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Just in time for Christmas (sigh), Google has rolled out its ‘Pigeon’ algorithm update in the UK, Canada and Australia. Rumours started a few days ago after some keen-eyed digital marketers noticed changes and fluctuations in search results for local-based queries, and Google confirmed the update today via industry website SearchEngineLand.

What is the Pigeon Update?

Google Pigeon is an algorithm update that aims to provide users entering localised search terms (such as ‘pubs in Bristol’ or ‘Nottingham butchers’) with more accurate, useful results.

It was initially launched in the US back in July 2014. Stateside marketers noted that it had a significant effect on both rankings and ‘map results’ i.e. which businesses appeared in the top 10 results on Google Maps for localised queries.

US  marketers also found that some industries, such as food, storage and real estate, were hit harder than others. It was also felt that businesses located on the outskirts of cities were adversely affected, suggesting that Pigeon ‘tightened’ the geographical area results were returned for.

In the main SERPs, high quality directory sites seemed to be significant beneficiaries. For example, a business’s listing on Yelp was frequently appearing above the businesses website. One conclusion from this was that Pigeon was using more ‘traditional’ ranking signals, such as website domain authority or backlinks, when returning the results (contradictory evidence about this below).

Google, of course, have declined to offer any insight into the update.

What Does Pigeon Mean for Local Businesses in the UK?

This is a good question, but one that can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be answered immediately. Google’s algorithm updates usually take a while to settle down and fluctuations are likely for a period until a status quo is achieved. Leaping to conclusions today is unhelpful and likely to cause indigestion – don’t ruin your mulled wine and mince pies!

That said, we have been poking about today to see what we can find and there does indeed appear to be a bit of a shake-up.

Using Incognito mode, we compared the results between Google’s New Maps and its Classic Maps for a number of randomly-selected localised search terms. (Find out how to switch between the two map types here.)

There were significant differences.

Search term: Restaurants in Bath

Classic Maps (old results, unaffected by the Pigeon Update)


The top 10 listings:

  • Yak Yeti Yak
  • Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
  • The Eastern Eye
  • The Bathampton Mill
  • The George Inn
  • Firehouse Bar and Grill
  • Tilley’s Bistro
  • Jamie’s Italian
  • The Circus Cafe and Restaurant
  • Pulteney Bridge Restaurant

New Maps (Pigeon-affected)


The top 10 listings:

  • The Eastern Eye
  • Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen
  • The Circus Cafe and Restaurant
  • Loch Fyne
  • The Mint Room
  • Yak Yeti Yak
  • Firehouse Bar and Grill
  • Hudson Bar and Grill
  • The Green Park Brasserie
  • Hall & Woodhouse

So as you can see, quite a change. Perhaps most interestingly here is the absence of The George Inn and The Bathampton Mill. Both of these (very fine) gastropubs are outside of the city boundaries (as can be seen in the Classic Maps screenshot above). This would support suggestions from the USA that the area in which results are presented is tightening.

It’s also interesting to see Jamie’s Italian getting the boot from the listings. Big brands, it seems, aren’t immune from losing out in the rankings (for example, we also found that John Lewis had dropped 10 places in the local search results for ‘Furniture Shops Swindon’, while House Of Fraser and Debenhams had dropped completely out of the top 10 for the same search term).

We saw similar patterns of results for other search terms, such as ‘cafes in Nottingham’ and ‘plumbers in Bristol’.

Okay, now what?

This was a far from scientific or comprehensive experiment, and as mentioned above, to draw instant conclusions would be to take a step into the mouth of madness. First and foremost, more data are needed, particularly around which industries have been disproportionately affected. Compiling meaningful data will take a few weeks.

However, while optimising your website for local search is important, what the above does show is that if the thrust of your digital marketing campaign revolves around chasing rankings in Google, it’s all too easy to come unstuck. As seen from previous Google updates, such as Penguin and Panda, what works one day can have a catastrophic affect on your business the next.

Better, then, to build your business using strategies that focus on attracting, engaging and retaining customers. Do this and you’ll grow the authority of your business. Build its authority and search rankings will naturally follow.

To talk to us about how our expertise in local search can help your business to thrive online in 2015 and beyond,  get in touch via our contact form.

Featured image by Aimee Rivers


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