Picking Through Google’s Pigeon Droppings…


Local appears to have been hit with the most far reaching update since Venice, and one that has flung more kaka than Hummingbird – so “Pigeon” seems pretty apropos, perhaps because Google appears to be treating many local SERPs like so many statues in the park.

Pigeon Is A Major Flux In SERP Order & Features

Result ordering has been changing since the update, so it’s hard to say what new (or old) signals are important. Check out this SERP and how it fluctuated over last weekend. This is a search for “tacos” implicitly located in Costa Mesa.

Pre Update

Tacos Costa Mesa Pre Algo Update


Tacos Costa Mesa 7-25


Tacos Costa Mesa 07-27


Tacos Costa Mesa 7-28

A Major Retraction In Local Packs & Mobile Usability

We have seen the disappearance, particularly of 7 packs, across a number of queries we regularly track. Other bird watchers have spied the same through their binoculars:

MozCast Data: 7 Packs Dropped But Probably not As Much As MozCast Indicated - (updated here) - Mike Blumenthal

We’re Seeing a 23.4% Drop in Local Packs - Darren Shaw

Before this update, we had noticed that local packs on mobile SERPs had often been returning 3-packs for a while, and indeed we are seeing an increase in 3-packs across the board. And a few weeks before Pigeon was announced, we started to see an increase in 3-pack mobile rankings for a number of clients.

This leads me to believe that Pigeon was perhaps a continuation of the merging of desktop and mobile SERPs that we saw with the removal of author photos last month. Who really wants to wade through more than a few results on a phone browser?

The ability to determine a mobile searcher’s precise location perhaps makes it more logical for Google to serve a more limited set of local results in the case of queries that don’t need a lot of variety. I mean, how many real estate agents do you really need to call?

Neighborhood Targeting Goes Wide

We talked about Google testing neighborhood queries previously and this seems to have rolled out to all with the most recent update. Here’s a confirmation by Brent Nau.

As you may recall from our previous post, Cabo Grill was getting no love in its hood, but the SERP has seen major volatility compared to a month ago. We are glad to see our friends at Cabo Grill finally get their Carousel due:


Service Area Businesses Getting Served?

Long-time local SEO Phil Rozek, amongst others, has reported that part of the release may have been a bug that suspended the Google My Business listings for service-area businesses. According to Holly Pedit of Tri-Cities SEO, Google Local Support is “aware of an issue with the area-based algorithm.”

We have not seen any suspensions on the service-area businesses we manage; but, check your Google My Business accounts daily, people.

A (Minor) Windfall For Local Directories

Looking across the data for 20 local directory sites, we have seen a slight uptick, in the 2-5% range, in organic traffic since the update. There have been a couple of outliers in both directions and we have also seen a roll back of some of the gains since Monday the 28th, indicating that Google may have done some “tuning.”

But as SEL Editor in Chief Matt McGee noted last week, any reduction of local pack results in favor of “organic” results is likely a boon for directories as they now have a better chance of outranking truly local businesses for these queries. Strong directory brands like Yelp and TripAdvisor have likely reaped the bulk of these gains — see SEO Matt Storms’ latest screed on Yelp’s infamous domination of nail salon queries. So, it may be a good time to buy some Yelp stock.

SEO, Web Design & Other Spammy Verticals Are Back In The Pack!

Previously, these verticals were not deemed worthy of local-pack results, although they occasionally showed in certain places for specific queries; but now, they seem to be back across the board. That said, based on this result for “seo pleasanton ca” (must…fight…urge…to…link…to…blog), it appears that spam still rules the day in local packs:

Pleasanton CA SEO

The two jokers who now outrank me for this coveted query appear to be pretty much achieving this via backlink spam. I believe the “California SEO Professionals” are using a fake location — so location prominence may have been dialed up. I’ll have to dig into this for a further post.

Realtors, DUI Lawyers & Other Spammy Verticals Are Out Of The Pack!

I was first alerted to the Pigeon by Brian Mayo of F.C. Tucker Real Estate, who noticed Realtors were out of the packs:

Casey Meraz has a great rundown of some spammy lawyer results that are showing up. Read the whole thing, but here are his conclusions:

  • Realtors appear to be gone from local listings
  • DUI Lawyers appear to be gone from local listings
  • Virtual Offices like Regus and PMB are still in the local pack
  • I am seeing more service area businesses that did not previously exist
  • The geographic area for some searches has greatly expanded; although in one case, all of the ranking results were on the same street
  • Listings linked to powerful domains seem to be gaining a benefit
  • I am seeing more listings with the modifier in their name being successful
  • Found one instance where an Individual G+ page is outranking the brand pages in the attorney space

Linda Buquet’s great Local Search Forum points out that there are ways to trigger packs in some of the verticals that are losing them (like realtors). This may be a glitch/not fully settled yet.

Google Making It Harder To Use Tools To Figure This Stuff Out

Perhaps it was not on purpose, but Enrico Altavilla reports that Geo-Location URL Parameters in Google search have been radically altered. This is what likely caused some of the early warning reporting tools like MozCast to overestimate the size of the update. This means that anyone using tools that scrape Google should make sure that they are updated to take into account the new URLs.

Since this update is still influx a great resource for keeping up with everything is this thread over at Linda Buquet’s local search forums.

My take is that the best way to understand what is happening with this update is to continue to think WWMD (What Would Mobile Do?). This doesn’t answer every problem that Pigeon presents, but it’s pretty much our assumption these days that most Google Local updates are headed in this direction.

If you want to keep on top of this update as it continues to update, my recommendation is keep a close eye on some of the sources mentioned above. They are rolling around in the data like a Pigeon in, well…

Photo courtesy of Andrew Shotland

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