A Whole New SERP

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Analytics, Featured, News, SEO

The Search Agency Crowd Sources on Google’s Recent Pigeon Implementation

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Since Pigeon swept the search scene early last week, The Search Agency’s thought leaders have been evaluating Google’s changes, drawing their own conclusions concerning how these updates stand to affect the quality of search moving forward. Here is a sampling of their thoughts.

Local Products and Services SERPs:
The Search Agency started its Pigeon evaluation examining the changes made to local products and services searches. Our team’s findings point to the notion that, under Pigeon, semantic markup will now not necessarily improve SERP rank. Mary Hayes, The Search Agency’s Earned Media Content Manager, investigated this notion, running her own search for car wash west la. She found:

“A search for car wash west la yields a seven pack (surprising, since we’re mostly seeing only three or four packs). The resulting map also looks to cover a decent area.”

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Mary then refined her search to car wash 90064, and while she got the same 7-pack, the resulting map was smaller and paid ads took up much more real estate underneath said map. As she scrolled down, Mary noted that Yelp takes this search’s top three organic SERP spots, further concluding that while semantic markup may not improve rank, it stands to at least help main domains stand out against their Yelp counterparts.

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The Search Agency’s Gregory Sidor performed his own search for oil change as seen below.

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From these results, Greg concluded, “To me, this seems like an example of Pigeon gone wrong. Three different Jiffy Lube URLs [appear] in the result, and one is even duplicated in a right-rail ad. I would expect Google to improve on this.”

Like Greg’s oil change query and Mary’s car wash queries, Kirby Burke, The Search Agency’s Earned Media Manager, looked up a couple service queries as well: electrician and plumber. Both results returned maps which reinforce local intent. They also completely pushed all organic results below the paid ads and six packs:

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Furthermore, adding a geo term to his query (ex: electricians west los angeles) pushed the six pack down and front-loaded three Yelp results. To Kirby, the SERPs seemed identical after he flipped the service and geo (ex: west los angeles electrician).

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These findings demonstrate that with the new Pigeon implementations, Yelp is still dominating for local listings and are subsequently considered very relevant for specifically-targeted queries. Managing profiles in Google My Business and Yelp are no longer optional if SMBs want to compete in local SERPs. SMB’s will need to make sure they are listed and getting active, positive reviews in influential local directories. Similarly, it’s recommended that SMB’s keep an active Google+ business profile with a high-quality images (which could get picked up by Google Carousel) and to encourage customer reviews. These are the staples of natural and fresh content which has a positive association to the main domain.

Maps:

Honing focus further on SERP maps themselves, Kirby compared queries for restaurants near me against restaurants west los angeles. He found:

Queries for restaurants near me and restaurants west los angeles both provide very targeted results, within a few miles of the location. However, a search for restaurants los angeles provides broader results that canvas the greater LA area. Thus, the maps on SERPS appear to be relative to the query.”

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Mega Video:

Embedded within the wide scope of Pigeon updates, The Search Agency team also noticed that some video thumbnails had disappeared from SERPs, replaced instead by fuller-scale Mega Video ads, i.e. Google properties. Matt McKinley, Earned Media Manager, adds, “Mega Videos are a way for Google to promote YouTube. Brands who are optimized and active on YouTube can benefit from this [change] when users do a specific search for a video such as nike the last game rather than more general searches such as soccer videos, which still result in thumbnails.”

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Promoting these larger scale ads also points to Google finding yet another opportunity to engage users within its own properties, expanding avenues for data accumulation.

Carousel:

Kirby continued to evaluate Pigeon changes, investigating what factors affect the new SERP carousel results.

The listings appear to be an aggregate of Google My Business and Zagat (a Google-owned property) listings. I verified carousel appearance for keywords like bars, nightclubs, museums, movies, hotel (note the check-in and check-out date options) and specific food items like pizza, burgers and ramen

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The initial carousel results are not sorted by name, rating, price or any other factors I could discover. Most of the listings have Google My Business profiles and some have Zagat pages too. So having an active presence on both these platforms is highly encouraged.

I also found carousel results for entertainment queries, such as list of hip hop albums, list of popular movies, list of comedy tv shows and list of nba teams, which seem to function differently. Underlined keywords are interchangeable with other, relevant keywords, such as specific genres and sports leagues.”

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Kirby noted that “the carousel also has options to filter results. For example, here are carousels for 2013 Heavy Metal albums and burger places that are cheap ($ or $$), have a rating of 4.0+, and are open now:”

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“The creative works are especially of note because Google lists them as ‘[Creative Work] frequently mentioned on the web.’ Google is obviously tracking these creative works as entities, most likely through semantic markup, and tracking the frequency of occurrence in the index.

Today, the carousel is featuring albums and films. In the future, this could expand to other entities, such as products, places, and events. This reinforces the need to designate entities with semantic markup.”

Overall, Kirby found that “Clicking a carousel item does not lead to product, business, or review pages. Instead, it keeps the user on the search engine results page, updates the query, and displays results for the entity, all while maintaining the carousel at the top of the browser. This allows the user to browse and compare multiple listings within the same window.”

The Search Agents agree that purposed as such, the implementation of this carousel seems to be yet another Google tactic to elongate the duration of its user experiences while at the same time affording Google the opportunity to garner more data during user comparison searches.

Best Practices:

All things considered, Matt McKinley offered best practices to follow regarding these Pigeon updates, saying, “I don’t think [Pigeon] changes local content strategy, just the way it is being ranked. The new local search algorithm has been tied to more traditional Web standards, so you still need quality, natural content with a strong backlink profile to build domain authority and rank locally. If you have multiple locations, having a dedicated local section with unique, relevant content and the targeted city/state in the meta data is recommended. Do not duplicate content across your location pages with the city/state as the only unique factor.”

To reiterate:

  • Make sure you are listed and getting active, positive reviews in influential local directories such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, OpenTable, and TripAdvisor.
  • Keep an active Google+ business profile with a high-quality image (for visibility in the Google Carousel) and encourage customer reviews.

While Pigeon may have landed on our laps in a hurry, seemingly a pest, The Search Agency’s thought leaders find most of its updates to be in line with Google’s commitment to further enhancing its user experience levels. Though SERP kinks may still need some working out, with Pigeon, Google continues to prioritize engaging, readable content in its rankings. Google has also found ways to elongate user experience times, using both in-engine comparison shopping experiences like its carousel, and increased visibility for subsidiary platforms like Mega Video from its YouTube property. These changes provide Google increased data collection opportunities, to help better answer the question; what do searchers want?

Who knows, Pigeon may be the wings on which Google soars to new heights. Only time will tell.

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