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Google Local Pack Changes

Have you noticed a change when you search for local businesses lately? Perhaps you’re wondering where the phone number went? Google did another update in August to their Google Local Pack search results, changing the way businesses close by are shown.

New local pack display:
Google Local Pack

Some of the major changes rolled out were:

  • For local results, you will now only see 3 businesses displayed (as opposed to 7 previously)
  • You can click to their website or map, but the business phone number is no longer there
  • Exact business address no longer shows on listing
  • There’s no longer an expanded fly-out map view that shows photos and more info about the business at a glance
  • Business hours have been added to the listing

So what does this mean?
This update is good news and (mostly) bad news for business owners.

The Bad
The Local Pack used to be a pretty easy way to land on the first page of search results if you had a business address in the search city. If you weren’t allocating a budget to organic SEO you would actually still have a chance to land on the first page by simply claiming your Google business listing. Not so much anymore. With your odds narrowed, it’s harder to secure a spot in the top 3 local pack results.

Even Worse
As usual, Google’s response to why this update was made is that they are continually looking to improve users’ experience. They also did not state what the criteria is to land in the top 3 spots. We’re guessing it’s a complicated algorithm (i.e. smoke  & mirrors) based on the relevancy of the website to the search. Google+ pages and activity do not seem to impact your placement in the local pack. Whereas in recent years Google has quite clearly pushed Google+ by favoring active users in search results, they seem to have abandoned that strategy.

The Good
With local pack now only taking 3 listings, that leaves more room for organic listings on page 1. Business owners who have invested in good organic SEO should see a return on this investment and will no longer risk being bumped off the first page by some other local competitor who was taking a map spot on the old results.

Even Better
If you happen to be one of the local 3 that Google is displaying in the local pack, you will have an increase in click to your website. Why? Because the phone number and address is no longer displayed at a glance. It’s still questionable to me how user friendly that is, but it’s certainly good news for business owners in the top 3.

So what should your strategy be?
In conclusion, this rollout is pretty frustrating for local businesses and those who work with local SEO. The best approach is to continue or put in place a good local SEO approach, knowing that placement in the local pack is basically a crapshoot at this point. If you lost ground with this rollout, consider adding to your adwords budget temporarily until you regain organic listings. Meanwhile, put in some good SEO work and try to get you listing directly under the local pack.

And lastly, some pure speculation/rants before I sign off:
When these rollouts happen I immediately wonder: What is the objective with this new Google Local Pack rollout?  So let’s speculate for a minute:

  • Rollout objective option 1: Improving search experience for users by narrowing down the local selection to the most relevant businesses.This would be a rather good & noble objective, however, without knowing the determining factors it’s hard to say if this is in fact what they are achieving. It might be one of the public objectives behind the rollout, but I’m doubtful if this is really being fair to the user (not to mention local business owners).
  • Rollout objective option 2: Increase usage of AdwordsDing-ding-ding! We have a winner! What’s the fastest way to get on page 1? Ads, of course! Why let businesses get on the first page for free, when you can make them pay for it? And with numerous changes being made to Google adwords lately, it hardly seems like a coincidence that changes to local pack took many a local business off the first page.

These are of course complete speculations on my part, perhaps you have some thoughts to add to it? Use the comment section below, I’d love to hear what you think.

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