How Not To Do Local SEO In A Post-Pigeon Era


Not long ago, I wrote an article, explaining everything you need to know about Google’s Pigeon update, the algorithm change that took local search by storm.

Today, I’m publishing another article on Pigeon.

Why? Because in spite of the local SEO shakeup, a lot of marketers are still doing it wrong. I understand why this might be the case. Not only was Pigeon confusing, but it also asked us to break some of our long-ingrained local optimization habits. Repeatedly performing the same local optimization tasks time and again has ossified them into a fixture of local marketing.

We need to shake things up a little bit. In this article, I’m going to explain some of the things that should change in the post-Pigeon era of local SEO. If you’ve been unaware of how local SEO has changed in the past few months, this is your chance to get up to speed.

Stop Focusing On City Search Queries. Instead, Target Neighborhood Searches.

One of the major algorithmic shifts around Penguin was the way that geolocation was redesigned. Instead of identifying cities as single geographical entities, Penguin sliced and diced cities up into neighborhoods.

Mike Blumenthal, whose career is focused on local search, explained it like this:

One major change was a shifting of the calculations for distance around a search. Typically, but not always, Google reduced the search radius.

At least two things happened with the search radius reduction. First, because the geographical radii grew smaller, there are more neighborhoods. Obviously, some local businesses that were in Neighborhood A may now be in Neighborhood B.

Second, some businesses lost rank for their target neighborhood. Because of the redrawing of geographical boundaries, different businesses ended up in different places. Some businesses had a hard time dealing with this at first. Essentially, they believed that they had been edged out of business. The reality is that they were simply part of a new geographical entity and had to retarget their marketing efforts accordingly.

With the redrawing of geographical boundaries, here’s what you need to keep in mind.

  • If you’re in a larger city (with neighborhoods), don’t focus your online marketing efforts and search terms exclusively on your city name, but rather on your neighborhood name.
  • Don’t change your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information. NAP consistency is just as important as it has always been. Changing your NAP will cause more harm than good.
  • Find out what neighborhood you’re in. Find out where you have the strongest geographical showing, and capitalize on your presence there. This is your new geographical environment, so get comfortable.
  • Discover any neighborhood synonyms, and use these in your online marketing. One challenge of the geographical shakeup is that neighborhoods have different names, depending on whom you’re talking with. A local may call it “Uptown,” while a map-gazing tourist might call it “The Art District.” Which name do you use in your content marketing efforts? Use both! If people are searching for both, then you want to get in front of both types of query.

A single neighborhood can have many names. The algorithm knows it, too. In some cases, two different searches for the same region will surface the same results.

Stop Pursuing Indiscriminate Directory Listings. Instead, Optimize Your Directory Placement For The Top-Ranked Directories.

This one is a gem. Let me explain why.

Remember in the old days of SEO, where you would throw your NAP into every directory, snag a link, and get instant rank lift? Yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Directories still play a role in local SEO, but their role has shifted. Some directories are valuable. Some directories are crap.

So, how do you know which ones to get listed in? Seek to be listed in the directories that are ranking the highest. Often, these are right underneath the local packs.

Let me give you an example. If you had an Italian restaurant serving the Paradise area of Las Vegas, you would be getting search traffic and SERP impressions through queries like this one: [italian restaurant paradise las vegas].

Here’s what the desktop search engine results look like for that query:


You can’t outrank the local pack. Not gonna happen.

But you can look at the top directories for that query. Ferraro’s is clearly dominating (higher ratings and more reviews are the cause), but what are the top directories you should be targeting for your Italian joint? Based on the results page, you’re looking at:

  • Yelp
  • Open Table
  • Trip Advisor
  • Urban Spoon

In that order.

Let’s look at something a bit more niche: coffee. Here are the local results for a coffee query near Orlando, Florida:


Yelp has the top three spots in the organic results after the local pack. If you’re a roaster or brewer in Lakeland, you’d better optimize the heck out of your Yelp listing.

Let’s admit it: Yelp is important. Some users may include “yelp” as part of their search query in order to get Yelp-specific results. Other users look for “reviews” as part of their query, which often brings up directories only (seldom local packs).


Results vary from region to region. Do your own local query variations in order to determine what the highest-ranking directories are, then focus on creating the best profile in that directory that you possibly can.

Don’t Focus Solely On NAPs, Reviews, And Directories. You Should Also Do Content Marketing And Link-Earning.

Local SEO focuses on the citations, NAP consistency, and reviews. But let’s not forget about domain authority and good old-fashioned content and links.

Moz’s local search experts estimate that on-page signals are responsible for 21% of local ranking factors. Those on-page signals include traditional SEO features such as the presence of the keyword in the title, the domain authority of the page, and the presence of evergreen and optimized content.

2014 Local Search Ranking Factors graph

Source: Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey

Local SEO expert Mary Bowling explains that “[t]o appear in the shrunken local packs, you must now rank in the top 3 positions, which are usually influenced by organic rankings.” You can adjust your organic results through the tried-and-true methods of increasing and improving your content output, enhancing your link earning potential, and engaging in the search optimization practices that are standard for any SEO endeavor.

Why does this matter? When Pigeon occurred, many of the 7-packs dropped to 3-packs. The three remaining listings were presumed to be ranked based on traditional (rather than local) SEO factors. Moz explained it this way:

If your 7-packs have shrunken to 3-packs, striving to build greater organic authority may help you more than purely local signals like citations and reviews.

Andrew Shotland expressed it simply and clearly. His message could be summed up in two sentences: “Forget local tricks. Do basic SEO stuff.”

My best advice to clients would be to do “real local SEO sh*t.” Lots of local SEOs, especially at large firms, have focused on the local part of the algorithm to the exclusion of localized organic search. The Pigeon update, with its fusing of the local and organic ranking factors, appears to push us back to basic SEO tactics. Get good, local, links. Create quality content. Eliminate technical issues on your website and Google My Business page. Do this and you will be ahead of the vast majority of local businesses in the turd covered post-pigeon landscape.

Greg Gifford explained that the key to local SEO success was two-fold:

  1. Be awesome.
  2. Earn awesome links.

While the “be awesome” missive is perhaps cliché, the “earn awesome links” factor is critical. Pigeon is a local algorithm improvement, but it has ironically brought us back to a fixture of SEO: links.

In spite of the fact that Pigeon has changed a lot of things, we can’t forget that it hasn’t changed everything. One must keep in mind the importance of other organic methods of optimizing for search.


Local SEO is always in flux, and the Google’s mobile shakeup will no doubt have an impact, too. What’s often ignored in the discussion is the fundamental reality that the vast majority of the queries for local businesses are coming from mobile devices.

For a local website to rank organically, they must not only have their local SEO up to snuff, but they must also have their website responsively designed and enhanced.

Maybe the most practical bit of post-Penguin advice is “don’t panic.” Maybe you’ve disappeared from a local pack, been ousted by a neighbor, or simply aren’t sure what neighborhood you’re a part of. It’s okay. Keep focusing on the basics of good marketing — with or without a complete understanding of Pigeon — and you’ll get there eventually.

What are the biggest things you’ve learned about local SEO post-pigeon?

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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