What is the Google Pigeon update?

Local SEO Algorithm Update - Google Pigeon
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Last updated: November 2023

In 2014, Google rolled-out an algorithm update to tighten up local search results. Although it wasn’t officially given a name, the SEO aficionados at Search Engine Land dubbed it Pigeon, because it was a “local search update and pigeons tend to fly back home.”

The avian moniker has since stuck, and keeping in line with its guiding principles is essential if you want your website to compete in the local pecking order. If you’re a small business or B2B operator, there’s a high chance the majority of your custom comes from within a close proximity to HQ, so local search optimisation is crucial to getting noticed online.

With that in mind, here’s your complete guide to Google Pigeon and creating a web presence that will keep customers coo-ing around the block:

Pigeon algorithm advice

There’s no doubting the change ruffled a few feathers when it initially rolled out, because many sites previously topping local charts were no longer ruling the roost. Effectively, the update aimed to connect traditional Google web searches with Google Map searches in a more joined-up manner, closing the gaps between local and non-local SEO signals, ensuring consistency in how people optimise their online presence.

Ultimately, Google is on a quest to create the very best user experience, which means returning only the most accurate and trustworthy results. This is why Pigeon came into being, as, in the past, canny webmasters could optimise their site for local search, securing high rankings even if the overall quality of their site wasn’t that great. Post-Pigeon, however, and the ranking factors that impact local SEO are now more in line with non-geographic search results.

That means having a strong local content marketing strategy in place is key to raising the authority of your website, helping to ensure you deliver an engaging user experience that naturally elevates your search visibility.

Additionally, the update also considers your exact location and distance, to whatever it is you happen to be looking for, as integral factors to ranking results. Thus, users on different sides of the river, while still in the same city, may see varied results based on what’s closer to them at that precise moment. A pretty fly innovation, if ever there was one.

SEO homing instinct

Here’s a brief rundown of the steps you should take to pass the Google Pigeon test:

  1. NAP Consistently: Ensure the Name, Address and Phone number of your business are accurately listed across all digital profiles. Not including them at all means that you are missing out on a valuable local SEO signal, whilst failing to do so consistently confuses the search bots. Both outcomes mean Google is unlikely to return your pages in location-based search results at all.

    This may sound obvious, but upon conducting a recent website audit for a client, we spotted they had forgotten to update their address in Google Places following an office move, so the address on their website didn’t match their Places profile, resulting in NAP confusion. Correcting this oversight saw their local rankings rocket overnight, and presumably helped anyone trying to find their office on sat nav as well.

  2. Create a Google My Business page: Setting up your Google My Business account is the gateway to establishing yourself on Google’s local index. The process involves receiving snail mail in the post (how novel!), containing a pin number which is used to verify you operate your business from the address you’ve provided.

    Your profile can also be used to showcase testimonials from happy customers (as seen below), and it stands to reason that the star system aids user experience, highlighting your business against those with no reviews, fewer reviews or lower quality reviews.

    Google+ Reviews

  3. Publish locally: At the time of Pigeon’s introduction, many local business directories started ranking higher than actual business websites. As such, many SEO agencies went heavy on recommending you list your services in relevant directories, but be wary of joining low-quality sites that have little editorial integrity, as this could be regarded as an unnatural form of link building, leading to Google penalties.

    We’ve previously discussed the benefits of publishing on high-quality local websites, as the more citation links you receive, the greater your search relevancy becomes, ensuring you rank highly for geographic terms – i.e. “content marketing agency, Bristol” – so rather than worrying too much about directories, you’re likely to see a bigger boost in the SERPs if you collaborate with local news sites and blogs.

    Having said that, directories operated by trusted sources – local newspapers, councils, chambers of commerce, etc. –  are great, as they’re moderated for spam listings and can often provide you with real business enquiries.

Spread your wings

Maximising your local online presence is vital, but so is your wider approach to Digital PR, especially as Pigeon now means local search results are determined by more of the usual web search ranking factors.

Investing in quality content creation will help ensure you have naturally optimised web pages, and taking time to explore the benefits of local outreach marketing will go a long way to securing your long-term success in both local and national search results.

In 2016, there was a similar update to the Pigeon algorithm, and you can read more about that in our guide to Possum. In the meantime, if you’re concerned about Google moving the goalposts and your site underperforming, please contact us to arrange a free SEO consultation.

Don’t get in a flap or try to wing it by yourself. We’re here to make your website soar and get customers flocking through your door!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, or would like to discuss a specific issue with your site, please get in touch using the form below.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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