What happens when you get three local SEO industry experts on one panel and ask them their true thoughts (backed not just by personal feelings toward Google’s algorithm, but by data, trends, and analysis) of search results in a Post-Pigeon world? You get one of my afternoon sessions at Day two of SMX East.
Deconstructing Pigeon, Google’s New Local Search Algorithm featured the director of local search strategy at Moz, the president of Local SEO Guide, and the SVP of product and technology at SIM Partners, and let me tell you…these guys did not hold back with the story of data, traffic, and conversions in a Post-Pigeon world.
And with that, here are their main points.
Web Signals Have Never Been Good at Identifying Local Businesses
While Pigeon is Google’s version of an “improvement” of this problem, it was agreed that traditional web ranking signals (like links and authority) have never been good at identifying small local businesses. And because of that, national brands and directories are getting rewarded—that hasn’t changed much with Pigeon. It can be challenging, but still try to have a natural authority building campaign regardless of how small your business is. At least, start with getting all your local listings and directory citations to have a shot at building some local links.
Proximity of Searcher vs. Proximity to City Center
With Pigeon, there seems to be two types of local searches: non-geo-qualified searches and geo-qualified searchers.
For non-geo-qualified searches, the user is just searching for a service (“hvac repair”) and assumes Google knows where they are. For these searches, Google is focusing on exactly where the searcher is located and has a smaller radius for what is considered as a “local business”—limiting to their close neighborhood. This is what experts are calling proximity to searcher signal.
For geo-qualified searches, the user is searching for a service and indicating the area they are looking for (“hvac repair in charlotte, nc). For these searches, Google is still using the city center (centroid for you industry pros) and has a much larger radius for the local pack search results or what is deemed a local business.
Remember Qualified Traffic in Analyzing Your Site
If your business saw a major shift in local traffic results (especially with the local pack) after Pigeon rolled out, don’t freak out (at first) about a major dip in traffic. What really matters is qualified traffic. Google’s stated goal for updating its algorithm is to always be improving the SERPs and experience that its search users have—meaning they are attempting to provide better links to pages based on their search queries. In theory, with Pigeon, your traffic may have gone down, but with an altruistic mindset that Pigeon really was put in place to help determine how qualified your traffic is, check on-page conversions and how users are performing differently (hopefully better) with on-site metrics.
Spam Wins (For Now)
Directories, fake businesses, and exact match business names are winning at Pigeon for now. Sorry mom and pop shops, you may have seen an average of 5% decrease in local search traffic post-Pigeon. But that doesn’t mean it’s here to stay. All the experts agreed that there has been major flux in results, traffic, etc. in the past few weeks.
What You Can Do to Win at Pigeon
While reaction to Pigeon has been less than optimal, we couldn’t call them experts if they still didn’t provide advice on what you can still do to try to win at Pigeon. From what these experts have seen, Pigeon rewards:
Directories (so consider barnacling on sites like Yelp, etc.)
National brands with a strong local SEO presence
Branded anchor text
Branded searches (getting people to search for your brand)
Proximity to searcher (have a strong mobile expertise for your users—good content, fast load time)
Their closing advice for deconstructing Pigeon is to keep watching because there are changes every day. What can you do to stay on top of these and future changes? Check in with industry trusted sources that monitor major changes in the search world:
Adam Dorfman is the senior vice president of product and technology at SIM Partners. Adam is considered an expert in the local search space and contributes regularly to Search Engine Watch.
David Mihm is the director of local search strategy at Moz. His company, getlisted.org, was acquired by Moz in November 2012 and he’s being working with Moz Local ever since.
Andrew Shotland is the president of Local SEO Guide, a blog on local search optimization for small businesses.
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Curious as to what Ben and Hannah are up to in the Big Apple? Follow them on Twitter at @BenLanders and @Hannah_Bernice. Be sure to check out more SMX Live Blog posts from our team and the official conference Twitter (@SMX) and hashtag (#SMX).
About The Author: Hannah is the SEO Team Lead at Blue Corona. If she's not busy daydreaming about the training session for her team, you can find her improving client conversion rates and planning her next trip.
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