If, unlike some of us, you don't obsess about what's going on in the world of website optimization, you might have missed the fanfare and analysis that surrounded Google's latest major algorithm update, dubbed "Pigeon."
While I'm not any huge fan of the bird itself, I can appreciate the poetry behind the name. After all, pigeons are renowned for their ability to "home in" on the place where they belong, and that certainly works as a metaphor for the algorithm update.
In short, Pigeon gives a bit of a reshuffle to local search listings to prioritize local reviews, especially those from trusted sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. By ensuring that these results are prominently displayed, Google is both making a statement about its intentions and giving users exactly what they want. Let's take a quick look at both of these effects...
Why Prioritize Local Reviews?
For the last few years, Google has been making major inroads into local search, and local business as a whole. Users, in turn, have begun preferring Google to traditional options (like telephone directories) to the point that many of these old media platforms have disappeared altogether.
And so, when you combine the desire Google has to take a bigger chunk of that search traffic (not to mention accompanying ad revenue) with the public's desire to have more local business information and reviews at their fingertips, the evolution was as natural as it was inevitable.
In fact, I'd venture a guess that the only people complaining about the Pigeon update are the handful of websites that saw their listings displaced. To be fair, most of these didn't have the kind of participation and authoritative presence that Yelp does. So, while that might not necessarily mean that the new results are technically "better," they are at least more democratic.
What Does Pigeon Mean for Business Marketers?
With a quick overview of the changes and the rationales for making them out of the way, let's get to the issue you really want to know about: how will it impact you?
For a lot of businesses - and particularly the ones that have been following the advice marketing firms like mine have been putting out for years - probably not a lot. If anything, Google's Pigeon update is going to help you, because you already have lots of great content and reviews that are now going to be displayed more prominently... right along with links to your website.
For marketers who haven't been emphasizing local profiles and reviews, though, the rollout of Pigeon means there isn't a second to waste. You were already losing ground to other businesses before, and it's not likely you can afford to lose any more.
Your first step should be to complete your Google Plus profile, which can act as a main "hub" for local reviews and information. Also, you'll want to ensure your business is represented on a number of different directories for your area and industry. While reviews apply a lot more to local businesses, shops and services, businesses of all kinds can realize value simply by having established their local listings.
After that, things get a little bit trickier. Reviews must be naturally occurring. It isn't just unethical to buy reviews or cajole customers into giving them; it's also a direct violation of the user terms on most review websites (Google included). So, that leaves you with a course of action that involves doing good work and providing top customer service at reasonable prices, and then gently encouraging buyers to say good things about you and your company. While you shouldn't solicit public feedback outright and never offer compensation, letting happy customers know that you'd appreciate their reviews probably isn't out of bounds. It may be the only way they'd think to leave one.
Then, the waiting game begins. Reviews are playing a bigger part in search engine optimization thanks to the importance of local SEO and Google's Pigeon update. They play a big role in buying decisions, too, because positive word-of-mouth advertising is a huge advantage to any business that can generate it... even in the digital age.