Pigeon Rolled Back? Law Firm Study Says Yes

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Pigeon – that hastily rolled out Google algo change that impacted both local and natural results – had those of us working in or for small, localized businesses (like law firms) in an utter panic.  Early consensus among the local search geeks was that Pigeon:

  • Heavily favored the massive directories — in fact there was a lot of discussion how Pigeon may have been an overreaction to Yelp’s persistent anti-competitive whining
  • Drastically reduced the frequency of local packs
  • Reopened up local results to previously diagnosed local spam tactics

Many of us, myself included, were not surprisingly vocally critical of the mess that Pigeon left all over the SERPs. Local search Rock Star, David Mihm, delayed his annual Local Search Factors study to give us a chance to evaluate just what Pigeon had dropped.

Frankly, from my perspective, it didn’t make sense that small businesses were being marginalized in favor of mega-directories. Yet, despite all of the talk from Google about the little guys, this is exactly what was happening.

What Really Happened

I recently sat down with Gyi Tsakalakis from AttorneySync to compare notes and to evaluate the impact of Pigeon on a small subset of the heavily local, small business market: law firms.

We reviewed natural search traffic from 57 different law firm sites and compared average weekly traffic for 6 weeks (post Pigeon and pre Panda 4.1) to a benchmark of average weekly traffic for 8 weeks pre Pigeon.

In the analysis, we frankly ignored the two weeks of data immediately following Pigeon under the (correct) assumption that the results were so zany, unpredictable, and fleeting during that time period.

Pigeon Analysis

Relative changes in site traffic for 57 websites before and after the Pigeon update.

With a few exceptions, the results are spectacularly uninteresting (which in and of itself is an interesting pattern). As shown in the graph above, more than half of the sites experienced a net growth in traffic – not what I would have expected given the initial expert histrionics around Pigeon.

More importantly, about two out of every three sites saw a traffic change of less than 20% – about par for the course for these smaller sites.

We reviewed the sites at the extreme ends to try to identify any patterns. I expected to see a concentration of NAP fakers (law firms are notorious for trying to look bigger by claiming fake locations) getting hit the hardest. Not so.

One of the firms which experienced the biggest traffic growth is, in fact, an artless and flagrant geo-spammer. Turns out, there was no common thread (that we could ID) among the biggest winners and loser groups.

Interestingly, when I reran the numbers, looking at traffic for the four weeks immediately following Pigeon launch, two out of three of the law firm sites saw a drop in traffic.

Reading the tea leaves, it looks to me that after a very unwelcome arrival, Pigeon is slowly being rolled back. Anecdotally (at least in legal), we’re seeing 3-packs coming back and 7-packs replacing the 3 packs. Here’s a current example Gyi sent me this weekend (with the subject line “Pigeon Poop Begone”):

los angeles personal injury attorney   Google Search

7-packs seem to be returning to some local results.

 

Now, much of this is just conjecture. It is also quite likely that law firms run into more spammy NAP issues that your average small business, so the results may not be representative overall. Suffice it to say, I think it would be a shame for small businesses to take the brunt of an algo change, and the limited data here suggest that Google has turned around to reflect this.

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