Google’s newest search algorithm update, released earlier this year on July 24, was unannounced. Many small business owners only learned of the update when their search rank began declining. The update has since been dubbed Google Pigeon. Nobody knew what to expect – and four months later, many businesses that thrive off local search results are still struggling to optimize. While the SEO practices you were used to may have changed, these adjustments may not be altogether bad for your business.
What is Google Pigeon? What does it mean for your business?
Changes with Google Pigeon
Pigeon is an update to how local businesses show up on the first page of Google’s search results. The update particularly impacted Google’s local packs. Local packs are the shortened lists that appear when someone searches for a service in their location. They include the address of the business and single click access to Google Maps for directions.
Google Carousel also changed with Pigeon. Carousel appears horizontally directly under the search for a local service. It includes price range, ratings, distance, and a picture related to the business.
Effects of Google Pigeon
While Pigeon was a startling surprise for many entrepreneurs, its effects are not necessarily bad for business. The change immediately benefited certain industries. Hospitality, food, and education received significant growth in their search results with 28%, 19%, and 13% boosts respectively. Smaller gains were seen in spas, shops, and law establishments.
Some businesses, though, did suffer. Real estate, movies, insurance, and job listings all declined significantly following the Pigeon update with minus 63%, 36%, 11%, and 68% respectively. However, Pigeon has only been around for a few months. Results are still in flux, and Google is still testing.
If SEO is characterized by anything, it’s change. SEO from a year ago looked far different than the SEO of today. Pigeon reminded business owners that Google can change its algorithms without warning. The best way to keep your business afloat is to remain flexible in your SEO and create content continually relevant through changes. Post-Pigeon, what should local businesses do to boost their rankings?
To weather the changes, your business needs to have an established brand tied to a strong domain. In 2008, the former Google CEO pointed out in a now widely recognized quote that brands are trust creators. “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool,” he said. To keep your business relevant through Pigeon and further algorithm updates, tie a strong brand to a strong domain.
The main change Pigeon brought was improved distance parameters. Searchers will now find businesses closest to them are the first to come up in their searches. The top organic search results are now almost invariably belonging to businesses in a small radius of distance to the location of the searcher. To boost your rankings, think locally, and include neighborhood keywords in your strategy. Many small businesses, such as Colorado Clear Braces, have found SEO success in this approach: “Prioritizing listings in Google My Business, Yelp, and directories specific to our area has produced a notable change in our visibility.” Focusing on your business’ social media presence is another way to boost local results; every local business should have an up-to-date Google+ page.
One SEO strategy will continue to boost rankings through all algorithms changes: quality content. Many of Google’s updates are designed to weed out content created for specifically promotional purposes. If your content is too keyword heavy, Google’s algorithms will not be kind. Create content providing relevant, useful information to a searcher. There are many online tools to calculate keyword density in a block of text, so you can ensure it’s not too high. Optimal keyword density varies depending on the kind of content. For internal content, like a database of select businesses, higher keyword density is better. For external general web searches, where many businesses try to cheat Google’s algorithms, lower keyword density is ideal.
A good rule of thumb is to simply read your content and see if its keyword density flows naturally. A well-written piece of content will have keywords where they are relevant. Poorly written content will read like it was written by a robot.
Client reviews of your business are more important than ever with Pigeon. Listings on Angie’s List and other review sites come up high with the Pigeon update. They often appear just below your business’ actual website – and people are more likely to trust these reviews than your opinion of your own business. You should prioritize having a positive presence on these review sites. Part of this includes good customer service, so customers will give you favorable reviews. Even a single negative review can deter potential customers from visiting your business – and the best SEO can’t help you in these cases in which people are actively deciding to not use your service.
Prospective customers reading reviews expect you to respond to negative reviews, but receive an even better impression if you respond to positive ones, as well. Address all reviews and feedback posted on these sites. Negative reviews can taint your business’ reputation for years. It’s important to deal with them quickly and helpfully.
The best way to keep your business relevant through algorithm changes is to continually analyze your results. Pigeon and other changes are designed to work for honest businesses, not against them. Keep your SEO up to date and relevant, and your business will benefit from Pigeon.