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Local SEO – Watch Out for Pigeons!

Ali Moghadam

by Ali Moghadam on 7th August 2014

Coogle, the Google PigeonThe urban pigeon is a relatively wily creature. Not cunning like a fox – more of a fearless perennial weed with wings, waddling amongst the human populace, waiting, waiting… The pigeon’s famous appetite for discarded chips and salty snacks is satisfied when these treats are dropped by passers-by. So; is Pigeon then an apt name for Google’s local search algorithm refresh, clearing the streets of Google one peck at a time? Can this post harbour the most bird references ever?

Google’s latest local search algorithm refresh flew the coup in late July to gobble up the (apparently) festering detritus that was local search. In its wake, many are reporting a huge shake up in local search listings, where review sites and local directories dominate, and the local map pack (once usually 7 or 8 listings strong) is significantly reduced in most cases, showing an average of 3 sparsely arranged local listings on the map snippet.

While the UK is reportedly not yet experiencing these changes at the time of writing, I do believe we’re starting to see the beginnings of some flapping about among the local pack – terms that had a full suite of local pack listings are being shrunk. Let’s try it out using the greatest food on the planet (pigeon kryptonite):

Screenshot of Google Local Search Result Pizza Takeaway

How it was (and still is in many cases as the new algorithm settles in) – more in the local pack.

Google Search Result for Pizza Takeaways

How it is now. Let’s see if it sticks.

What’s more, it looks like the ducks across the pond have noticed that tagging a place name on the beginning or end of your query will more strongly affect your results, giving more focused location targeted results even if you’re not in that place. Maybe the Google eggheads are still playing around with the algorithm before a full, worldwide roll-out. Regardless, this is a flavour of our impending future – whenever the USA starts feeling the changes, old England is never too far behind.

How to Prepare

So it looks like we’re next – what should we do to prepare for the coming flock? Fun fact – a group of flying pigeons is called a kit!

Well, let’s look at what’s being experienced:

  1. Increased presence of local listing directories
  2. Smaller, more concise local map pack
  3. Locations tagged on to queries get more bang for buck

With these factors on the rise, we can do a fair bit before the pigeon lands. First up, it’s time to take control of local listings – Yelp, Yell and all the common denominators that get page one attention.

Taking Control of Local Listings

When I say take control, I don’t mean claim them and let them collect digital dust. I mean take control – brand them up, describe your business clearly and uniquely, attract customers – hell, talk to them even! Don’t just sit on the platform, use it. If a stronger local listing is the one that appears top, be that listing. Think about all the listing sites that offer pictures, videos, comments, full contact information, product details, staff member or owner profiles – and keep them ship shape!

Handling a Smaller Local Pack

The smaller average local pack is much harder to address, as we don’t have control over it. There isn’t much we can do, but if you’re in the top three right now, you’ll stand a good chance of retaining in control of your visibility for the time being. Hyper-relevance coupled with name, address and phone number citations should help you out a least a little bit – and don’t forget to keep your Google My Business profile in top order. The Data Highlighter in Google Webmaster Tools is an often overlooked weapon in the local SEO arsenal, as are microformats like schema mark-up. Get on it now, don’t wait until the guano hits the fan!

Locations Tagged on To Queries

Personally, I don’t like the practice of sticking things like “SEO Southampton” or similar into title tags. I like to include locations in my title tags and Meta, but I’m not fond of exact match location keyword stuffing. Because it looks rubbish. So go natural. Are you a “Family Bakery in Glasgow”? Then tag your brand name on and let that be the end of it. If you’re a “Bakery Glasgow, Glasgow Bakeries” well, then… okay, more power to you. But you’re not really are you?! Cut the stuffed, spammed out titles – we’re no longer in the dark ages of SEO (although some would argue we’re in some sort of neo-dark age) and the name of the game is relevance. The tighter and more granular, the better. Stop putting all your eggs in one basket – the title tag can only take so much!

The Outlook

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, that’s local SEO for you. A constant, never ending process of tightening up your presence in the local pack and Google Maps. But it’s worth it – all that awesome visibility is going to pay off big time. But it’s a long road to the top if you wanna rock and roll. You’ve got to be on top of it before everyone else is on top of you – pigeon or no pigeon. But if you master your surroundings, you’ll find it much easier to survive. The landscape shifts all the time, you just need to adapt, just as the pigeon has adapted to life in the metropolis.

If you’d like to know more about Local Search and the Pigeon update, waddle over to our Contact page and let us take you under our Koozai wing.

Ali Moghadam

Ali Moghadam

Ali is experienced in working with SEO and Social Media, helping businesses find their voice in competitive markets. He loves digital media and finding innovative uses for it, with a keen interest in how creativity on the internet can help shape success.

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  • Diana Altobelli 11th August 2014

    Moz local is a great tool that can allow you to see inconsistency in your local listings on directories such as Yelp, Yell, etc. I think tightening up these strategies will help local/small businesses still remain visible online. Interesting to see they were only showing the top three in your screenshot over a broader area it seemed like and not the small dots which are probably closer and more convenient for the one searching. Is it really helping the end user then find something they are looking for?

    Reply to this comment

  • James Gray 15th August 2014

    I am really happy. This update not harmful for me. And its good for local businesess. Thanks for great post.

    Reply to this comment

  • Susan Meko 19th August 2014

    I think till date the algorithm affects only the US region. Though I completely agree with Ali. It is always better to take necessary measures before pigeon hits.

    All the points Ali mentioned are real helpful and additionally putting the My Business map of your business, placing proper citation with consistent NAP with schema in all webpage’s footer and adding meta geo tags can be really helpful.

    Apart from these authority backlinks from local blogs, chamber of commerce, events also help in local SEO.

    Susan Meko

    Reply to this comment

    • Ali Moghadam

      Ali Moghadam 19th August 2014

      Thanks Susan!

      You’re right, it doesn’t look like pigeon has hit the UK just yet, but we’re never far behind the US and it’s always good to prepare.

      Reply to this comment

  • Rob Broley 27th August 2014

    I think its great that Google is making the effort to support local business.

    Reply to this comment

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