What is Pigeon?

Pigeon – A Google search engine algorithm intended to serve up locally targeted information for certain searches. Google Pigeon Update was released on July 24, 2014, and helps users find local businesses from broad keyword searches.

The pigeon was designed to tie Google’s local search algorithm closer to its web algorithm and to improve ranking parameters based on distance and location. The local SEO community reported daily changes to local and local-organic rankings for weeks following the Pigeon rollout, including the widespread replacement of the older 7-pack style of local results with packs featuring just 3 listings.

Pigeon Purpose

  1. One of Google’s stated purposes for the Google Pigeon Update was to connect their local algorithm more deeply to their traditional web algorithm to take full advantage of the hundreds of ranking signals that go into the web algorithm. These new ties to the web algorithm further emphasized the need for local businesses to have a strong organic web presence in order to compete for local rankings.
  2. At the same time, Pigeon was slated as featuring improvements to Google’s ability to calculate a local businesses’ distance and location. In many cases, it appeared that the search radius had been narrowed, favoring businesses that were closest to the physical location of the searcher. For example, when searching for a query like “pizza san Francisco,” a user in the North Beach area of San Francisco would receive local results narrowed to that neighborhood instead of city-wide results. The full extent of Pigeon’s impacts on the local packs were quite challenging to document since ranking fluctuations were rampant for weeks following the update, with some local SEOs theorizing that Google may have been A/B testing different results sets.
    With map boundaries redrawn to a narrower radius (either as part of the Pigeon update or as a result of a concurrent A/B test) post-Pigeon, many businesses found themselves suddenly outside of the packs in which they were previously ranking. Fast forward several years and Google has become remarkably expert at divining metrics like the distance between a searcher and a business, and Google Pigeon Update may be seen most clearly as a step along that path.

The 7 Pack

One of the most notable outcomes of Pigeon was the loss of 7-pack local results (Google’s sets of 7 local business listings that were commonly shown when a search engine query had local intent, such as “pizza Chicago” or “attorney in Denver”). Over the course of time, Google has steadily decreased the number of local business listings it displays in its local results packs, initially starting with 10 listings and, in 2015, switching to just 3 listings per pack in nearly all cases. Pigeon rolled out one year before the mass switch to 3-packs and may be seen in hindsight as a step toward full adoption of these downsized packs. This reduction of pack size left many businesses outside of the local results, struggling as never before for local visibility.


Google Updates

As with many Google updates, the Pigeon update appeared to result in a temporary increase of spam listings making their way into the packs, emphasizing the local algorithm’s critical weaknesses as well as the need for the public to voluntarily report violations of Google’s guidelines. One particularly frustrating aspect of Pigeon surrounded Google’s ongoing and as-of-yet unresolved inability to differentiate between legitimate business names and ones that have been edited to contain exact match keywords. Local packs featuring spammy business names proliferated, pushing guideline-compliant businesses out of the packs.


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