Editor Note: Google hasn’t officially said much about “Pigeon,” so the author uses sources that have tried to compile what we do know so far about this newer update.
Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, and Hummingbird: These may sound like species living in captivity at the San Diego Zoo, but they are also the dreaded names of a handful of algorithm updates rolled out by search engine giant Google over the last few years. They are also the bane of many search engine optimization (SEO) professionals who make their living trying guess Google’s next move in the lucrative field of Internet marketing. It is not widely known why Google code names updates to its search engine algorithm after animal species (to be fair, Panda is actually named after an engineer working at Google’s massive search-quality division).
Still, each time a new algorithm update is announced, the SEO world goes into upheaval mode. For example, it is estimated that the 2011 Panda update, which came in the heels of the Caffeine update in late 2009, affected 12 percent of global searches. For some Internet properties that depend on Google queries to drive traffic to their sites, an algorithm update that takes them down a few notches on the search engine results page (SERP) can be disastrous.
The most recent search engine algorithm update announced by Google is codenamed Pigeon. This is not, however, the official name of the update. It was thus christened by Search Engine Land. This is not the first time that Search Engine Land choose a name for Google’s algorithm updates; a few years ago, it chose Farmer as an early name for Panda. The name Farmer was chosen because the update seemed to target the oft-derided content farms that ranked high on Google’s SERP but delivered information of questionable value to Internet searchers. The rationale for choosing Pigeon is for the local search algorithm update is that some birds in the Columbidae clade tend to fly in what can be described as a local pattern.
Understanding the Pigeon Update
At this time, Pigeon seems to only impact local search queries made in English within the United States. At first sight, Pigeon seems to give preference to local businesses over local brands. This is actually good news for small business owners who have a local, brick-and-mortar presence. For example, someone looking for pizza restaurants in Boise will now see a Google SERP that truly lists local restaurants, and the quality of the search experience is enhanced when the searcher clicks on Google Maps.
Before Pigeon, there was a strong chance that searching for pizza restaurants in Boise will return listings for major brands such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut towards the top of the SERP. In the post-Pigeon era, search results that are authoritatively local will be more prominently featured on the SERP, and they will be enhanced with relevant content. Pizza restaurants in Boise that have a verified presence on Google’s own social network, Google Plus (G+), will benefit from having their menus, reviews, and photographs shown on the SERP. To this end, local business owners will definitely want to ensure that they are doing their share of content marketing and social media engagement on G+.
Good Bird, Bad Bird
While it could be argued that Pigeon is a good update becasue it could increase traffic to small business owners by means of local and mobile search discovery, not all Google algorithm updates named after birds have been welcomed by the SEO community. Penguin, for example, negatively influenced many SEO’s websites.
The History of The Penguin Update
The Penguin update dates back to 2012. It was certainly developed with a noble goal in mind: To detect and penalize websites suspected of using trickery and nefarious tactics to gain SERP ranking. This means Google believed the SEO world had a few black-hat practitioners who took advantage of search engine signals to push their online properties to the top of the SERP with spam-like techniques such as reckless inbound linking, publishing questionable content stuffed with keywords, using questionable reciprocal linking, etc.
The problem with Penguin is that many SEO professionals believed their sites were unfairly punished. Penguin has actually gone through a handful of updates since its release, and yet many website administrators and SEO practitioners complain the Penguin update is still keeping them from reaching their SERP ranking potential.
Hummingbird Made an Impact as Well
The Hummingbird update, on the other hand, seems to be a good bird for Internet searchers. Hummingbird aims to deliver quality by speeding up queries, trying to deliver specific answers to questions posed in natural language, and attempting to learn from the intent of the searcher. Hummingbird takes into account the huge growth of the mobile search market by leveraging the Google Knowledge Graph, which aims to deliver information and answers instantly.
A neat feature in this regard is the ability to deliver comparisons. For example, a searcher who would like to compare the careers of Lebron James versus Michael Jordan can glean their stats from the SERP. In the end, Google is bound to keep SEO professionals guessing as to what kind of algorithm update will be next. The best thing website owners and SEO practitioners can do, aside from keeping these updates on their radars, is to strive to optimize their web pages and deliver content in accordance to what their analytics reveal.
If a particular James v. Jordan page is unique and is being shared across social media circles, that should be a signal to keep developing similar content.
Image Credits Featured Image: Furtseff via Shutterstock Image #1: Tashatuvango via Shutterstock Citation: http://www.wired.com/2011/03/the-panda-that-hates-farms/all/1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Penguin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Hummingbird