Google Local Business Listings Shake Up
Google has recently made some major changes to how it displays local business listings when a user makes a local business search. Digital marketers and their local business clients will see significant implications with desktop search, mobile search, and your local SEO strategy.
Keep in mind that this recent Google change is not an “algorithm” change per se, nor is it a change that affects “ranking factors”. Rather this Google update is a big change in the way the search giant displays local business information.
In this article, you’ll learn about this new Google local search update, how Google will now list local business information, and what this update means to search users and your local business.
Update #1: The Local 7-Pack Becomes a 3-Pack Snack
This local business/local search shake up started in early August 2015. Keen SEO’s will remember that on August 7, 2015, legitimate search “guru” Barry Schwartz reported that “Google updated the search results you see in a query that has local intent to show three local businesses instead of seven.
In the language of a local SEO expert, the 7-pack is now a 3-pack. The local pack is not just showing fewer business listings, it is also redesigned to fit more with the mobile user interface.”
To make more sense of this, let’s look for help with using a visual representation. Before this update, if a user made a search query for a “hardware store”, Google would recognize this as a “local search” query and would have delivered something like the following local search 7-pack:
However, today, if a user makes a local search query, they’d see something like this, the new 3-Pack or “Snack-Pack”:
So it’s redesigned to fit a mobile user interface huh?
So why not list all 7, why limit it to 3.?
And what is the criteria to make the Top 3?
What do spots 4-7 need to do to break the barrier?
Why is there a barrier anyway?
These are questions many SEO consultants and companies are asking. Plenty of SEO experts have been discussing the update and these questions but at the end of the day, Google has its own agenda and we just play along.
Barry did get to ask a Google rep for a statement and Google said: “We are constantly exploring the best way to bring a better search experience to our users. This update provides people with more relevant information, including photos, reviews and prices, for searches that have multiple results for a given location.”
Update #2: Increased PPC Ads Above The Fold on Mobile
Another example of Google’s “agenda” is a new finding with regards to local results, PPC Ads, and mobile search.
It seems there’s now increase in the number of Google PPC/AdWords ads showing above the fold on mobile search results.
While this doesn’t specifically apply to local mobile results, it’s sure to impact search visibility for local businesses by pushing the 3-pack below the fold.
So now, it looks like the organic local search 3-Pack gets pushed down further on mobile search. Mobile searchers will now see three text ads instead of two on a small set of queries. Interestingly enough, the ad real estate on the screen remains relatively unchanged with the addition of the third ad.
Here’s what Google has to say about it according to Search Engine Land: “We regularly adjust the way we present ads, and for a small portion of mobile queries we may expand the space for ads if they are particularly relevant.”
So What Does This Mean For Local Businesses?
- If your local business was previously in position 4-7 of the local search results 7-Pack, you’re probably going to experience decreasing website traffic from local search results. This is simply because Google is only showing the Top 3 results for a local search query.
Pro Tip: Google reviews and “social signals” are important ranking factors. Your local business could increase rankings in the local 3-Pack by encouraging your customers to leave positive reviews on your Google My Business Page as well as spreading the love by sharing your content on social media.
- Local businesses will need to shift their strategy to include paid advertising in order to maintain their previous “above-the-fold” positions in local search.
Google AdWords PPC combined with an organic SEO strategy, each going after a unique subset of long-tail keywords, seems like it could be a wise search marketing strategy for local businesses in a competitive environment.
Pro Tip: Combine comprehensive keyword research with broad topics and use that data for both PPC Ad building and an organic SEO strategy. If you’ve completed your customer personas correctly and know exactly who you’re talking to, a savvy digital marketing strategist should be able to artfully craft your business a sexy paid and organic local search strategy.
- Local searches, particularly local mobile searches, are typically made for finding a price, an address, or a phone number.
Since the new local search 3-Pack limits the amount of company information, customers and prospects who are looking for a phone number are now met with friction. Friction meaning they have to hunt harder to find the phone number.
This could be good in that in increases click-through to the business website, or it could be bad in that the user bounces from the search and trying to find your phone number all together, because of the “friction” they experienced.
Pro Tip: Be sure to include schema mark up on your website, geo-tags, as well as any other data with your company name, address, and phone number. Make sure the formatting of all your contact information is consistent all across the internet, on all your web and social media platforms.
So Google is at it again. Making updates and changes that significantly affect users, businesses, SEOs, and digital marketers. It’s important to stay on top of these changes, especially the recent updates with local search.
Google has made some important changes to the way it displays local business listings based on a user’ local search query.
Ranking in the top 3 of the local results is now more important for local businesses than ever before.
Here’s a summary of Google’s recent changes to local search results:
- As of August 7, 2015, Google’s local search listings now show a 3-Pack instead of the previous 7-Pack of local results. The number of organic results remains the same.
2. Many local companies should increase their local ad spend and local SEO budget to keep up consistent traffic. Keep in mind that ads may be taking up more and more space above the fold (especially on mobile).
3. A large map has been added to the local search 3-pack, taking up a lot of valuable space above the fold. This should help with engagement in the local search results area of Page 1.
4. Address and phone number have been removed from many local search results, making it increasingly difficult for users to find phone numbers easily, when making a local search.
5. Desktop and mobile results are now in the same format. (Results still may be different.)
6. Photos have been removed from many searches and the review stars are not displayed for most branded searches.
With all these changes it’s still important to note that the search results displayed will vary a great deal depending on the local business type.
So what’s your plan? Stay the course, continue your organic SEO strategy, or consider a paid search/PPC campaign moving forward?
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