Google Launches New Local Search Update

4 Things You Need To Know About Google’s New Local Listing Search Algorithm Updates and How Pigeon Affects Your Website.

Google Launches New Pigeon Update

How Google's new local search update affects your website... 

This just in! A couple days ago Google pushed out a major algorithm update for local search. You can see more details here on Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History. There aren't too many details disclosed about the so-called Pigeon yet, however - web masters and professional SEOs across the US have been reporting considerable changes in their local rankings over the past few days. 

To make sure you've got the latest information, we've put together this quick local search compilation to explain what "Pigeon" is, how it affects your site’s rankings and how to adapt your local SEO strategy for these new changes.

Google Local Search Algorithm Update

Google has officially confirmed that this new algorithm update started to roll out on July 24 for United States results, and it's not yet known when the update would roll out more widely in other countries and languages.

The aim of the update is to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results. And unlike Penguin and Panda updates, this is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content and black-hat seo techniques), but a core change to the local search ranking algorithm.

To give you a better idea of the update, we've tried to outline all the changes going on including those claimed by Google and noticed by our team of SEOs. 

1. Local Listing Packs Disappear For Keywords

  • Details: One of the key changes seen after the update is a drastically lower number of queries that now include a local listing pack on their SERPs. According to SERP feature graph by MOZ Cast, this number falls from 12,1% of queries on July 23rd to only 3,3% on July 27th.

google local search queries

  • Solution: If over the past few days your website has shown a decrease in web traffic, this may be due to the disappearance of some (or all) of your local business listings.

If that is the case, in the short term you may need to cover the traffic losses with a PPC campaign or a social media blast, and in the long run — you will need to focus on getting your listings (and website) optimized for your chosen keywords.

2. Local Rankings Expected To Depend More On Website Authority

  • Info: The new local search algorithm is said to be more tied with the traditional SEO and Web search ranking signals. Simply speaking, this may mean that local rankings will now be more determined by domain authority, backlinks and all kinds of other SEO rankings factors.
  • Solution: If your local rankings have suddenly dropped over the past few days, this may mean your site's general SEO characteristics lack behind those of your competition. Run a thorough competition research to see how your backlinks, content and other SEO characteristics measure up to those of other high ranking websites.

3. Ranking Boost for Yelp & Other Local Directories

  • Info: According to our internal post-update research, Yelp and other local directory sites have seen a considerable boost in rankings. For some queries, the entire SERP is built from well-known local directories only.
  • Solution: Even if less of your potential clients may now be able to find your biz website, many more of them can find you via local directory sites. This makes it crucial to build a solid business presence on leading local directories in your industry.

Having consistent business information on your listings is critical. For example - If you have 1 listing that shows your name with an “Inc.” yet others do not, this is not consistent and you’ll need to address these errors asap.

  1. Find the most influential local directories in your niche - Find out which directories are currently ranking high for your targeted keywords after the update.
  2. Make sure your business is listed in each of these directories - Submit your business to those directories, that are currently ranking high for your keyword.
  3. Track how rankings change for your different listings - This way you always know which of the listings should be your priority in terms of freshest data, biggest number of reviews and so on.

Tip: For our client’s, we track all their business listing projects as competitors — this way we can conveniently track their local listing rankings side by side with their main website. This is a great way to find out which listings need attention.

4. Local carousel remains a way to gain extra exposure.

  • Info: Unlike the usual local listing packs (the A, B, C style local map listings below the paid search area in a google search), local carousel results remain unaffected by the update and show up with almost the same frequency as before. This means they can still be a great way to gain extra exposure for some local keywords (though carousel listings at present account for just 1% of all keywords queries.)
  • Solution: Carousel results put a heavy emphasis on your listing's image and rating, while showing all options side-by-side. So make sure to put a nice, high-quality and attractive photo in your Google+ business profile and encourage your customers to review your business.

Local Rankings Improvement & Best Practices

Though the changes in SERPs are considerable, the basic principles of local search engine optimization are expected to remain the same. Follow these general recommendations for your local business to get better exposure via Google searches.

1. Individual Google+ Local page for your business

Creating a Google+ Local page for your local business is the first step to being included in Google's local index. Your second step is to verify your ownership of the listing. This typically involves receiving a postcard/letter from Google containing a pin number which you must enter in order to complete verification.

This can take up to 12 weeks and you’re dealing with snail mail. So, get this done now!

2. Proper category for your Google+ Local page

If you wish to appear in the local results for a search like “landscaping in Fort Collins”, your business must be categorized as a landscape company. If it is categorized as a contractor or a dentist, you have no hope of appearing for your important search terms.

3. Local area code on Google+ Local page

Using local area code phone number as a primary phone number on Google+ Local page is considered a best practice. The area code of the phone number should match the area code/codes traditionally associated with your city of location. Stop using 800 numbers on your local listings, this is killing your ability to come up in the local business listings.

4. Match the info on your website with your Google+ Local page

Google will be looking at the website you've linked to from your Google Places/Google+ Local page and cross reference the name, address and phone number of your business. If all elements match, you're good to go. If they don’t - you need to make this happen now.

5. Make sure there is consistency in all your business listings

Make sure your business name, address and phone number are also consistent in all local directories where your business is listed. Different addresses listed for your business on Yelp and Google+ Local page, for instance, may put your rankings to nowhere.

6. Get positive customer reviews on Google+ Local page and 3rd party sources

The number of positive reviews is proven to influence a business’ local search rankings. Make sure to encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews of your biz.

TIP: We designed some simple “How to review our business” PDF handouts for our clients to email their clients asking for reviews. If you’re a webmaster - create some how-to guides and get them to your customers.

7. City or state included into your website's title tags

Another important factor for your "local" landing page is to have the city or state you're targeting included into its Title tag.

8. Product/service keyword in business title

It is also believed that having the name of a core product or service in your business name may give you some advantage over competitors who lack this.

That’s it :) You now know everything that we know! 

This was just a quick outline of what is now known about the update — I hope it helps you stay up to date. And if you found this guide useful, please share the guide with your contacts via the social buttons below or add your comments/questions!

Jonathan Hinshaw

Post Date:
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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