Google is constantly rolling out new algorithmic updates in order to improve search results (or so they would have us believe). In addition to the Panda, Hummingbird and Penguin updates, Google also released the Pigeon algorithm on July 24, 2014. This was considered the biggest update to local search results since the Venice update, in 2012. As soon as the Pigeon took flight, many businesses changed their digital marketing strategy in an attempt to appear in the seven-pack local results listings.
We are now more than one year into the update, and despite the fact that no significant changes occurred, the new snack-pack results that rolled-out globally several weeks ago have made many digital marketers reconsider their options. If you’re still on the fence with Local SEO, it’s time to stop worrying. According to Entrepreneur.com, local SEO will become even more impactful in the following years.
Let’s find out why local SEO is more important than ever.
1. How the Penguin Algorithm Changed SERPs
When it was initially released, the Pigeon impacted only English queries. Local listings ran parallel to traditional web search, improving not only user-experience, but also the ranking of local businesses. This was a welcome and much-needed change because, prior to the update, small businesses had no way of making it to the top 10 results of Google due to major brands dominating the SERPs.
On August 6, 2015, the biggest shake-up in Penguin history happened: 7-pack listings were replaced with 3-pack ones. This change was, more than likely, Google’s way of catering to the needs of an ever-expanding audience: mobile users.
Image description: Left – 3-pack local listings on a Desktop, Right – 3-pack local listings on a smart-phone. As you can see, the 3-packs fit perfectly on a smart-phone screen.
The introduction of 3-packs brought more good news with them: specific addresses were removed from the snippets. This means that users now have more reasons to click-through to find out the exact street name and phone number of a business. In addition to this, local listings now display ratings as well, giving searchers the option to filter their results.
In conclusion, strong local SEO strategies intertwined with positive reviews are vital for securing a position in the 3-pack listings.
2. Google’s Preference for (Small) Local Businesses
It’s no secret that Google has a soft-spot for smaller, agile companies. Sure, some ranking biases are connected to authority and brand history, but because the search engine is always trying to give people what they want, it somehow managed to create more breathing space for businesses with limited resources.
On a global level, competition is increasing. Formidable enterprises are pouring thousands of dollars into their digital marketing strategies and taking over the international landscape. The only way for smaller businesses to achieve visibility on SERPs was by focusing a smaller niche. I believe that the Pigeon algorithm – and its successive updates – is only the first of many locally-focused changes that will roll out in the future.
3. Local Listings have Become Even More Specific
The redesigning of geolocation features was one of the biggest Penguin algorithmic shifts. Prior to this update, cities were identified as single geographical entities, but now, local listings have been sliced into neighbourhoods.
One major change was a shifting of the calculations for distance around a search. Typically, but not always, Google reduced the search radius. – Source: Pigeon Advice from Top Local SEOs
This is both good and bad. For example, a local business that ranked in the city’s 7-pack listings will now be sliced between Neighbourhood 1 and Neighbourhood 2. Although it will appear in listings for Neighbourhood 1, it will probably be excluded from the latter. This redrawing of geographical boundaries improves user-experience and allows only results that are extremely relevant to be displayed.
Ranking in local listings for specific neighbourhoods is now easier (due to lower competition), but if your business was initially trying to rank for a larger geographic area you might have to rethink your entire marketing and local SEO strategy.
4. The Number of Mobile and Wearable Device Users is Growing
One cannot ignore the alarming rate at which mobile devices are being sold. Wearables aside, it seems that internet users are giving preference to smart-phones and tablets over desktop computers. And what are their most immediate needs while running around? You’ve guessed it: a cool place to eat (grab a drink, or see a movie), within walking distance. Geographical boundaries were redrawn for this exact reason.
It’s actually expected that early adopters will quickly go from mobile devices to wearable tech such as the Apple Watch, making proximity-based searches even more important. I wouldn’t be surprised if neighbourhoods would later be divided into hyper-specific locations, leaving room for even more small businesses to promote themselves to potential clients.
These facts prove that local SEO is more important than ever before. Even if local SEO may seem extremely dynamic and volatile at times, experts urge us not to panic. A solid marketing strategy, full-understanding of Pigeon and powerful Local SEO will eventually get you into the coveted 3-pack listings.