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Google Lets a Search Pigeon Out of the Coop and It Lands Nearby

It's been a scant three months since Google released “Pigeon,” a local search algorithm update that is in keeping with the company’s objective of providing a better search experience for local searches. Pigeon was “unleashed” on U.S. searches, and it immediately had businesses comparing notes on each other’s performance.

Related: 5 Ways Google Is Changing SEO

We can rest easy. This update does not come with penalties for errant pages. Its focus is on rewarding quality. This presents a useful opportunity for local businesses to review the quality of the content on their pages to make necessary changes. The next update that comes along may not be as generous, with the possibility that many sites could experience first-hand the pain of dropping out of the SERPs overnight. While Google may have withheld punitive action with the Pigeon, it is still considered the most significant update to the local search algorithm since the 2012 Venice update.

Feedback from various sectors suggests that Google has chosen to reward authority sites. Established directories, such as Yelp, have benefited. Industries reporting an overall increase in results shown via Google Places include hospitality, food, education, law, transportation and fitness. Searches related to jobs, real estate and movies revealed a huge decline in the number of local results shown compared to the days before the Pigeon took flight.

Remarkably, the local listing pack on the search engine results page (SERPs) has been reduced from seven to four, which points to tighter and more pertinent results.

Related: How Google 'Sitelinks' Can Improve Your SEO

There still isn’t enough data available for local businesses to crystallize a plan of action to keep them from falling off the local search radar. There are rumors that Google is currently carrying out simultaneous tests of more than one version of the Pigeon. Hence, for businesses, the smart money is on paying attention to hyper-localization. Google appears to have taken local searches to the next level by displaying a narrow range of results relative to the past.

 As a local business, this means that you need to factor in more local indicators and references in your SEO tactics. Review your alt tags, title tags, keywords, etc. for your pages. Include hyper-local references in your SEO content. Continue with your social media strategy. Keep gathering positive feedback from customers, as this is a powerful social indicator that invariably will be a factor in determining rank between competing local businesses.

 In a nutshell, provide for users a positive and memorable online experience. If there are directories in your niche where your business should be featured, now is the time to register. Strengthen the regular SEO signals such as backlinks. Ensure that name, address and phone number (NAP) details you provide are consistent across business listings.

Post Pigeon results for local area searches are favoring local stores over retail chains. The implication for small stores - cater to your local area. Keep in mind that businesses previously featured on both maps and organic results are no longer reporting a dual presence.

To ensure a higher position on the local SERPS, be sure to implement the ideas presented above.

Related: This Google Feature Can Improve Your SEO