Google’s Pigeon Update Goes Local

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When Google releases a major update, it’s big news for content creators and SEO specialists. The search engine giant’s latest release may not be as large as some, but it’s still big enough to affect site rankings noticeably. Although Google hasn’t named the algorithm update as it typically does for major changes such as Penguin and Panda, the Search Engine Land blog has given the new update its own animal-themed name: Google Pigeon.

Google Pigeon’s name is a nod to the localized nature of the update. As homing pigeons can unerringly find their way to a given destination, Pigeon gives users a more fully localized experience. Unlike Google’s biggest and most famous – or for black-hat organizations, infamous – Panda and Penguin updates, Pigeon isn’t here to penalize low-value sites. It rewards local listings and ties rankings more closely to traditional search signals, including domain authority, quality backlinks and rich site content.

To make the most of Pigeon’s power to boost localized content, your site should reflect where you are as well as who you are. Potential customers don’t care about the best Indian restaurant in Ypsilanti if they’re in Yonkers, but they’re eager to know more about businesses in their area. By serving up more local content, Google hopes to offer its users greater relevance.

Some industry insiders speculate there’s another reason for the change. Crowd-sourced review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List rely heavily on localized content, but some sites felt their ranks were unrealistically low for what customers wanted to see. Yelp’s questions about Google’s page ranks didn’t go unnoticed, and the recent update addresses this issue, putting reviews higher on the SERPs than they were. All local directories, not just the major players in localized, crowd-sourced review sites, are enjoying a higher profile with Pigeon.

The news isn’t universally good for small to mid-sized businesses that rely on local traffic, though. As large directories occupy space in what were once the sole province of local searches, it’s even more critical for local sites to offer enough value to attract traffic and hold onto those first-page rankings. The authority signals these big sites bring to bear can out-compete a smaller company’s site even for highly local search strings if that site is poorly optimized. If you depend on localization as a distinctive feature of your brand, here’s how you can maintain your position or move up the food chain:

  • Update regularly. Remember, Google Pigeon isn’t just looking for localization; it’s tying that localization to quality signals, and regular updates are a hallmark of a quality site.
  • Pay close attention to keywords, phrases and synonyms. The days of heavy keyword stuffing are (fortunately) long over, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them. Think of ways to express who and where you are in multiple ways.
  • Go multi-channel if you haven’t already. Relying on search engines alone to bring traffic to your site means you’ll miss out on other valuable traffic-builders. Email, social media, newsletters and even direct mail are great for building the traffic that in turn builds better domain authority.
  • Perfect your site. Google looks askance at broken links and high bounce rates, two signs of a poorly maintained website. You can’t afford to lose prospects when competing on your home turf, so polish your site to a high shine and send all those quality signals Google and your audience want to see.

As with Penguin and Panda before it, Pigeon isn’t terribly fearsome to well-built white-hat sites. Localize your content, welcome regional traffic and keep sending those all-important quality signals, and Pigeon should send visitors flocking to your site.

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