Amanda Shell, Senior Product Manager
This month Google made some big changes with big repercussions for businesses listed online in its search results. While it is still too early to definitively say what the final impacts will be, it is good to understand what changes we have seen thus far. The update, nicknamed Pigeon by Search Engine Land1, has dramatically affected local search results within certain vertical segments (restaurants, hotels, etc.) and select geographies. It appears the change has more closely aligned Google's local algorithm with its core algorithm(s) and standard web ranking signals. Meaning that queries, which Google previously deemed to have local-intent, are now returning results intended more for comparative research.
Depending on the vertical and geography searched, local search results continue to appear in the top carousel or local-pack (Google Map) results. Instead the most dramatic change to the SERP (search engine results page) is found in the organic results below the carousel or surrounding the local-pack results. Following the change, the organic listings are now predominantly comprised of local directory sites. In order to find a local businesses' individual site you may need to look at pages 2, 3 or beyond within the search results. This begs the question, what quality of results are the SERPs providing the local user?
The SERPs are indeed showing search results of search results found on a variety of local directories. The main reason for this change may have been Yelp's insistence2 that Google was unfairly displaying Google+ content over Yelp content. Regardless, it is quite obvious local directory sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Yellowpages.com are reaping the rewards of this change with increased visibility in the results. In some instances these local directories are appearing multiple times in the SERP, causing local businesses sites to be pushed even further down in the results. Who's content is being unfairly prioritized now?
Another change to note, the common seven-pack of local results may still appear on the SERP, or they may be provided in the carousel. They could also be presented in a three-pack - or possibly not at all - depending on the search term and the geography (city, city + state, zip, none, etc.). The three-pack will likely become more prevalent, as an attempt to align desktop results with that of the mobile user is needed. Also, it would appear with this update, Google has essentially removed the previous occurrences of duplications when a business would have been appearing in both the local-pack results and page one of the organic results. For now, it is either one or the other for these local businesses.
Overall, it is clear that a verified Google+ page will increasingly help businesses continue to appear in local search results. With local directories now dominating the search results page, a high ranking in the local results (seven-pack, carousel, etc.) continues to be crucial. Only time will tell what additional or long term impact Pigeon will have on local search results.