Though Google’s best-known unofficial spokesperson, Matt Cutts, may be off on hiatus, the search giant hasn’t let his vacation slowdown improvements to the world’s most popular search engine. Last week, Google made some changes to algorithms handling local search. Some SEO bloggers have started calling this, somewhat presumptuously, the “Pigeon” update. Unofficial names aside, these changes will have an effect on a lot of business owners. This article will explain what is known about these changes.
Many people didn’t realize that the algorithm for local search was significantly different than the one for regular search. Like mobile search, Google’s algorithm for local search has nuances to make the search more relevant for the people looking specifically for local information. This also meant that some changes that had been implemented into regular search had yet to be included into local searches.
This recent update addresses this by giving local search some of the features its big brother has. The improved algorithm will include hundreds of ranking signals that are used in traditional search as well as adding in search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more, according to sources who spoke to SearchEngineLand.
As is usually the case, Google is rolling these changes out slowly. They will first become available in US markets over the next days. There’s no official word when the changes will reach the search box in other countries. As Google is currently working through multiple issues in Europe involving privacy, they may wait to make any major changes to search algorithms.
Google gave no indication of what percentage of searches were effected or if there were any changes targeting spam (did we say how much we miss Matt Cutts). SEO analysts have only been able to judge the effects of the update based on a few examples and broad observations. The algorithm changes have been in effect for about a week and the early indications are that the changes are beneficial for local businesses and give them greater visibility.
One major change to be noted involves Yelp based queries. As was noted in another article on this site, recently leaked documents shows that Yelp felt Google was manipulating search in a way that hurt Yelp. This newest update addresses some of their concerns by putting Yelp pages at the top if someone searches for the name of a business and the world “Yelp”. As a reminder, prior to this, the business’s main site would show up first in the listing (along with some snippets of Google+ info) and the Yelp page would show second. The fact that this quirk of search has been changed could suggest that the leaked documents were released to spur Google to make this action without having to take them to court.
The benefits were also shared with other directories that now get greater visibility. SearchEngineLand showed a search for Seattle Restaurants which now included smaller directories like Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and OpenTable. There were even more listings for newspaper business directories. The results haven’t been consistent across the board. In some cases, this new focus on directory pages comes at a price. A search for Miami hotels had so many list pages that the actual websites for hotels weren’t on the first page of results.
While it will take time to make final judgement on this recent update, the initial reports make it seem to be a positive for the marketers of local business. For more news about recent changes at Google, check out this article on the new AdWords Express App for iOS and Android.