Google Update Shrinks Local Pack to Three Items

In the ever-changing world of SEO there has been another update. In early August, 2015 (about Aug. 6), Google updated its results page structure and user experience for localized queries. Here is a breakdown of changes we have observed and our take on new focus areas. For the search query “Dentist Lake Forest,” Google provided the following local result on desktop.

Google Local Pack Result Update

Here is a closer look at the local pack itself.

Google Local 3 Pack close upNote: During the same session of research, there were small fluctuations in the 3 pack.

Here is an example of what a typical  local pack used to return in terms of search results pre-update. Depending on inventory, a 7-pack ranking from A-G would be returned, but small packs of 3 could be spotted in less competitive areas.
Google 7 Pack result

Image via Searchengineland.com

Clearly, the big change is the number of listing dropping from 7 to 3.  There are also a lot of features / utilities that have changed that will impact how searchers fundamentally find localized results. Let’s go over the new clickable paths of the local pack.Local Pack Numbered

Clickable user paths.

 

1. Click anywhere in the Map area and you will be taken to the Local Finder Page. This is where we see a list of  twenty local listings on each page. The volume of pages will depend on the inventory of listing in that localized area.
Local Finder Page
2. Click on the Business Name, Street Name, or Reviews of a business listing and you will be taken to the Local Finder Page with a Knowledge panel open of the location that was clicked on.

Local Finder with Selection
3. Click on the Globe Icon, Website and you will be taken to the business’s website of the listing.

4. Click Directions and be taken to a Google maps page with the preset of the location as the destination already filled out.

image11

5. Click More “Keyword” or dentist in this case and be taken to the Local Finder Page.

Also added to this update is the current hours of the day. e.g. “Open until 7:00 pm, Closed.”

For Branded Terms of multiple unit locations including Franchises the local pack is slightly different. There is an added A, B, C ranking and Reviews are omitted.

Now that we know what the current clickable user paths are, let’s look at what has been subtracted from the old local pack and how that may impact the new user experience.

Branded Local Pack Results

 

Changed or subtracted elements

1. Clicking on the Business Name used to take the user to the location’s website or plus.google.com page; now it goes to the Local Finder Page with a Knowledge Panel open of the location selected.

2. Clicking on the Google reviews used to take you to the Google reviews. Now,  the user is directed to the Local Finder Page with a Knowledge Panel open of the location selected.

3. Clicking on Google+ page used to take you to the connected Google+ page, now the user is directed to the Local Finder Page with a knowledge panel open of the location selected.
1Old Pack, what has changed

The subtraction of these elements increases the utility of ads for local results; it is no longer an unequal match of 3 local results vs 10 local ads. With the removal of the phone number from the local pack, the only way a user will see a local business phone number is on an ad. See below.

Google Results page with Phone Numbers in the Ads
Mobile is a topic for another time but, this is the mobile result from Google in Safari for the same search query. Yes, that is a wall of ads.

Google Local results for Mobile
Assuming Local Optimization is being done for overall better rankings, here are new focus areas based on this update.

Key take-a-ways and action steps.
Understand how fluid the local pack is. Even while doing research for this post, top three listing would fluctuate. Searcher’s IP will be a ranking factor.

1. More power has been granted to Local ads.
By taking up more usability and relevance away from the local pack, this will likely result in increased performance for Local Extensions and Call Extensions for Local Ads and the top 3 ad positions. The higher right columns ads have increased in value as well.

What to do?
If you are not using them already, consider testing Local Extensions and Call Extensions in your ads. Spend more time making your ads more locally relevant now that they have increased in value.

2. The Local Finder page is the new battle ground.
More traffic will be going here. Clicks on the Map, Business Name, Reviews will all land on this page.
Local Finder page Dentist
The Local Finder Page is very responsive and is unlike the past More Local Result listings that were integrated on google maps pages. This page is built for inputs.

  • If you Zoom out or in enough, the listings will re-rank.
  • If you Select a portion on the map, the listings will re-rank.
  • If you Select a listing, the listings will re-rank.
  • If you change the size of your browser or display, the listings will re-rank.

 

 

 

If two people in the same house preform the same query, they may get two different top three results based on their screen size.

Small Size vs Full Size


What to do? 
First impressions mean everything. Given that fact that results will be constantly re-ranking depending on searcher inputs and physical proximity of the searcher, your listing must be attractive as possible.

Here are some steps to make your listing more competitive in the Local Finder. “Spoiler” reviews are a big ranking factor here.

  1. Have your hours current and showing.
  2. Get at least five reviews to get a star rating.
  3. Work towards getting a higher star rating than your competitors.
  4. Work towards getting a higher volume of reviews.
  5. Make sure your knowledge panel has curb appeal (good photos) and social proof (good reviews). See the images below for examples of panels in the local finder (with at least five reviews vs without):

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.35.36 AM
Below is another location with at least five reviews. Notice the added stars under the business name and the review bar graph. Another positive thing about having at least five reviews and having the review bar graph is that the competitors box of listings under the “People also search forarea will be buried under the reviews, until the Knowledge Panel is scrolled down.

Google + page with reviews

As the saying goes, change is the only certainty. Knowing what changes have been made and what has increased and decreased in value will help you adapt and thrive in your marketplace.

Update as of 9/16/2015

Here are two Google My Business Insights screenshots of the last 90 days of two listings. The top image has maintained it’s position on top of the local pack and the other has been bumped out.

Although it’s too early to judge the impact of the update here, overall the clicks haven’t changed too much. This may be showing an early indicator of an uptrend for directions clicks though.
Top of Google Local Pack insights
Below is a listing that has recently been bumped from the local pack and usually sits around the fourth or fifth position in the Local Finder Page. There is more context needed here but looking at this data alone, search views have gone down, but clicks haven’t been as impacted. This simply means that local results could be more relevant.

Insights out of the Pack

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James Sunderland

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