In late July, Google released an unnamed update that heavily impacted local search results. Since Google didn’t give this update an official name, or reveal what percentage of English search queries were impacted, the folks at Search Engine Land started referring to it as the “Pigeon” update. According to Google, Pigeon allows local search to utilize many of the same core ranking factors that traditional web search uses. This means that Google is placing more emphasis on things like backlinks and domain authority when determining local search relevancy.
As with any major update, there were plenty of sites that lost a significant amount of organic traffic. However, what made Pigeon unique is that it sidelined local businesses to make room for larger directory sites, like Yelp, Expedia and Urbanspoon. This move seemed counterintuitive for Google, since they have historically favored small businesses over directory-style sites. One of the most notable changes in the SERPs was the removal of the 7-pack map listing. According to Darren Shaw from Whitespark, local packs plummeted by 23.4 percent across the board. Additionally, by favoring larger directory sites, Google effectively made it easier for sites to use spammy link building tactics to gain search visibility.
Fortunately, it looks like Google may have taken notice. Conrad Saam recently posted some admittedly limited data suggesting that Google is slowly rolling back the uninvited Pigeon update. He points out that his theory is nothing more than conjecture, but he brings up some rather interesting points. Conrad worked with Gyi Tsakalakis of AttorneySync to determine how the Pigeon update impacted law firm websites. The study analyzed weekly organic traffic and rankings for 57 law firms. Based on their data, many law firms have regained their pre-Pigeon organic rankings. But does this really mean that Pigeon is rolling back?
The truth is it’s really too early to tell. Being that Conrad was only looking at one small subset of local businesses (law firms), we can’t really look at the data as being representative overall. Conrad also adds that law firms are likely more prone to spammy NAP data, which could also be why there has been some cleanup in local pack results for law firms. If your site was negatively impacted by Pigeon and you’ve recently regained rankings –be it organic or local pack results, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. For now, this seems to be an isolated recovery, but we’ll definitely keep an eye on things to see if anything changes in the coming weeks.
Photo credit: Flickr user araswami