What Does Google Pigeon Mean For Your Australian Business?

Written by Intern - 10 Mar 2015

Google’s local search algorithm first took flight in US English search engine result pages (SERPs) back in July last year – the day before Black Friday sales to be precise. The update, dubbed ‘Pigeon’ by Barry Schwartz, improved distance and location ranking parameters in a bid to provide users with useful, more relevant and accurate local search results.

Although it’s not a penalty-based update (like Penguin and Panda) that rid the SERPs of low-quality content, the algorithm change is definitely ruffling feathers. US webmasters had reported considerable changes to their local search visibility within the first few days of the roll out. Darren Shaw cited a 23.4% drop in local packs.

The search radius has significantly reduced to better provide geo-targeted results relevant to a searcher’s physical proximity and location, often right down to the level of a specific suburb. For example, if you searched for ‘Sydney bar’ pre-Pigeon, results for bars in Manly or Cronulla would pop into the mix. Post-Pigeon, the returned results contain bars in the actual Sydney CBD.


Google local SERP for “Sydney bars”

This has certainly ramped up local search competition in metropolitan areas where the density of physical location for competitive verticals like dentists, doctors and lawyers is high.

Since Pigeon’s arrival, 58% of local marketers have changed or plan to change their search strategy, according to a poll conducted during an InsideLocal Webinar last year. Search strategy is definitely something Australian businesses should be re-evaluating once Pigeon completely settles down under. Meanwhile, constant site monitoring/maintenance and responsible SEO practice is paramount to stay on top of shuffling SERPs.

Pigeon has hit home

The refresh rolled out across SERPs in Australia, UK and Canada on 22 December 2014 – just three days before Christmas and only four before Boxing Day. The Big G gave no warning and many e-commerce websites were impacted by the timing. Some received a boost, while others were wiped off the map.

Imagine if your site lost visibility in Google right before one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. How would your business cope losing all that traffic, customer interest and conversions? What would it mean for your business’ bottom line if your site couldn’t be found?

At the end of the day, it’s a lesson to respond quickly to algorithm changes (or alternatively open up another office). Pigeon still hasn’t settled in its new home as tweaks are still occurring behind the scenes, but there are a few tactics you can implement in the meantime.

Not sure what you need to get right, post-Pigeon? Here are three key tips to help you capitalise on the changes and stand out in SERPs:

1. Boost your business listing

Location, location, location

Does your business accurately appear on Google Maps, Google+ and in SERPs? Maybe you don’t even appear at all. If so, create (and verify) your freeMy Business account (previously called Google Places). If you already have one, log in and ensure your listing is properly categorised. For example, if you’re a dentist in Melbourne, your business must be categorised as a dentist, not a certified accountant, if your target customers are going to stand a chance of finding you.

Likewise, ensure your primary business contact contains the correct area code phone number. This is considered best practice and the area code should match the traditional area code associated with your business’ location. Each business location also requires a separate My Business listing.

Double check your NAP (name/address/phone number) for any instance where your business information is published; whether it’s on your website or other sites. Your business name, full physical address and phone numbers should be up to date and consistent in any local directories where your business appears online (e.g, True Local and Yellow Pages).

Customer reviews 


Google Reviews snippet for MoVida restaurant Melbourne

In today’s tech-savvy age, what you say about your business isn’t always anywhere near as important as what others are saying about you. Customer service experiences, both good and bad, are long lasting and impact revenue. Yelp business reviews are now known to influence local search visibility.

A study conducted by Dimensional Research in 2013 found that participants ranked customer service as the number one factor influencing how much they trust a company. 90% of respondents who read online reviews revealed that positive online reviews influenced their purchasing decisions.

Moral of the story: whenever your business provides great customer service, make sure Australia and the rest of the world knows about it. Encourage customers to rate and review your business on Google Places. While this may sound demanding to do, it’s really quite simple: just ask for one. After all, being candid is part of doing business.

The best time to ask is at the end point of the conversion cycle when a product is sold or your service is completed. Most likely, your customer still has an air of satisfaction and excitement about your business. Ask them on the spot if they would kindly share a few words on their favourite site (e.g, Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor and so on). You can also be subtle and ask customers to check out your page, instead of leaving a review, which they may end up doing without your prompting. Another tactic is sending a thank you/follow-up email containing a direct link to the review. It’s fast and makes things easier for your customer.

2. Earn mobile-friendly badges

Go mobile

It’s now more important than ever to have a responsive website for your business. In late 2014, Google introduced mobile-friendly tags to its mobile SERPs. As well as this, Google officially announced it will use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal , effective 21 April 2015.

Of course mobile browsing is naturally tied to a user’s location. So Pigeon’s local search algorithm has an even greater impact on mobile SERPs.

A study released by PayPal and IPSOS last month examined the shopping habits of more than 17,500 consumers in 22 countries, including Australia. A key finding is that m-commerce (mobile commerce) is growing at a very rapid pace this year with Australian mobile spend forecasted to grow to nearly AUD$8.8billion in 2015 – that’s nearly three times the reported rate of total online commerce.

The study also predicted growth of mobile spending between 2013 and 2016 in Australia will increase by 204%. Emma Hunt, Director of Small Business at PayPal Australia said in a press release:

 In Australia, one in three PayPal transactions now takes place on a mobile device and globally mobile transactions account for nearly 20% of our total payment volume.”

Take advantage of mobile’s growth now and invest in a responsive website for your business. If you don’t have one, Google will soon devalue your website in mobile search and you risk losing prospective visitors to a competitor’s mobile-friendly site. Visit our web design and development page for more details about Fresh Egg's approach to building responsive websites.

3. Keep SEO in top shape

The Pigeon algorithm has deeper ties to standard web search ranking signals. Think high Domain Authority, backlinks and other traditional SEO factors. So make sure your technical SEO is on point. You’ll keep Google happy, but more importantly, your audience will have the best onsite experience because of it.

  • Locally optimise page titles by adding the full city and state to your landing page title tag
  • Optimise URL structure
  • Adhere to internal linking best practice
  • Continue publishing quality, unique content
  • Manage appropriate duplicate content (canonical tags)
  • Don’t forget technical SEO (site hierarchy, backlink profile, page errors, onsite performance etc.)

Have you noticed any changes in your traffic? If visibility in local SERPs has suddenly dropped, it might be related to the lower number of queries now listed in Google’s local ’7-Pack‘ list. Advance Digital reported that in some instances, the 7-Pack disappears entirely.

It could very well mean competitor sites are outperforming your site due to stronger SEO tactics. Your best bet is to research why. Look at competitor content, how they got all their juicy backlinks and the sources of them. Learn from any insight and start giving your site some extra SEO love to adjust to the new algo change. If you need a helping hand, get in touch with Fresh Egg.

Talk to our world class technical SEO experts about how they can help your business stay on top of changes to the search landscape.

Michelle Wilding works in Fresh Egg’s Sydney office as an Inbound Marketing Manager.