When the latest Pigeon update came out about two weeks ago, Google cited offering accurate, more relevant local search as their goal.
What that would actually entail was a bit unexpected.
Immediately, Twitter and blogs were lighting up everywhere: major changes were happening in local search, and no one was quite sure why.
Mozcast was reporting a 61% drop in local search results, local business were disappearing from search results, and most notably, contract-based home service business had in some cases vanished from SERPS.
Something just shy of panic ensued.
As data has slowly evened out and the dust has settled, we’ve been able to more or less uncover the main changes and their implications.
- A lot of initial reports were due to affected SERP monitoring methods than true changes in search results. Just a few days after the first Moz post, citing that alarming 61% drop in local SERP results for their clients, reports surfaced quoting closer to a 23% drop. Enrico Altavilla points out that there was likely an issue with the URLs Moz uses to automatically track SERP fluctuations. It’s important to ensure you carefully check your own/clients rankings using the most accurate methods possible (local results and importantly using local and Geo Proxy Servers).
Amid all the shuffle and switching around, some local businesses that initially dropped off 7-Packs completely have reappeared in the mix, though sometimes at different rankings.
- 7-Packs are down, 3-Packs are up. Speculators indicate that this could be due to an effort to shift towards mobile-friendly search tactics. (7-packs just don’t fit well on an iPhone screen). It could also be the case (though as of yet we have no evidence) that Google found it no more helpful to users to have 7 options rather than 3. That said, local packs are still fluctuating from day to day, thus confirming what we already are aware of; the continued shift and change of Google as a whole.
- Quality still trumps relative proximity on 3-packs. Local searches are aimed at being more ‘relevant’, not necessarily the ‘closest to you’. When you search from a local IP address—say, on your phone—the 3-pack you’re served with won’t necessarily be the 3 closest options. Google doesn’t just give the closest physical queries, but tries to also offer the BEST options and a more robust set – often outside the specific neighborhood.
- Contract-based home service companies took a huge hit. Whitespark reported that certain search words (and clients!) are falling off SERPS all together, including terms like “DUI Lawyer” and “Real Estate Agent”. In what some are calling a ‘crackdown’, it would seem that Google is trying to differentiate physical location as a function of “Google Places” as opposed to a service, especially a home-based service that just services that area and therefore wants to be found there. Even lawyers, who may have an office and conduct meetings there, do not conduct most of their customer services there.
- Confirmed: Local search is based on local IP address. Blumenthal notes something very interesting: if you conduct a local search from an IP address that is not local (say, you search local restaurants in Philly from an IP in New Jersey), Google SERPS will deliver organic results for Philly restaurants, but the maps will pack for whatever location your IP is—in this case, New Jersey. Given Google’s ability to track mobile devices, it’s not too surprising that this is how Google determines mapping.
But for SEOs, this is an affirmation that Google is getting smarter at tracking IP addresses, and putting more weight on the true local IP—not just relative search. This places further importance on using local IP’s to conduct competitive research, protect information, and gather true local search results for the area you’re tracking.
A Word on Mobile
Google has shown its own indications that mobile is becoming more and more relevant to search. Back in April they updated the Keyword planner to include a breakdown of keywords search via mobile vs. total searches.
Mobile search and local search are naturally intertwined, given that a large percentage of local searches are conduct by people already on the move—on their phones. Off to a meal, meeting, laundromat, or wherever, these recent changes seem to support mobile searching:
- Tracking based on local IP – (exact phone local)
- 3 – Pack – more mobile friendly – merging authority with locality
- Focus on true ‘places’
- Advantage placed on consumer review sites like yelp
While titles like “Google Dogging Local Search” float around, in reality this is another step to make local search more accurate and mobile-friendly. Yes, there are unfortunate casualties from this, and many past Google changes, but as always, our ability to adapt to these changes where needed will come up trumps and the unwanted spam and interlopers will be gotten rid of, paving the way for a much richer experience all round.
In terms of Google Places, it makes sense that they would want to offer local searchers on the go quick, useful results—and most often that wouldn’t include companies without a physical local.
So what happens to all those contractors, real estate agents, and the like? Unfortunately, that remains to be seen.
But given the most recent update to keyword planner in April, it’s our speculation that Google easily has the capability to track and control whether someone is accessing Google from a mobile device or not. In which case, they could theoretically alter search results in accordance with the needs of mobile vs. non-mobile users.
Trusted Proxies provides Local Enterprise Proxy Servers for use with Keyword Ranking and Data Collection located in most major US Metro areas. In conjunction with our vast network in over 60 countries worldwide, we can help you overcome any casualties from the Pigeon Update and allow you to see Local SERPs as if you were in that location, something which has now become impossible to do without physically searching Google in the location required.