Earlier this month, Google modified the map results to render three local business results rather than the seven that have graced desktop local search for the past several years. The ‘map pack’ terminology used by the search community has been degraded to ‘stack pack,’ ‘snack pack’ for restaurants or for those more upset at the design, ‘crap pack.’
This design update, which trims first-page map results and limits information (with teasers like street name, but no address), seems a bit like the afterbirth of Google’s Mobilegeddon movement. It creates a mobile-dominant uniformity of interface within Google itself and limits a local business’s exposure to consumers seeking their goods or services. As VC Fred Wilson said, “Mobile does not reward feature richness.”
Here’s what the updated 3-pack looks like for the query ‘barber shop san francisco’ on desktop:
Compared to the same query on an android mobile device:
Despite the omission of the directions link on Android mobile browsers, it appears that iOS mobile browsers are still showing full business addresses and directions links. Currently, the Google 3-Pack update does not appear to have any consistency across mobile search.
Here is the same local search query performed on an IOS mobile device:
In addition, paid ads (represented as sponsored results) now look similar to the organic local listings:
As users acclimate to this new design, they will realize that the shortest path to the information and details they seek will likely be the website link on the right. Businesses now have a phenomenal opportunity to engage, problem-solve, and attract consumers to their website and front door if they can present location-specific landing pages in the feed to Google My Business.
Key Changes with the 3-Pack Update
Aside from changing the number of listings, several other factors may impact local search exposure for businesses, changing the way search users get information in what Google calls the consumers’ micro-moments of need, based on time, location proximity, price, and context of experience:
- Change in flow: Business names now link to a second-level Google Map page rather than the business website, which was the historical flow. This mirrors the behavior on mobile search, requires a bit of back and forth between Google and the business’s website, and may bury the local business-specific information consumers are looking for.
- Full address info and phone numbers were removedon desktop results, requiring additional clicks to see what 38% of consumers may need.
- There are still no ‘visible’ phone numbers or full addresses on several mobile browsers, although inconsistently there are some mobile results that offer a click-to call button.
- All links to Google+ pages have been removed, which supports G+ as a casualty of Google’s foray into Social.
- Business hours are presented, with an additional ‘closed now’ note when the business is closed for the day (relative to the date/time the search was performed).
- Increased user interaction on Google products (with ultimately more ad views)
- Users will see an overview of additional local listings, for a total of 20 listings, when clicking through to a listing (other than the ‘Website’ link).
- Some local listings are sponsored ads, though they blend subtly with organic results, given the similar look and feel.
- Feast or famine? While the competition for local is increasingly competitive and the functionality more desirable to consumers in-the-moment, the search results provide consumers first with just three results, then overwhelmingly with 20 results on another Google Map page.
We do not believe this coincides directly with any algorithm updates that would affect rank, but this is a moving target right now. The new map results appear to have been deployed globally.
Our Observations: Be Your Local Searcher’s Hero
By limiting first page information and results to a mobile design, Google can hold searchers captive for a few more moments, clicks, and pages, with greater opportunity for paid exposure.
The interface flow emulates mobile, but without the efficiencies of first page information like phone number, address, full hours of operation, organization and action. “Closing at 6 today” is relevant, but if you want more information about weekly hours, the shortest path to those details may be the website link. This presents businesses an opportunity to be the hero and attract consumers to their site with answers to local needs, completely viewable from one page and packed with critical decision-making information like inventory, price, and menu.
This update leaves users unable to search Google for a local business and quickly jot down a phone number or memorize an address for later use; an additional click is required to find the information they seek. Also, it’s becoming increasingly cumbersome to click through directly to a company website from the information on the local listing results, because it requires more clicks to do so. Desktop users have the option to click directly on ‘Website,’ but mobile users don’t have that information readily available.
The SEO community is abuzz with speculation about the 3-Pack update; some feel it’s a way for Google to show more local results without taking up too much space in the first SERP.
No matter what the buzz is, this update improves the experience of mobile users (faster access to main information, optimized mobile usability, etc.), but the changes may be perceived as a step backward for the desktop.
How to Stay in the Local Game with the Updated 3-Pack
Now more than ever, a solid local SEO strategy will be absolutely necessary and should become top priority. According to Search Engine Land, the main 5 signals for local SEO are:
- Actively managed and verified Google My Business Page
- External Location Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.)
- On-Page SEO
Despite the omission of the Google+ link in the local 3-Pack, it’s still imperative to receive reviews via the Google+ business listings. Local businesses should still focus on directing customer reviews to Google+ business listings, since these are the only reviews Google uses in their local results at this time.
Another important SEO best practice is to focus on citations. There is evidence that citations are factored into the Google local SEO ranking criteria. Make sure that your local businesses are thoroughly and accurately listed in the major directories and properly feeding into data aggregators.
Pitting local and organic strategy against one another or feeling you have to choose one or the other is not recommended. Both strategies should be implemented simultaneously; following current best practices ensures that all of your organic efforts will work towards the ‘holistic’ success of your website and business, not just one or the other.
This update underscores the importance of local — 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information (Google) — and that local info is now front and center in Google results. It’s particularly important to:
- syndicate your local business information to search engines, aggregators and directories
- integrate Google assets onto local pages
- add local Schema mark-up
- link local landing pages from search map listings
- use local management software like Rio SEO to automate local efforts
Plan to monitor, review and respond to user reviews. Keep in mind that even though users now have fewer options in the initial local listings, once they click through to the additional overview, they’ll see a total of 20 listings, many within their desired local area. Reviews – good or bad – have an impact on what a user eventually selects, since a high-ranking listing with lower scores may be perceived as ‘less authoritative’ than a lower-ranking result with higher scores.
Ultimately, users want a high quality product or business that others use and trust. If you are in a restaurant-related business, your ratings are now even more crucial with this latest update. In highly populated areas or competitive markets, start thinking about those reviews now so you’re prepared if and when Google expands this rating selection for rankings.
It will be interesting to see, in the coming weeks and months, how the new features and function of the 3-pack affect traffic analytics for businesses competing for the same local results on Google. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to adhere to local SEO best practices so that no one will be able to bump you out of that top three.
There is more to come. Stay tuned as we continue to conduct our own research on this new development.