Pigeon – An Anecdotal Impact Report

The recent Google Local Update (aka Pigeon) was very disruptive. Although as I wrote at the time and reiterate, only when we actually look at measurable results can we both understand its actual impact and perhaps understand more of what was happening and what changes Google has made.

There were two main parts to the update as expressed by Google:
- Local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals.
- The new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.

My tea leave translation of that?
- We are moving the algos that dictated page and location prominence closer together. We are integrating brand preferences and entity rank into our main algo and using more of that as a common ranking process across both the web and local results.

-We are better able to ascertain location in both mobile and desktop environments and have, for the most part drawn smaller radius around the presumed location of the searcher from which to draw the local search results.

From where I sit, the first part of this change has been happening for a while and as David noted at SEL was largely seen first with the Hummingbird roll out.

It also appears to me that the improvements to their distance and location ranking parameters  and the attendant redrawing of the local boundaries, at least on the desktop, is actually causing the more dramatic shifts in measurable desktop results.

Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry (and others that I have looked at as well) was strongly impacted by that second change. The search radius, which had previously expanded to include the shopping suburbs of Buffalo (Williamsville, Amherst etc) had once again contracted to just include the city of Buffalo proper. You can see this when you do a search like Jewelry Buffalo. Google had effectively reduced the diameter of the search radius from 12 to 6 miles

new-radius

The impact of the reduction in local Pack visibility for Barbara is obvious in Google’s My Business Insights with reduced impressions:

Insights

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Most Excellent! A Compendium of Greatest Hits from my Back Library

Have you ever thought: I really want to spend tonight reading Mike’s back library but I just don’t know where to start?

Phil Rozek thought you might and wanted to make your job easier. He pored through the 2400 articles I have written since day one, drove them through the absolute best local algo (Miriam Ellis, David Mihm, Dave Oremland, Andrew Shotland, Nyagoslav Zhekov & Phil himself) to come up with a list of The Best of Blumenthal (so far).
jan-and-dean
So if you really ever did think that you actually did want to spend some time perusing my back library this is probably the place to start….. a list of articles curated by some of the best in the local search. And people that I am lucky to have met along the way and become friends with.

Now me? I am off to listen to the greatest hits of Jan & Dean.

Google MapMaker Nukes Custom Categories

Custom categories, long missing from Google Maps, had retained their presence in MapMaker.  That distinction has now ended. MapMaker has announced the end of custom categories and that MapMaker would now use the standard 2500+ categories that have been available to My Business and Maps.

Hello Mappers,

Firstly, a BIG thanks for your continued support to improve Google Maps!

Google Map Maker offers you a detailed menu to add the most relevant category by providing a wide range of 2500+ categories to choose from. While we continue to expand this list, we’ve removed the ability to manually type-in the category of your choice.

Henceforth, any existing free-form categories will only be visible to the mapper who originally created them.

Once again, your understanding and patience is tremendously appreciated.

Thanks, and Happy Mapping!

Sneha

 

Google Adds Instant Listing Verification Via Webmaster Tools for Most Business Categories

Googler Jade has announced in the forums that they are now going to allow instant verification via webmaster tools for many businesses.

From the announcement:

Good news — starting today, if you’re verifying a page for your business, you may be instantly verified on Google My Business if you’ve already verified your business’s website with Google Webmaster Tools. The verification will happen automatically, if applicable, when you attempt to verify a page for your business.

If you’d like to try instant verification, please make sure you’re signed in to Google My Business with the same account you used to verify your site with Webmaster Tools

Not all businesses with websites verified using Google Webmaster Tools will have instant verification, since not all business categories are eligible. If that’s the case, please use one of our other methods of verification (https://support.google.com/business/answer/2911778).

From the My Business Help page on verification:

 Instant verification

You may be instantly verified to manage your business if you’ve already verified your business’s website with Google Webmaster Tools.

Make sure you’re signed in to Google My Business with the same account you used to verify your site with Webmaster Tools. Note that some business categories may not be eligible for instant verification.

If your business falls into one of the categories that doesn’t allow webmaster tools verification, it will still be necessary to use the other offered choices of postcard and phone when it is available.

Yelp Reports $0.00 per Share Earnings

Yelp has just released their June ending numbers. I wanted to lead with a realistic headline before the other pundits did.

While profit has never been something that Yelp crows about there are some interesting numbers:

  • Cumulative reviews grew 44% year over year to approximately 61 million and and approximately 40% of new reviews were contributed through mobile devices.
  • Average monthly unique visitors grew 27% year over year to approximately 138 million* and average monthly mobile unique visitors grew 51% year over year to approximately 68 million**
  • Active local business accounts grew 55% year over year to approximately 79.9 thousand

It is interesting to note the traffic growth and the fact that Yelp didn’t seem to mention whether it was desktop/mobile search or their mobile app growth. Given Yelp’s incredible performance in the Google desktop SERPS, one has to assume that they are getting an increasing number from Google as opposed to their app.

Moz Updates Local Query Set – Revised Data Show 23.4% Drop Post Pigeon Update

MozCast has now updated their query set to better reflect what searchers are seeing. Even though their methodology was different than that of Whitespark, the new results showing a decline in 7-packs due to the Google Local algo update are much the same: a 23.4% drop.

It is interesting to note that one of their observations which correlates to what I am seeing, is a number of “these queries now have authoritative one-boxes instead of packs”. That is consistent with an Google’s statement to be using more web signals and in this case demonstrating a predilection for brands and one boxes ala Hummingbird. This brand preference might also lead to additional 3 packs often seen on brand queries.

MozCast_Feature_Graph

Here is the communication from Cyrus regarding the MozCast update:

So, the fix to MozCast seems to have worked, and it’s as we expected – there was a drop, but less than originally reported. On July 23, before the decline started, we measured local packs on 12.06% of localized results. Today, we’re seeing 9.24%.
Interestingly, this is a 23.4% drop, almost exactly what Darren saw in his data (just read that this morning). Could be a coincidence, but since we used different methods, different data sets, and had no idea what each other were doing, I’d say that 24% number is pretty close to the truth.
Here are some queries that seem to have legitimately lost local packs (at least in the regions I’m checking them:
  • jet ski
  • condos
  • house rentals
  • money gram (misspelled – interestingly, “moneygram” returns a pack)
  • homebrew
  • wheels
  • subway store locator
  • resorts
  • apartment rentals
  • custom cars
  • gardening
  • jeeps (“jeep dealership” does get a pack)
  • wedding makeup
  • bed and breakfast
  • train tickets
In a few cases, these queries now have authoritative one-boxes instead of packs. In a few other cases, I’m still seeing packs on manual inspection, and I can’t account for the mismatch. Our code shows no pack for “used car” in Hartford, CT, for example, but manually setting location in Google does. So, this could be volatile.

Clearly the Local algo update (note to Matt McGee: can’t we do better than naming it after a pigeon?) has had an impact and a large one.

The more important questions though revolve around the real world impact on local businesses. Is there a decline in call? Is there a decline in driving directions? Are their fewer web visits? Over the next few weeks as we learn more about these real world impacts we can hopefully better understand how to advise clients.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search