On July 24, Google went public with a new algorithm change that, as opposed to affecting online retailers and businesses, pertains mostly to brick and mortar stores by modifying local directory listings. What does it do and how does it affect your business?
The Update and How it Works
While Google gave no name to its recent algorithm change, in keeping with the animal theme – Panda, Hummingbird and so on – Search Engine Land has aptly nicknamed the latest update Pigeon, after the birds that tend to fly back home.
While most of the changes are to the back end of the network and how it runs searches, the impact is clear for searchers on the front end. The algorithm is designed to provide relevant and accurate search results for local businesses that are more closely related to traditional search rankings and signals.
According to the network, the new algorithm uses Google’s web search capabilities on a deeper level, meaning that the way local listings are displayed in results will be more like how standard search results are generated with less favoritism toward Google Places listings.
The Pigeon update currently affects only US English results, and no information has been released as to when the update will be rolled out in other languages and locations. The main affect of the algorithm change? Local directory sites and listings are receiving better rankings and visibility in search results on Google than ever before.
While the reason behind the update has not been made public, there has been speculation as to why Google made the algorithm change.
Starting back in 2012 with the release of Google Places, online directories like Yelp started to notice a decline in the prominence of their listings. The “Yelp problem“, as it became commonly known, referred to the appearance that Google was manipulating results to put its own listings ahead of other directories, regardless of search term, popularity or other traditional SEO practices. Yelp’s report detailed one specific search term – “gary denko yelp” – and found that the results listed the official Gary Danko, a well-known restaurant in San Fancisco, California, website and multiple Google+ listings and pieces of content ahead of the Yelp listing that was specifically searched for.
While this is not listed anywhere as the actual cause or motivator behind the update, since the change, the same search term now lists the Yelp listing for Gary Denko first in Google results.
Who it Impacts
While the “Yelp problem” has been addressed with the update, other local directories will also likely see an increase in search rankings and overall popularity.
Sites like Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor that list local eateries and attractions will no longer have to battle Google’s listings. Instead, retailers and restaurants that use online directories can focus on the directories that attract the most attention, instead of catering to the requirements and needs of Google.
The update will also affect retailers and local businesses relying on traditional SEO for their own websites. Because of the new prominence of listings, going at it alone, without the support of larger networks may be more difficult than ever.
Increasing the Exposure of Your Business
In theory, Google’s new algorithm change is straightforward and easy to understand. But, what does it mean for your business? How can you be sure you benefit from the update instead of falling short? Follow these tips for success:
Study Your Listings
Maybe you switched to Google Places because of the prominence of the results and left behind a directory that was driving more traffic and receiving more attention. If this is the case, now is the time to step back. Look at where the traffic to your site is coming from and focus on that source. Because all directories now receive prominence on Google, understanding which site drives the most traffic to your site is important when deciding where to focus your attention and efforts.
Don’t Forget Google
New updates and algorithms are released daily – 500-600 times per year to be more precise. Because of this, you can never be sure of when a new algorithm will be released that will affect your business. Maintaining an active Google Places and Google+ presence is always recommended.
Focus on Major Directory Sites
As previously mentioned, the update will make it harder than ever for individual websites advertising local businesses to maintain a high search ranking with Google. Instead, directories are more prominent – and therefore more important – than ever. Take the time to create a business page on large directory sites – like Yelp and to optimize where possible.
Get Your Customers Involved
The best way to attract attention is to increase the number of positive reviews. Take the time to ask your customers to participate and to leave reviews. Link to your Yelp – or other directory – listing in your email newsletter and on your website. Leave pamphlets in your store or restaurant. Use social media pages to ask your followers for reviews. The more positivity you can generate, the more your listings will work to your advantage.
Maintain an Active Home Website
While your website may be more difficult than ever to promote through Google with the new algorithm update, that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. It’s still the focus of your business and where your directory listings will send visitors. Be sure it is current, hosts relevant information, attracts attention and promotes your business in a positive manner.
Google’s Pigeon update may very well revolutionize the way listings are displayed in search results. Take the steps necessary today to ensure your business benefits from the new release.
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