Google has released yet another update to their search algorithm that aims to provide more relevant local search results. But the “Pigeon” update, as it is being referred to around the web, seems to do more for well-established and high-ranking websites than it does for local businesses.
Previous, local-centric updates have served to give local and maps listings an increasingly prominent position in SERPs, even placing them above the organic search results. This is prime real estate, as heat mapping studies have shown that this area of the screen gets the most clicks by a significant margin.
Another important feature of these local listings was that they were ranked somewhat differently. Rather than relying predominantly on cues like domain authority and quality backlinks, local listings were ranked based on proximity to the user and the number of customer reviews, to name a few. This helped the little guys like small apartment communities and local businesses get a foothold in the front page in the hope that they would drive enough traffic to their site to improve organic rankings.
The fact that these local listings were almost exclusively Google products did not sit well with everyone. Earlier this month, the folks at Yelp accused Google of interfering with search results in order to put their (Google’s) listings in a more prominent position. They released a report showing Google listings outranking Yelp listings – even when the word ‘yelp’ was included in the query. Naturally, many people were up in arms after hearing this and demanded that something be done.
Well, ask and you shall receive. Google has fixed the Yelp issue, and in the process have changed the way local search listings are chosen. Rather than a separate set of criteria to judge the relevance of a local listing, the search giant has changed their algorithm to more closely match the way organic listings are evaluated.
The result of this? Well, local maps no longer display in search results for apartments, restaurants and many other related industries. These local results have been replaced with internet listing services and other local directories. The problem with this is that ILSs provide next to no benefit from an SEO perspective. This means that smaller companies are now forced to pay to play with directory listings or PPC campaigns if they want to appear on the front page.
Whether or not the maps will be gone for good remains to be seen. It wouldn’t be the first time they did something, only to reverse the decision at a later date.