Recently, Google rolled out what seems to be a fairly significant update to their local search algorithm that has been dubbed “Pigeon” by those in the search industry. While most of you probably didn’t see this, I get paid to follow these types of things, and feel that it’s worth bringing to your attention.
A Bird’s Eye View…
The Search Engine Land article states:
Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.
In addition, Google said that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.
The new algorithm is currently rolling out for US English results and aims to provide a more useful and relevant experience for searchers seeking local results. (Emphasis added)
Sweet! Awesome! This sounds great for all the real estate professionals out there that have spent time, energy and money optimizing their local presence, most notably their Google My Business pages!!!
The Early Bird Catches The Worm…
Yes, well that would be the case, if Google hadn’t basically eradicated that local presence from the search results with this Pigeon update. As you may recall, on desktop search, Google used to show what is commonly referred to in the SEO world as the “map pack” for location-specific search queries like “CITY real estate agents.” For example, here’s a map pack for the query “real estate agency olney md”:
This should look pretty familiar as it’s been commonplace in the search results for several years now. You’ve got addresses, reviews, links to Google+ and links to the websites. All local stuff! However, if you search for the same phrase today (post-Pigeon), the results look like this:
Notice anything strange? Other than the one result for REMAX Realty Centre, all the other listings are for major portals…and, what’s more, they’re returning results for what you’d expect to receive for “homes for sale” search queries. Definitely not something I’d consider providing “a more useful and relevant experience for searchers seeking local results.”
I’m looking for real estate agencies, not homes for sale. Weren’t you listening, Google? We’re seeing this type of result set across the board, where map packs once lived, they have flown the coop.
So What’s The New Pecking Order?
The initial data seems to point to the big directories. According to a follow up Search Engine Land article:
It looks like Yelp and other local directory-style sites are benefiting with higher visibility after the Pigeon update, at least in some verticals. And that seems logical since, as Google said, this update ties local results more closely to standard web ranking signals. That should benefit big directory sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor — sites that have stronger SEO signals than small, individual restaurants and hotels are likely to have.
Now this may not necessarily be a bad thing, as small businesses are notorious for having poor website experiences, and for having less-than-stellar local SEO best practices (if any) in place. However, we monitor hundreds of local real estate professionals’ Google presence, and are literally seeing them fall off the “map pack,” only to be replaced by the larger portals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to defend the portals like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com for having superior digital experiences and top notch SEO best practices in place. However, they are not, and never will be, inherently local. That arena belongs to the broker and to the agent…especially those that have made the effort to do what Google has explicitly prescribed as local SEO best practice.
Now, I also firmly believe that real estate professionals should be optimizing their directory presence on sites like Yelp. But, in my opinion, Yelp serves as an ancillary “back up” for consumers when they’ve already honed in on an agent or broker, and are looking for reviews. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a consumer that initially thinks “Yelp!” when they are considering where to seek out information about real estate professionals. Our research is showing that Yelp really isn’t even showing prominently (Page 1) for the majority of the local queries we’re monitoring.
So to recap quickly: the map pack is gone from desktop search, ZTR have replaced it for the most part, but we’re seeing “homes for sale” search results. Less. Than. Local. IMO.
The Lame Ducks…
For over a year now, Google has heralded the various iterations of its Google+ local offerings (now Google My Business) as the way to literally “Get Your Business On Google For Free.” And, until a few weeks ago, having a well-optimized Google+ local profile for your business, including the requisite reviews, posts, etc., meant that you had a good (or at least decent) shot at ranking in the map pack. Now, there seems to be an about-face.
It seems as though the last remaining bastion of the real estate professional, their inherent local nature, has also been steamrolled by the forward march of algorithmic “progress.” The portals are now also winning in an arena where they really should not even be trying to compete…with not-so-relevant search results to boot!!!
So what should the local real estate professional that has been focusing on building their G+ profile, getting reviews and legitimately optimizing for their local areas and expertise do in light of Pigeon?
Stay the course. Google will probably wise up and tweak things again to clean the bird poop off the innocent victims of the Pigeon update. As we’ve always said here at BoomTown: Don’t Put All Your (Pigeon) Eggs In One Basket! Diversify your digital presence. Build a digital moat around yourself to ensure that algorithmic changes don’t wreck your business.
You should still have a well-optimized Google My Business page, as well as a Facebook business page, Yelp profile, ZTR profiles, etc. While this article is focusing more on the generic side of local search, you should absolutely be optimizing your local presence to ensure that your brand presence in search is airtight. All of these tactics above optimize for your name, your business name and location. So that’s a must. It just seems that after Pigeon, they no longer seem to help all that much for the more generic keyword searches.
The Catbird Seat…
To quote Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”: If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
Do something that makes you memorable! Algorithms and search engines will never be able to take that away from you! Yes, follow the latest digital and SEO best practices, but don’t forget that Google is simply a doorway, one of many, that leads to your business.
PS: If you’re interested in following the ins and outs of the local SEO space, here are a few resources you can check out:
LocalSEOGuide.com: Andrew Shotland is one of the de facto local SEO experts for the past 10 years. Read this blog regularly.
Mike Blumenthal: Again, another well respected expert on all things pertaining to local search.
Linda Buquet’s Local Search Forum: not really for the faint of heart, but some great local stuff happening here!