Google Pigeon, what happened to your Google listing and rankings?

 In Local Search Optimization, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engines

Did you loose rankings with the Google Pigeon update?

Late Thursday, Google quietly released its newest update to its local ranking algorithm, quickly dubbed Google Pigeon by the folks at Search Engine Land.  Google’s newest update aims to achieve more useful and accurate search results according to a recent article posted by there.  When asked by Search Engine Land’s contributing author Barry Schwartz, Google said the update targets core changes behind the scenes at Google.  The article goes on to say:

The core changes are behind the scenes, but it does impact local search results rankings and some local businesses may notice an increase or decrease in web site referrals, leads and business from the change.

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….[read more on Search Engine Land]

What this means for small businesses

Google for many years has not made it a secret that they rank websites and position based upon more than 200 different factors.  It seems that Google is digging deeper into their rankings algorithms to judge local results on more of these 200 different factors when deciding whom appears on the first page, and who doesn’t.  In addition, Google told Search Engine Land that the new update also takes into account location, and distance parameters.

We here in the Portland Oregon and Vancouver Washington area have seen some changes in local rankings when it comes to local businesses and directory websites like Yelp.  It’s been a long complained fact of life as a small business owner and local SEO agency like ours that outranking websites that have become dubbed “Authority Spam” like Yelp has been all but an exercise in futility.  It seems that some of that may have changed with this update with small businesses being propelled forward, and listings on authority spam sites being set back.  This was not the case in all searches we performed, headings like Restaurants and Hair Salons seem to still favor these review type sites.  This test of rankings of course was unscientific…just a very noticeable change from prior in the week.

For many searches, such as “Plumbers Vancouver WA”, “Pest Control Portland OR”, “Roofers Vancouver WA” and others, it seems that small business has been placed in a much more prominent location when it comes to the search results page.

What does this mean if your business lost rankings?

In this shake up, we noticed some big movement when it comes to the Google local results area.  Many businesses disappeared off the first page, many businesses we’ve seen on the first page for a long time.  While the exact reasoning for each businesses loss of rankings can vary widely, I think it can easily be deduced from what Google said about this update – they’re judging businesses on many more factors now to populate local results.

If your small business depends on traffic from Google and you lost rankings with this update, don’t throw in the towel yet.  This initial update will undoubtedly be followed by many more smaller updates as was done with Penguin and Hummingbird, so it’s not too late.  But if you want to effect positive changes in your rankings, it’s my belief that you must start focusing your internet marketing efforts on the very factors that Google is judging your business on.

Who’s help should you enlist to help focusing on Google’s ranking factors?

This change will undoubtedly have many small business owners on the phone with their web designer, internet advertising company, or SEO company demanding action and answers on why rankings were lost.  First, before making any changes, this may be a good time to reflect and really ask yourself if you’re dealing with an SEO expert, or someone just telling you what you want to hear.  As more and more of these changes come down the road, and competition for coveted first page real estate gets tougher, reality is that small businesses owners will need to invest time in learning SEO themselves, or will have to hire competent SEO companies to perform these tasks for them.

For many years, small business owners have been easy targets for unethical, or downright uneducated SEO salespeople.  With this latest update, there will again be a resurgence of these types of companies coming out of the woodwork promising they can help fix ranking, returning your business to the first page.  You can read my article on SEO Snake Oil to learn more about these empty promises.

I’ve said it before, quality SEO isn’t cheap.  Anyone telling you they can fix your business should be able to break down in exact terms what your website is being graded on by Google, and what exactly they will be doing to fix your rankings.  Don’t get caught up in fancy jargon, or any salesperson that says they have “experts” that will handle it.  There are far too many quality SEO companies out there for you to put your trust in someone that can’t explain what you’re buying.

Beware of the one pronged approach

The above reminded me of a call I received this week from a small business here in Vancouver looking for SEO help.  He had me look at his website while I was on the phone with him asking what areas I saw he could improve on.  I gave him a few things that I saw right away that needed improvement (heading tags, titles, alt tags, structure, etc.) all easy fixes that he didn’t need to pay us to do, after we talked for a bit longer, he asked what else I would do, at that point I told him it would take me doing a partial or full SEO audit to really answer that, and depending if he wanted to retain our services, that would be included or charged separately.  He asked about retaining our services, and what that included.  So I told him that our SEO services focus on between 35 and 78 of the key factors that Google and the other major search engines judge on.  Depending on what you’re looking for, determines how many of those factors we will need to work on.

The guy let me know that I wasn’t the first person he had called, I was in fact the third.  So being that I felt I had developed a pretty good rapport with him at this point, I asked him what the first two companies had said when he asked what they would do.  The first company said they would build a lot back links, to which I was pretty amazed someone would say that’s all they would solely focus on considering the Penguin update.  The second company recommended that he start a social media campaign.  Neither company talked about a rounded approach to SEO which included component from the major ranking factors.  So when seeking out help, beware of the one prong fix.  I believe that in order to maintain a competitive advantage going forward, small business owners will need to embrace a multifaceted approach to their internet marketing efforts.

So talk to more than a few SEO companies, and go with the one that can make you understand what exactly they will do, the one that can demonstrate what they’ve done for other businesses, the one that comes off as an SEO Expert, not a salesman.

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