Post by Erik Bergstrom, SEO Analyst
On August 6th, webmasters began seeing a big change on Google’s search engine results page (SERP). The 7-pack of local results Google usually serves slimmed to 3. Local results appear below paid ads and above organic listings on the SERP. These local-pack listings make it convenient for searchers to connect with brick-and-mortar stores in proximity.
Google is always testing. Yet, weeks after the 3-pack was first spotted, it remains on the SERP and looks like it’s here to stay. Because Google’s optimizations are focused around improving user experience, it seems as if the 3-pack has been generating more user engagement than the previous local-pack.
But, with this update, local business are now being left out. How can brands prepare for the future of the local-pack?
Beyond moving from 7 listings to 3, the local-pack has also changed in the following ways:
- Exact addresses were removed from each listing. Instead of returning 123 Main Street, the local-pack will now simply state Main Street, removing the building number. For example, when searching “comic book stores” in Chicago, the following local-pack displays:
- Notice that the building numbers were removed, sporting sleeker, mobile-friendly design. Google has made this change with mobile in mind, as we look at the same search on a mobile device:
- Ratings have become more prominent. Users now have the ability to filter out listings by choosing to show only those above a certain number of stars. With this new feature, it’s more likely that users will seek the best-reviewed business.
- Phone numbers are no longer listed; only a “call” icon shows for mobile searches:
- Other changes include removing Google+ links, adding store hours, no longer labeling the reviews as “Google Reviews,” and—when selecting a listing (without clicking-through to a website)—taking searchers to a page showing additional local listings, information and a larger map:
There are 2 overarching implications from Google’s latest local-pack update:
1) Google is furthering its focus on mobile. The first 3 results on a mobile device are visible without needing to scroll, so shortening local results and removing information (like telephone number) in favor of slimmed-down design promotes a better mobile user experience.
2) Results 4-7 were most likely seeing noticeable drop-off in traffic and over-complicating the SERP. Google doesn’t make changes of this magnitude without substantial data, meaning listings further down the SERP weren’t seeing comparable traffic to the first 3 listings.
- While this may be a benefit for users, brands may experience negative implications from this update. Even if listings 4-7 weren’t receiving much click-traffic, these listings were still receiving quality brand exposure.
We see this as further evidence of Google favoring quality over quantity. With less listings and the ability to filter by rating, local competition is becoming stiffer. This will force the hand of local businesses to adhere to Google’s best practices and further optimize their sites to compete for a top 3 local listing.
So how do brands appear in the top 3 local-pack results?
- Follow SEO best practices and work with keyword-optimized pages for optimal organic search visibility
- Encourage and build review portfolios on Google+ and Yelp
- Ensure brick-and-mortar locations are correctly listed through sources such as Google+, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook, Citysearch and other citation sites
- Analyze and improve link portfolios with trustworthy backlinks and remove those that might appear spammy
- If you’re still not appearing in the top 3 local-pack listings, analyze your competitors to understand, from a user perspective, why Google is favoring their local results being displayed. This will go a long way in determining what tactics or factors are appreciated in specific verticals or locations.
Ensuring your site is SEO-optimized with keyword-optimized META data, a solid aggregate rating, correct listings and a strong link portfolio will go a long way in helping Google (and users) trust your business listing.