Google’s Pigeon Update: What it means at the local level

Google’s Pigeon Update: What it means at the local level
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
SEnsign

SMX Theatre Presentation by Scott Ensign

SMX Theatre Presentation by Scott Ensign

It’s been just over two months since Google quietly rolled out the locally-focused Pigeon update. At DAC, we’ve been watching this like a hawk (pun intended), as local search marketing is a critical part of what we do. With millions of locally-focused landing pages engineered for SEO and tens of thousands of local business listings under management, we’ve been eager to measure the impact of this update.

But, before I get into what we’ve seen, let’s recap what we know about Pigeon:

Pigeon was first spotted July 24th

This is not an “official” Google update. Google has said very little about it, and it was named by Matt McGee at Search Engine Land

  • The changes are very focused on the local SERP
  • There seems to be a reduction in “7-packs” of Google Maps listings
  • Directories seem to have gotten a boost from the update
  • Results on desktop appear to now mirror on mobile

In the immediate wake of the update, there was a lot of chatter in the SEO community about wild swings in maps channel visibility, local directory ranking and organic traffic. But two months later, that chatter has died down a bit. For DAC Group, with the locally-focused programs we run for enterprise brands across North America, we have really seen no transformational swings in the performance of local content or local maps listings. If anything, we’ve seen some slight upticks in performance when you adjust for seasonality. So, let’s look at a couple of real-world client examples.

The first client is a large, regional waste-hauling company. They do curbside trash pickup, recycling and dumpster rental as their core service. For them, we’ve built thousands of locally-focused landing pages, most of which have been in market for nearly four years. We also manage local maps listings for their dozens of hauling divisions along with robust, local paid search campaigns. Their program has always been very successful, with industry leading cost per lead and lead volume metrics. In the 30 days following the Pigeon update, we saw a 13% decrease in organic traffic to this client’s local pages. That was briefly concerning until we realized that paid traffic was down 15%, and this is a client for whom we are consistently maxing out the paid channel, given the high conversion rates and attractive costs per lead. Then we looked at year over year metrics and saw that organic traffic was up 46% to the local content, while their overall web site’s organic traffic was up just 28% year over year. They did see a slight dip in Google Maps impressions, which seems to be a result of the update. As local search targeting has become more precise, some clients with fewer physical locations spread over a large area would naturally see fewer maps impressions. In this case, the physical location is also not that relevant, as the services come to you. Through all of that, though, August was still the highest month for this client in terms of lead volume, despite the dip from seasonality.

The second client is a large tire retailer with hundreds of physical locations throughout the Southeastern and Midwestern US. We have a very large paid search program at the local level for them, along with tens of thousands of local landing pages and managed local listings for all of their stores. Location, particularly the physical location of the bricks and mortar stores, is supremely important to this client, so we’ve been watching results closely in the wake of the Pigeon update. For them, the results have all been positive. Organic traffic in the 30 days after the update was up 4%, even while seasonality resulted in an 11% decrease in paid traffic. Maps impressions during this period were actually up 10%. Again, as location targeting in Google gets more precise, clients with lots of highly relevant physical locations should naturally get a boost.

So, what have we learned from this update? For us, it’s largely been a confirmation of the importance of investing in hyper-local strategies. Pigeon is really just one more step in Google’s relentless march toward relevance. As users shift rapidly to mobile devices, precise location becomes more and more important. That means that local listings absolutely have to be accurate and consistent. It means that content about what’s right around the corner is more important than ever. For clients, marketers and agencies, the message the Pigeon brought us is that cracking the code on local is one of today’s most important marketing challenges. Now it’s time to get to work.

Scott Ensign, Vice President of Search Marketing

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