Around the 24th of July there was a rather unsubtle hint at a Google Local Algorithm Update – that is the “software” that decides where and how businesses appear on Google Maps and in Google Search for some local searches.
So I am going to try and explain what this all means to local businesses like yours. Bear with me if things get a bit too technical, but I will try to restrain myself.
How Local Search Works
Generally, for many Google searches that include a local term such as Brisbane, Sydney, Woolloongabba etc, a Maps (or Local) box will appear within normal results. This box usually appears nearer the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs), and for this article we are talking about Google only (because they account for more than 90% of the search market in Australia)
Here is an example I did on the 12th of August 2014
Here is the same search I did on the 14th of August 2014
Note how the results have changed between two days? Not much difference except for the bottom two listings. I bet you wondering how and why? Read on…
As I am sure you noticed, the listings with more reviews and “stars” tend to appear near the top. This generally means that customers like them. More reviews and more quality reviews are both signals to Google at how popular a business is, but that is not everything there is about Local Search.
There are more than 200 signals that Google uses to rank websites on their search engine, and the recent Pigeon update has attempted to merge Local and Standard results more closely, meaning that Google is trying to use the same algorithm for both – or in this case, use more of the standard search algorithm within local search.
Ok, I apologise for the “technical” bits above, but no other way to say it really. Just think of this that Google Search is a Ferrari and Google Local was a Mercedes. Both very good cars, but the Ferrari may have more speed and a better engine in its bonnet than the Mercedes. So now think of Pigeon as someone trying to put the Ferrari engine (or at least the best parts of it) into the Mercedes sedan. Get it now? (Hoping you are all nodding and saying that makes sense.)
So this brings us to what is Google Pigeon all about?
Firstly, Google didn’t name this update. I believe it was Search Engine Land who named this first. Good on them and the name is well suited.
Internationally (mainly in the US so far), this update has literally created as much mess as a flock of pigeons on a statue. A real mess and every single day and week the searches for the same terms change, and change considerably.
Take a look at these examples by Linda Buquet of Local Search Forum.
And a more recent one…
The big thing you see on all of these is the frequency of the change. Literally a mess. The changes are so major as well with changes happening more to the bottom half of the listing than the top, but earlier results showed fluctuations on the top half as well.
The honest truth here is that this update will bleed through into the rest of the world eventually, and knowing Google, it’s probably going to happen sooner rather than later.
What can you do about it?
The good news is that we have your back! As a local business ourselves, based in Brisbane and doing both web design and local marketing, we have been keeping an eye on this for some time, and so far have not noted a major shift in Australia.
This gives us time and information. We can study the American market and learn from our brothers and sisters over there as to the best solutions moving forward. For us, making sure everything is 100% accurate with our client listings and that they have a full description, photos and of course the correct address details is the number one thing we do.
Following on we review local citation links – these are websites that you can put your business on and list your address, phone number and website. They act like links for your location rather than your website (but sometimes both) and having good quality ones and accurate data across them means more trust in Google’s eyes which results in better rankings in the Local Search Listings.
What can you do? Well firstly, don’t panic! Secondly, do not be afraid to ask your clients to review you on Google (and any other sites such as Yelp or Womo for that matter), but the preference here is Google.
Before you do that however, find your listing. This is usually easy – if we (Media Heroes) designed your website, there will be a link on the site to your Google+ Page. If not, you can still easily find yourself by Googling your name, followed by your location – such as Media Heroes Brisbane which results in a page like this
You can even send your client the link and tell them to click on Write a review button or the link just under your business name and description. (Feel free to give us a review too J)
Hope the above has proven to be of some help and give you some more insights as to this new flock of birds messing with the rankings. But in case you are still not sure, here is a quick to do list for you.
- Find your Google Plus (My Business Page) – while this goes through some name changes as it has done in the last few years, it means the same thing. This is your local listing or your maps listing.
- Check that the details are correct – if not, please let us know!
- Ask clients to review you
- Review us (if we designed your website)
- Relax and don’t panic
If we didn’t design your site, then get in touch with us to discuss your website and business needs with a consultant.
Citations and further reading