Confused About Google’s Recent “Pigeon” local search algorithm update and how it impacts Australian businesses?

January 2015 updated version to my original 2014 article:

In mid December, Google rolled out an update to their ranking algorithms for searches with “local” intent on Google.com.au. The update caught the attention of all the major SEO blogs & reporters, because it seems to have caused a significant shake up in the Australian search engine results pages for many local search queries.

By the way, I do apologise for the lame pigeon image at the top of this post – I’m in a rush & too lazy to find a better one 😛

Back to it: The local search algorithm update has been named “Pigeon” by Search Engine Land. They do a great job of explaining what the update is and why it’s been dubbed “Pigeon” right here, so I’d encourage you to go and read that article and also this one. The purpose of my post is to predict the affect this algorithm update will have on Australian businesses specifically and hopefully offer some tips to help you capitalise on the changes.

As with any Google algorithm update, there’s always winners & losers, so hopefully you and your clients become the latter. I should add that “Pigeon” doesn’t seem to be an algorithm focussed on spam fighting, so as long as you’ve been doing things by the book, you’ll hopefully come out unscathed.

Note: I should say first that for many verticals, the make up of local SERPs will remain relatively unchanged. However, I thought I’d offer my take on how local companies can make the most of the coming changes.

 

Here’s the breakdown of what I’ve seen happen to Australian local Google SERPs:

  • Less Google “Local” listings in some markets (i.e. Google Places / Google+ Local –> Google My Business listings) on Australian Search Engine Results Pages. (For some local verticals). Early reports indicate that for some US searches, Google is opting to display a higher percentage of actual web page listings instead of devoting a full 7 spots to it’s own product – Google My Business listings.
  • Ranking Wins for Major Online Directories. I’ve noticed some increased exposure in the Google search results for high quality, authoritative directories like Sensis’ Yellow Pages, TrueLocal & Yelp, as well as Local Directories in some regions. Popular vertical-specific sites could also benefit from more real estate on the local Google.com.au SERPS, such as Home Improvement Pages & Trip Advisor.
  • Ranking rewards for local businesses who have invested wisely in their own website. Early reports are indicating that Google’s pigeon update for local search has more of their web search ranking signals built in to it. As you may know, the factors that help you rank in “Non-local” searches are quite different to the factors that matter in local search rankings. For example, authoritative backlinks matter more in web search than they do in local search.
  • Google Heavily Favouring Physical Proximity: The proximity of your business’ location to the search intent matters more for ranking in Google My Business (Google Places / Maps). This has been one of the most significant changes I’ve seen in this recent update. Especially for competitive verticals like lawyers & dentists, where the density of physical location competition is high.

 

How Should Australian Local Businesses Respond to this Update?

1. Make Sure Your Website is Awesome.

Basically, if there’s going to be more focus on web search ranking factors for queries with local intent, you might want to redirect some of your SEO efforts towards improving your website. (And your products/services pages within it) In the past, it’s been quite possible for businesses with a crappy website (or even no website) to rank well in Google’s local search results. I come across businesses every week that have an awful website, yet here they are perched up on the first page of Google for all of their (relatively competitive) keywords. In many cases, these businesses are trumping competing businesses’ websites & scooping up more than their fair share of new customers. Now this is great if you can get away with it, but I do believe that it will become a thing of the past in local search. The Pigeon update will hopefully reinforce that it is more vital than ever to have a mobile responsive, useful, properly optimised website for your local business.

2. Consider leveraging “Barnacle” SEO

Here’s a tactic that I’m already using with many of my clients and it’s a great one because the majority of their competitors aren’t even thinking about it. “Barnacle” SEO is all about beefing up your presence on other websites to take advantage of their strong organic search rankings. In Australia, the main business directories gaining prominence in our local search results are Sensis’ Yellow Pages, TrueLocal & Yelp, along with their fierce competitor – Local Directories. There are also a number of vertical specific & geo-specific sites that you can list your business on to take advantage of their Google presence.

I know many of these sites charge for placement which can be a turn-off. I have found that it is worth the investment in some situations. An example is demonstrated below.

Business Optimising its Local Google SERP Presence in Australia

That is what I would call a “Close to ideal” local SERP presence for any company targeting new customers in local markets.

It’s tough (& sometimes impossible) for a local business’ website to outrank a huge, authoritative directory like Yellowpages.com.au. So I figure if you can’t outrank them for a popular set of keywords, why not take advantage of their dominance. In the instance above, we’ve been able to achieve top rankings within this client’s relevant Yellow Pages categories so that if users do click through on the YP link, they’ll find him. Effectively what this does is gives the client a dominant presence on the local SERPs because they can be found organically via their website, their Google My Business listing, or via Yellow Pages Online. (They could also be found via AdWords too)

Now I’m not recommending that you go out and buy a heap of Yellow Pages online advertising, because in my experience 95% of it is useless. However, if the numbers makes sense in your specific situation, then you should definitely consider paying for some increased exposure. If you’re not sure whether this path would suit you, feel free to give me a call on 0401 560 404 or email me. I’d be happy to take a quick look for you and share my opinion.

 

3. Don’t Throw All Your Local Online Marketing Eggs in One Basket

This latest local algorithm update is just another great reason why you can’t rely on a “One-trick pony” online marketing strategy. Especially if you’re a small business that relies heavily on Google to get acquire new customers. I’ve seen it happen first hand earlier in my career at Yellow Pages. Businesses that rested their fortunes on a single source of local lead generation have lost out. Businesses that adapted to the changes won local market share. It happened with the print Yellow Pages & it will happen (to a far less dramatic extent) with Google search.

It’s happening now with the mobile revolution. How important are top rankings becoming when you consider the lack of SERP real estate available in mobile browsers? It’s getting competitive right?

Googles Local SERP on a mobile browser

Ask yourself this question – If Google shut down tomorrow, where would you get new customer leads from?

Facebook? Email marketing? Traditional media? Deal sites? This may seem like a ridiculous hypothetical question, but give it some thought. You may come up with some great ideas to help you gain market share over your local competitors.

I’m predicting that Google’s Pigeon update will be a great thing for companies who target local search markets proactively. The businesses who continue to invest in their own web presence & publish useful content will gain more local market share. Which is how it should be.

Even if Google doesn’t shut down tomorrow and even if the Pigeon update doesn’t affect your business’ vertical, I hope this article provides you with some useful food for thought.

I’d love to hear your opinion on this latest Google algorithm update in the comments below. How do you think this reshuffle of the Google SERPS will affect Australian businesses & local SEO providers?