It’s now been three years since Google released its much-discussed update, which focused on delivering the best local search results to its users. Dubbed Pigeon, the update shook up the local search results across nearly every type of business – to the benefit of genuine small local businesses, for the most part. It also reaffirmed the importance of local US business directory listings, reinstating them as an integral signal for Google’s search rankings. In the three years since, Pigeon has completely changed the landscape for local small biz marketing, with some of the early speculation proving true and other bits of advice turning out to be very wrong. And of course, as usual, Google has continued to build upon the original update, continually improving the chances for genuinely local businesses to show up in searches for local customers. Here’s how Pigeon changed online marketing for small businesses, and how they can best take advantage of it.
Local Businesses Have an Advantage Over Chains and Businesses with No Local Location
Before Pigeon, national chains and online-only businesses frequently took the top spots in online searches. The algorithm update refocused attention on small businesses with a local, physical address. The immediate effect was to dump many national franchise businesses right off the front page, and lift up restaurants, shops and business professionals with a real local presence. Unfortunately, it also provided an opening for non-local businesses to “fake” a local address by signing up with services that allowed anyone to register a “local” business at their address – some of them listing hundreds of businesses operating out of a small office. An update to Pigeon fixed that – now, businesses listed at an address with dozens of other addresses are penalized, leaving genuine small businesses to dominate the top of the search results for local searches.
That experience also apparently reminded Google about the importance of other geographical signals when trying to determine the credibility of a local company. Among other things, being listed in local business directories took on more importance, especially those that actually verify the business address. It also increased the importance of other factors, including social media presence, onsite local keywords, and local links.
Pigeons Focus More on Neighborhoods than Cities
Since the Pigeon update, Google looks much deeper for local connections when coming up with search results. With the growing importance of geo-location services in browsers and mobile devices, search engine results are likely to feature businesses within just a mile or two – or even a block – of the searcher’s location. Because of this, most experts now recommend that business owners make a point of adding themselves across multiple neighborhoods, towns and cities when creating local business directory listings for local marketing and advertising. This is particularly important if they’re trying to expand their market base into neighboring communities and geographical areas.
Customer Reviews Are Vital to High Rankings
More than ever, people rely on customer reviews to decide whether or not to patronize a local business – and Google follows suit. Businesses with more reviews – and better reviews – are more likely to take those coveted higher spots in the search engine results. Creating a business listing in a local directory that allows customers to leave reviews adds a little extra oomph to nudge a company higher in the search results and help them get found. Savvy business owners do whatever they can to encourage customers to leave reviews and thank those who do.
Incoming and Outgoing Links Are Both Important
When it comes to link building, more is not always better, but too few is no help at all. Social media and customer reviews have made it easier than ever to get incoming links to business websites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media profiles can all provide a link to a business’ own website – especially when customers post reviews, and share posts from the business to their own friends and followers. Links from major business directories and review sites are among the most important, but it’s also vital to have listings in directories compiled by local organizations and in business directories that offer a user experience that keeps people coming back. FindUsLocal.com, for example, offers lots of reasons for local customers to visit daily – upcoming local concerts, sporting events and theater listings, local weather, the latest local tweets and even the latest business reviews and comments left for local businesses by customers.
As Google’s Pigeon enters its third year, it’s clear that the update accomplished a good deal of its intent. Businesses that pay attention to their local SEO, getting good business reviews and optimizing their local business directory listings reap the benefits of higher search engine rankings and more customers visiting them more often.