The Google search algorithm update known as ‘Pigeon’ rolled out on July 24, 2014. It affected both local and natural search results with some of the most notable changes being an increase in the amount of large local directory websites and decrease in the amount of the ‘local pack’ map listings. And when local map listings appear, increasingly directories are present.
The update continued a trend that has been going on for the past couple years in the search results – a flight towards larger brands. In the local search space, this means seeing more page one results for Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, local magazines, newspapers, Yahoo local pages, Google business pages, and niche directories.
We aren’t talking about spammy ‘SEO friendly’ directories. In the restaurant space, it’s seeing more of sites like TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon. For lawyers, it’s directories like Avvo an Lawyers.com instead of individual lawyer listings. In real estate, it’s Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com showing up more rather than real estate brokerage or individual agent websites.
Why the Shift to Local Directories
In 2008, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt famously said, “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool (of the Internet).” Identifiable brands tend to be more trustworthy and these larger directories have more user-generated content than small business websites are viewed as being more impartial. After all, Google does want to yield the most useful results for searchers. And if pushing small-to-medium sized business websites off the first page makes them more apt to do a paid search listing, that’s a nice side benefit.
But it’s not just that bigger is more trusted. Three other reasons for the shift to local directories being more prominent in the search results are:
1. Provide Better Answers and Information for Users
Most people who search a phrase like ‘
2. Better Experience on Mobile
These large local directory websites are more likely to perform better on mobile devices. Many small business websites still aren’t mobile friendly and can provide a lesser user experience. With the amount of mobile search results increasing, Google doesn’t want to show mobile users a Web page where the content is cut off and doesn’t fit their screen size.
3. Better Performance.
Large directory websites are more likely to have better on-site optimization with quicker page load times with more development work and testing involved to produce better results.
What You Can Do About It
1. Better Provide the Information Users are Seeking. Have a content-rich website that has detailed pages on the products and services your business offers and the communities you serve. Have testimonials and customer reviews for trust signals and to provide more user-generated content. And answer frequently asked questions about your business. In short, make your website the go-to resource in your industry.
2. Get the Technicals Right. While what users see on the page is critical, it’s also important to implement Schema markup language to allow search engines to more easily capture and show the information on your site.
3. Focus on the Visuals. Unique, original high quality images and graphics can really make a website stand out. They provide valuable content and are more likely to shared on social media and linked to than words alone.
4. Make Your Website Mobile Friendly. While mobile websites can still have their place, responsive web design makes for a more enjoyable user experience. Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal have both done a good job with this in their recent redesigns.
5. Speed Up Your Website. No one wants to be on a website that has pages load slowly. Use an experienced Web developer who can help you minify image files along with other coding techniques and use a CDN to speed up the delivery of the website.
6. Complete Your Online Profiles. Make sure your profiles are complete and optimized on your Google business page, Bing Places, Yelp, and other directories in your business’ niche. This can help your position on these websites and the last thing you want is for people to get incomplete information about your business online. This can also be a good time to evaluate advertising on directory websites to capture more the traffic they are garnering.
7. Be Forward Thinking. Industry leaders are out in front. They stay ahead of the competition by adopting and implementing practices that give them a leg up. One example of this is the Web realm is to make your website secure. Web security is likely to become a larger issue over time (it already is a Google ranking factor) and being out in front and instituting https security shows a company’s commitment.
In the end, if your website can provide the most useful information for a local search query, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be prominently included in the search results. By providing more long-form content, high quality images and graphics, and optimizing the performance and usability your site, you can compete no matter how big your competition is.