Deconstructing Pigeon, Google’s New Local Search Algorithm: #SMX New York 2014, Day 2!

Oct 2, 2014 | 1,487 views | by Navneet Kaushal
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The session discussed the Pigeon update released by Google and how it impacts local search results ranking. The speakers at the session explored what businesses can do in terms of referrals for websites, leads and businesses and more from this new algorithm. Even though the new algorithm affects the core, it does affect local search too and the session speakers provided handy tips about how to counter the same.


  • Matt McGee (@mattmcgee) – Editor In Chief, Search Engine Land & Marketing Land

Q&A Coordinator:


  • Adam Dorfman (@phixed) – SVP – Product & Technology, SIM Partners
  • David Mihm (@davidmihm) – Director of Local Search Strategy, Moz
  • Andrew Shotland (@localseoguide) – President, Local SEO Guide

Adam shared the technology behind Pigeon and the factors that will go a long way in countering it. David's presentation revolves around dissecting what Google, MozCast and the experts say about the Pigeon as well as a brief recap of it all. Andrew has given several useful tips for helping to cope with the demands of Pigeon.

Top Takeaways From Google Pigeon Update

Adam discussed the logic and technology on the basis of which Pigeon operates and how the superior speed of this algorithm is its biggest advantage. He also explains why Pigeon Rank works so well and the data in support of this.

Research on Pigeon

Sample size of 5,000 locations was taken by research cited by Adam. Data collection for the research was of the following timeline:

  • Pre Pigeon: 7/11 to 7/23
  • Pigeon: 7/24
  • Post Pigeon: 7/25 to 8/7

Adam then quotes Matt Cutts in his presentation slide, saying “The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms to see their efforts rewarded.”

Measure These

Adam suggested the following measures should be taken to counter Pigeon namely:

  • Business details
  • Offsite factor
  • Onsite factor

He also showed statistics displaying the performance change post Pigeon for the locations in terms of the metric being measured.

Unexpected Factors

Adam said that factors not being looked for, yet found were:

  • Word count on the location page
  • Distance from city center in terms of small/medium/large markets
  • Distance from city center in terms of population

Findings cited by Adam were:

  • Narrowing of search radius in suburban areas for areas where population was within 10,001-100,000
  • Distance from centroids matters relatively little in large markets until it finally does when population is greater than 100,000

Bottom-Line Conclusions

Adams said the findings suggested the following axioms:

  • Those locations which were situated in small towns faced the biggest problems either due to shift from pack 1 to 3 or decrease in local packs
  • Google is interested in furthering urbanization within the suburban areas
  • There is more of a liking for urban centers just outside the large markets, but a strong non preference for anything around 20 miles away

SPAM Versus Original Content

Adam then quoted Andrew Shotland in his slide with the words, “Thus far the big fix we are seeing to defeating spammy results in the local packs is to get links which unfortunately is going to lead to a wave of local link SPAM because it appears to be working for the moment.”

  • Adam sounded the alarm for detection of SPAM and gave data pertaining to MOZ External Equity
  • MOZ Page Authority

As to what that means, Adam says the conclusions are:

  • Page Authority is important
  • Domain strength is rising in importance

Finally Adam stressed on not underestimating “how powerful on page optimization can be for local and organic results.”

He then gave data pertaining to number of Zip codes and areas served on the basis of which he inferred:

  • On page optimization is vital
  • Over-optimization is being noticed and fought against
  • The way out is to keep experimenting

Final Takeaways

Adam stressed on the following points towards the conclusion of his presentation namely:

Pigeon update is not equivalent to improved SERPs
The location of the business matters a lot
To be successful, your business needs to be attached to strong domains
Websites should never be over-optimized

Dissecting the Pigeon Update

What Google Said

David plunged straightaway into what Google said and this revolves around the following points:

Google said the local search algorithm Pigeon taps into web search capabilities at a far deeper level
Pigeon also improves on parameters for distance and ranking locations

Moz Research

 David then highlighted the Moz research which examined page authority for different websites on parameters such as:

  • internal equity-passing link
  • external equity-passing link
  • internal and external links
  • linking root domains

What This Says About Domains

David then identified how this can be used to assess the status of the domain in terms of whether it has been:

  • Placed for sale
  • Hijacked and used
  • Lapsed Domain.

Moz Insights

Google has provided that Knowledge Graph involves an update, but what David tries to explore is whether the neighborhood business is ready and on track for tackling Pigeon.

2 points in this context mentioned by Adam were:

  • Tighter radius for location for generic phrases search
  • Wider radius for location for geo-modified search

What Moz Found

David says Moz found the following points:

  • 23% drop in number of results showing packs
  • One Box and Carousel were relatively less affected

MozCast also found the following break-up for changes among branded and geo-modified terms, according to David:

  • Terms gaining local AOBs
  • Terms which lost local AOBs
  • Terms changing from local AOBs to packs, carousels
  • Terms that switched from packs or carousels to local AOBs
  • Terms that lost packs or carousels
  • Terms where packs changed numbers

The Knowledge Graph made adjustments on account of this. David says many of these pertain to real estate. Other findings which pertained to branded terms, according to David there were many gains among branded terms.

David's take on the whole issue of just what Pigeon has accomplished was that:

  • For the Knowledge Graph: Distinct Change or shift in the brand/geography interactions
  • Categories such as real estate lose out on a number of pack results

What The Experts Say

David then presented research findings with regard to factors which have increased in importance since the advent of Pigeon, according to the experts.

He talks of the following factors being examined in the context of across both packs and organic localized results:

  • Click through rate from search results
  • Page Authority of Landing Page URL
  • Quality or Authority of Structured citations
  • City/State Name in Landing Page Title
  • Reviews by Authority Reviewers such as YELP
  • Physical Address in city being searched
  • Authority or Quality of inbound links to domain names
  • Closeness of address to Point of Search
  • Website's Domain Authority

David cited that experts found the following:

The winners are:

  • Domain authority,
  • Quality of inbound links and
  • Proximity to searcher when it comes to Pigeon

Losers following introduction of Pigeon were:

  • Proximity to centroids
  • Physical address in city where search is being conducted
  • Verified GMB pages
  • Closeness to other businesses
  • Quality of structured citations

David feels Pigeon equals Hummingbird in many ways. He has cited how the latter has influenced the former in terms of:

  • Search results within search results
  • Well optimized regional vertical directions
  • Lower degree of blending

Experts feel web signals have never been good at identifying the top of the line businesses, says David. From his December 2013 post, he has cited the number of top businesses which made it to the National Directory.

Small Businesses

David has asked about the pack results of small businesses. He identifies that Brand in local surfaces as SPAM due to the following reasons:

  • Brand signals for local SMBs are not strong enough
  • Factors that are not linked to citation or reviews reward keywords which are exactly matching keywords in uniform resource locators and business titles

Rising Brand Signals

David says this translates into:

  • Rewards for directories
  • Plus points for click through rates and branded searches
  • Branded anchor text and National brands with strong local SEO

Moreover, following the introduction of Penguin, David says proximity is shifting towards the searchers.

One Boxes deserve to be studied, not criticized, he says. David concluded as he quoted Miriam Ellis as saying there is not much difference in pre and post Penguin Era and those businesses which got good mileage in 2013 may be getting slightly just lesser than that now.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive You Crazy

Andrew provided useful tips about how to counter the threatening Pigeon if you are a business that wants to survive Google's new local search.

He talks of how map packs are missing from real estate. They are there for city realtors, but not local home searchers, Andrew highlights citing inputs from Brian Mayo.

Pigeon Results

Andrew then moves on to examining data for 24 sites for examining real estate GWT clicks.

Andrew discussed Pigeon results with respect to real estate in the following categories:

  • Fall in head term rankings
  • Rise in traffic of long term rankings
  • Leads shooting through the roof
  • Link, content and tech are still important factors.

He then examined roofing vertical GWT impressions for 40 sites and moving companies’ data for 17 sites finding that:

  • Nothing has really changed when it comes to roofing or moving companies

When it comes to directories, Andrew examined the data and found:

  • Large local directors were down by 5%
  • As far as Fortune 500 brands were concerned, Organic was down by 6% while PPC traffic shot up by 25%

What did not bow out was the SPAM, says Andrew. Spam masters are still winning online, he says. Andrew reiterates that the Pigeon should not drive businesses crazy at the end of it all.

Deconstructing Pigeon, Google’s New Local Search Algorithm: #SMX New York 2014, Day 2!, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
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Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
1.thumbnail Deconstructing Pigeon, Google’s New Local Search Algorithm: #SMX New York 2014, Day 2!
1.thumbnail Deconstructing Pigeon, Google’s New Local Search Algorithm: #SMX New York 2014, Day 2!