.