More threads by Linda Buquet

Linda Buquet

Local Search Expert
Jun 28, 2012
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OK so... everyone wrongly assumes and keeps saying that the Pigeon algo is more about traditional organic ranking factors. But here is a case where you have an organic ranking penalty. But still ranks in the A spot. Typically to rank high in the pack, you also need a high organic ranking.

So this pretty much proves that Pigeon is not only about organic ranking factors.
It's not just about organic, there are many other local factors in the mix. However organic is normally very important - this just shows you can still rank in local even with an organic penalty.

I wanted to share an interesting case I was working on at the Google Webmaster forum. I think this has come up once or twice here at our forum, but this is such a good example that I wanted to share.

Here are comments/theories thrown around between Ashley, a very sharp Top Contributor at the Google Webmaster forum and myself.

Want to share some of the theories too and see what YOU think!

Still violating quality guidelines after link removal - Google Webmaster Forum

Arron talks about an organic penalty and shows messaging he's gotten from Google, so we know he has some type of organic penalty.

I searched for the main KW from his title tag + city: Swimming pool builder Omaha, NE
Didn't find him in the top 5 pages, but didn't take time to check further.

Like I said, we've discussed this before, but I think it was pre-Pigeon.

Here are some theories Ashley and I discussed. Wonder what you think???


Linda - So this pretty much proves that Pigeon is not only about organic ranking factors.

Ashley - Maybe. It can also say that Pigeon may be an algorithm that is not running on the same frequency as the algorithm that pulled his site down in main ranking too, right?

Ashley - My *very limited* view is that the local algorithms may lower the importance of some factors, and heighten the importance of others. So the factors that are more important in the main algorithm may be of lesser value in the 7-pack. Competition is of course also very different. Conjecture, of course.

Linda - That's a good point too and possible. But I've seen it a lot and for sites that we believe have had an organic penalty for a long time. So me and others that have speculated feel like somehow the local algo just does not see or excludes the organic penalty somehow.

But of course that's all just conjecture and yes it varies and always depends in part on the competition. Totally agree.

Ashley - That would be interesting if some organic penalties only affected some organic search results (and not local). I wonder if so, if it's by design or a little whoopsy.

FYI Ashley is one smart cookie!

So what do you think?

What's your theory???

EDITED TO ADD: I found the other post and WOW it's an eye opener.
<a href="">Google Pigeon Forgives Penguin Penalties???</a>
See the part about the local penalty buffer!

<meta property="og:type" content="article"><meta property="og:title" content=""><meta property="og:description" content="CAN YOU RANK AT TOP OF THE PACK, EVEN WITH AN ORGANIC PENALTY? WHY, YES YOU CAN!">
<meta property="og:image" content="">

Very interesting. I am eager to hear what others might think is happening.
I found the other post:

<a href="">Google Pigeon Forgives Penguin Penalties???</a>

WOW it's an eye-opener. Can't believe I forgot about that one! I mean, I knew we'd discussed but forgot about all the details.

Joshua Macken said:

Unbeknownst to almost the entire local SEO community it seems, Penguin actually doesn’t affect the local search results. The local pack seems to act like a buffer against it. Which is extremely odd as you would think Google would make sure anyone caught by Penguin was banished from all ability to rank well.

The “buffer” we’re talking about means that if you were penalized by Penguin and took a death drop to the bottom of the red section (organic), you would still survive in the green section (local pack). Odd, right?

Read on at the link above for more!
Thanks for sharing Linda as this is a case I hadn't seen before.

I have assumed - I know, I know...dont assume - that ever since the Pigeon update, the Local Map Pack was operating under a different sort of Algorithm. Now, maybe as Ashley stated, Pigeon isnt updating at the same frequency as the other algorithms. If what Ashley is saying regarding lowering importance of some factors and increasing other factors, wouldnt that be the same as a new sort of Algorithm?

It seems obvious to me that the Local Pack is operating under different terms than Organic search as the Map Pack continues to list spammy, fake listings and the Organic looks much cleaner than before. The Local Pack is also based more on distance, relevance, intent, citations and reviews than the Organic which still takes into account unique content and links moreso than Local.
We've had clients rank in the pack after we set up a GMB page for them, and were still working on cleaning up penalties. It was pre-pigeon though. Interesting to see that its still not looking at organic penalties!
Thanks for weighing in Brian and Kate!

Ray Rod just weighed in at the Local Search Pros Community:

I had this situation happened 3 years ago with a lawyer in a big city.. They were ranking and stuck in D spot for a very high competitive keyword and their website had a manual penalty and a lot of spammy links. Their site was page 8-9 in the organic results. Once we were able to track a lot of the spammy links and remove the manual penalty, the website started to move slowly back up. Sometime later after a lot of work the site went back to page 1 organic and their listing went to B spot

Anyone else with thoughts or experiences to share?
This could be why every once in a while I see someone rankings A-B-C in the pack and nowhere in organic! I thought maybe the search phrase was pulling a different algo. This makes alot more sense.

This COULD be another example (I say "could" because I don't know that there's a penalty for sure):

If you look at, the site is B but not anywhere in organic. Then if you go to the link profile it looks like they've been cleaning up a bunch of backlinks since last year (59 pages to 17). This could indicate unnatural link patterns being cleaned up, but again-- Im not 100% sure if this is what's happening in this case.

I've had sites that had organic penalties and still had top pac rankings. More than one.

The sites were old. The sites had a lot of old anchor text links from nondescript directories from a long long time ago. That was google's issue.

Organic penalties were primarily against those specific anchor text phrases. Had to disavow them all. Had to keep doing it and doing it and doing it.

Meanwhile there were a lot of top of PAC rankings. Organic and PAC: there is overlap, but there are also differences.

As businesses we want traffic every way we can get it. We want it from the PAC, we want it from organic, we want it from the long tail, we want it from adwords (if it doesn't cost an arm and a leg).

All traffic is good, but some is better. Some is very logical and on target with potential buying intent. Some might be lookers, or some might be buyers.

You might need to employ a DUI attorney immediately. A high PAC listing is invaluable. You might be interested in dance lessons, but there is no immediacy to it. All kinds of visibility is helpful including of course a PAC listing.

Anyway we had a variety of cases with penalties applied to various organic phrases while high PAC rankings remained. After we cleaned up the google penalties we had both. Before we cleaned up the organic side we still had the high PAC rankings.
WilliamHarvey, a Level 10 @ the Webmaster Forum just weighed in with this:

Most sites that I've seen sites hit with Penguin and Manual link penalties that have stayed within the 7 pack.

Only when they start to disavow their back links they sometimes drop out. So for me the drop mostly occurs when you start removing/disavowing links. It's kind of a catch 22 situation.
So if the site gains most of their traffic from local then they need to seriously consider the effects of removing link to overcome SERP penalties.

But there are also times when you receive a manual penalty (not penguin) and drop from the local pack at the same time. And I can only put that down to a trust filter which Google have started dishing out. And the OP has posted this above:
Be considered to be less trustworthy than sites that follow the quality guidelines
Personally I think algorithmic penalties have no effect on the local pack, but they pick up on the signals - links. And manual comes down to the type of manual penalty you get.

I have a good handle on local but I'm no way an expert. Someone that's worked with multiple more sites than myself may see different patterns.
Our experience would confirm what WilliamHarvey stated.

There was negligible organic impact by mass disavowing of links. PAC ranking might have been negligibly weighted but in our cases it was only reflected in rankings from wide ranging views around the region. Maybe a little droppage, but not much.

I really believe that even with overlap of some organic elements in the pac ratings...the local pac and organic are treated significantly different on many levels.

One indication is that various "types of impacts on either organic or Local/Pac have different "staying power" in terms of time.

They are treated differently.
Glad to see this is making rounds again :)

I think the answer is simple. I think Pigeon just ignores the penalty and counts the "juice" the website would be giving without the penalty.

These websites with organic penalties were crushing their ranking, more than likely, before getting hit by Penguin. They were abusing the system and it was working for them because Google wasn't able to differentiate between their good and bad links and just counted them all.

When Penguin came out, with each iteration, it got better and better at figuring out which links were bad and which were good. People look at Penguin and just focus on the penalty. The other part of the equation is with each new Penguin update, a new and better (debatable) algorithm gets put in place to keep the bad links from counting. At least that's how I would imagine they do it as it makes the most sense from a search quality angle and I've seen a bit of anecdotal evidence to back this up but no where near conclusive.

So, it would seem likely that not only is Pigeon, or more appropriately the "local pack", not only ignoring the penalty but may also be ignoring the Penguin filter of what is a good or what is a bad link. It may just be counting them all. Somehow I honestly doubt this, I would imagine their on-site SEO is well done and there are some links they still have that are helping and maybe even the strong anchor text that they've built (likely why they got hit back Penguin in the first place) is carrying over when it shouldn't.

Whew, too many possibilities.

But I guess the bottom line is just that local packs are ignoring penalties. If you can't find a website that is in the local pack in the organic section, it's probably because there's a penalty, not because they've got a ton of Facebook checkins or whatnot.

As for Pigeon, this thing is still wonky. Local pack results hardly ever reflects organic in my experience, even with organic penalties accounted for. To me, that says that even though Google says they went back to "traditional web signals" they either didn't tell the whole truth or they've weighted a major factor in the web search algorithm higher in local.

It's all really confusing and Google's vague explanation of Pigeon obviously only tells half the story, if any of it.
I'll jump in and give my two cents here.

The local rankings use a different algorithm than regular websearch. Here are a couple of places where John Mueller has talked about this in hangouts: (Starts at 5:15)


He says, "Why are Google local results not affected by a manual unnatural penalty? I?m not sure how Google Plus local results are combined. I imagine they use their own ranking criteria and don?t necessarily use those from websearch?

Now, this is talking about a site with a manual penalty and not Penguin, but still, what I infer from this is that organic algorithms like Penguin likely don't affect the local results as well.

Here is another: (Starts at 15:36)


John was asked the following, "So with regards to the sites being hit by a penalty?.it affects the normal site rankings but will it actually affect the local rankings as well?"

And John's response was, "So you specifically mean the local business rankings...the map results? That?s not something that?s directly tied into the web search results so I don?t know how they would handle this situation...they have similar algorithms, but I?m not really sure about that. But in general, when it comes to the web search results, even for localized queries where we?re showing normal web search results, that?s something where this could come into play...With regards to maps and local business entries that?s something that?s generally handled completely separately.

I have seen Penguin hit sites that dropped severely in organic listings but were able to maintain their maps listings. When you have a case like this you have to be really judicious in how you go about cleaning up your links because you need to make sure you keep your citations that are likely helping you with your local rankings.
Thanks for your insights Joshua!

And Marie, really glad you saw this thread! Should have thought to ping you, so glad you caught it.

Really interesting comments from John. He sounds totally removed from local, like he does not even know much about how the algo works. I think the 2 are much more intertwined than he realizes or lets on - except in the case of penalties like this.
Thanks for that info Marie! Thats along the lines of what I was thinking but couldnt confirm.
I took a look at the domain farm theory and I don't think that's accurate. Run search commands for:



site: has many pages indexed while the other domain just has a /backup page indexed which redirects to This isn't a domain farm, it's just someone who was a little sloppy when changing domains. It looks like the link profile is less than ideal, so maybe they tried to ditch the old domain and get a new site up. They may have been a little careless getting them over and kept the old site live. Trying to give the benefit of the doubt here.

The fact there's actually a 301 redirect in place for pages on means there was some intention to get users to the domain. My opinion is that's less about a domain farm/manipulation and more about sloppy execution on the developers part.
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We had a client that came in with a manual penalty (links) back in October. They were not in the top 50 for their main keywords but were still ranking 1-3 in the maps for various phrases. Their penalty was officially removed mid December (although we saw rankings improve a few weeks prior.) The map results are mainly 1-2 now, but I would say that the improvement in maps wasn't due to the removal of the penalty but due to the good links we were building along with removing the bad. Either way, didn't seem as if Penguin affected the maps at all.

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