Google’s Local 3-Pack is a lucrative opportunity for your retail locations to appear prominently in front of motivated shoppers searching for your local store location, hours and contact information.  The search giant uses the Local 3-Pack to help searchers make an immediate decision; all of the information they need to do so appears right there in the search results. Your listing might include:

  • NAP (name, address and phone number)
  • reviews
  • your business category
  • store hours and open or closed status
  • a tagline/short description
  • a photo
    Google Local 3-Pack

Google feels that being able to provide local searchers the best answer is critical. It’s so important, in fact, that the Local 3-Pack takes the #1 spot in the search results 93% of the time.

You really, really want to appear in the Local 3-Pack.

My colleague Cynthia Sener and I recently participated in the Local Search Association’s How to Use Organic SEO to Rank in Google’s Local 3-Pack webinar and shared tips on how to improve your local visibility, boost engagement at the local level, and optimize your 3-Pack presence for a service area as opposed to physical locations. You’ll want to be sure to read the full write-up as you’re prioritizing your marketing efforts.

We also fielded some questions from participants and promised to follow up with answers for everyone. Whether you are gearing up for the holiday season or have a service to provide year around these are common questions you might have. Keep these Google Local 3-Pack Q&A in mind if you want the best exposure for your local business.    

1. If we have two office locations in the same city and are forced to use the same phone number for both, how can either show up in the local pack?

The Possum algorithm update means Google is likely to filter a location where there is a duplicate phone number. Ideally, you want to have a unique NAP (name, address, phone number) for each location.

If this is not possible, you can apply other strategies to differentiate the two. Try using two different landing pages for each office that contain unique optimizations, hyperlocal content, etc.  

Also note that Google has recently given more slack to the local proximity filter with the new hawk algorithm update. If your two offices can manage to get different phone numbers and are not in the same building, there maybe potential for them both to show up in the local pack.

2. When it comes to local landing pages for a single-service area business (like a sales consultant), how do we differentiate content for different cities within that region?

Use locally relevant images, local marketing copy, geo-identification indicators, unique schema and other types of hyperlocal content to show search engines and consumers your connection to the city at hand. See Integrating Hyperlocal Modified Content to Deliver a More Localized User Experience for more.

Greg Gifford also published an article in 2015 about local content siloing, where he provides insights on how multi-location business can achieve better visibility for multiple-locations. His insights could also apply to a single business that services multiple areas.

3. How many ads will Google be adding to these map listings? Is this something that is targeted within AdWords?

We’ve all seen reports of Google testing paid ads within the Local 3-pack, but as far as a guess on how many they’ll place or how often… well, like everything Google does, it’ll remain a mystery until it happens!

Earlier in the year we have seen reports where the Google Local Pack will sometimes expand to a 4-pack to include both sponsored and organic listings (but Google later reverted back to the 3-pack). There have also been reported instances where the entire local pack is only sponsored ads.   

There is no telling if Google will use all sponsored ads or a combination of paid/organic listings in the local pack. However we estimate they will most likely keep a mixture of organic/paid to avoid looking overly biased with their advertising platforms.

Example of Local Pack with a Paid Listing

Local Pack with a Paid Listing

4. Should we use the website feature within Google My Business (GMB)?

If you have absolutely no budget for a business website, using Google’s free offering is better than not having one at all. However, you should read Bill Hartzer’s cautions on the service overwriting GMB URLs and the lack of optimizations available.

If at all possible, create a website that’s in line with basic local SEO best practices. It’ll give you the solid foundation on which to build as your business grows.

5. Does hiding my physical address from the map hurt me in the local pack?

Most likely, yes. You want a visible NAP on your website landing page because it’s a known, positive ranking signal.  

Excerpt from 2017 Moz Local Ranking Factors

2017 Moz Local Ranking Factors

6. How do you approach location pages in terms of desktop vs mobile (with all of the additional content)?

It’s best to have unique content for each page that is expanded on a desktop landing page, but collapsed on a mobile page. Google does not discount collapsed content on mobile pages because they understand that run on content could be poor mobile user experience.   

Also there may come a point in 2018 with the mobile-first indexing where collapsed content on-page content will not be negated in SEO value for either desktop or mobile searches. However for the time being it’s best to expand content on desktop (because the mobile-first indexing is not yet completely rolled out).

Below is Google representative Gary Illyes response to this question:  

Google representative Gary Illyes

7. How many service area pages should a contractor (like an electrician) create in order to target cities outside their location, without going overboard?

We recommend creating service pages for each zip code outside the target city.

8. How does proximity search work in hyperlocal saturated areas, say when a customer in one city (City A) is searching for a business which is actually in a neighboring city, City B, which is 1 block away.

This Moz article best explains how Google applies the proximity ranking factor. As the author says, Google doesn’t actually know exactly where we are for desktop queries, so it guesstimates based on IP, wifi, and mobile data.

Also Google recently has become more lax on proximity filters via the hawk algorithm update. It’s possible that the business that is only a block away will no longer be filtered (different story if it was in the same building).

The mobile customer in City A would likely still see the result in City B, if Google determines they are just a block away.  

9. We have a client who just dropped organically from 2nd to 7th position in one week. They remain in the 3-pack locally. The only thing we changed is page title.

Here is what happened:

“The page title was: company x, Fairbanks and Anchorage Alaska. Now it’s: company x, Fairbanks, Alaska. They no longer have a location in Anchorage and seem to have lost ranking for searches related to Alaska. Can removal of “Anchorage” cause a drop of ranking?”

There could be a number of reasons why your client dropped organically for this phrase but the title tag is a very strong ranking signal. It’s understandable that your client doesn’t want to confuse customers by having the phrase “Anchorage” in the title tag and in the SERPs. You could update the title tag to “Fairbanks, Alaska (target keyword phrase) | Brand”. While keyword proximity in title tags is a debatable SEO signal, it doesn’t hurt to put the targeted geo phrases first.   

We also recommend to create new custom content that mentions Anchorage on your client’s landing page. It could be, “We are no longer operating in Anchorage, Alaska but we have our office located in Fairbanks.” This will help the search engines further recognize the site’s relevance to Alaska-related queries.

10. If site is responsive but has slow page speeds, should you create an AMP site instead?

AMP is not easy to apply and is not a ranking signal in itself. If you feel inclined to apply AMP, create a target market of AMP pages for the SERPs and understand that these pages may be considered duplicates by Google.  

Instead, first address the download speed issues on your existing responsive template using Google PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom Website Speed Test?

11. Is the Google Website builder showing any advantages for local search rankings?

There was a really good article published about the positives and negatives of using Google Website builder. This service actually limits the SEO potential for a website. Below is a screenshot of the SEO drawbacks of using Google Webmaster builder:

SEO drawbacks of using Google Webmaster builder

12. Is it true that when you have bad reviews, being in the local pack can hurt you?

Google does consider review sentiment as a local SEO signal. However, that might not stop the search engine from putting your listing in the local pack.

If you’re concerned about poor reviews, create a strategy to personally address each one. In some cases, a customer might revise their negative review or remove it outright.  Some studies also suggest that business profiles with only 5-star reviews are considered “too good to be true” by some consumers.

13. How do you recommend naming locations within the same brand? For example, is the Starbucks method best? Is it better to do
[Brand | City/Road/Municipality] or just [City/Road or Municipality]?

This depends on whether the question is about title tag naming or GMB titles. To avoid duplicate title tags, you definitely want to have variations with city/address. Ideally, it should be this format [City/Address | Brand].

For GMB titles, you have to use the company’s legal name to stay within the GMB guidelines.

14. Can a brand create local landing pages for resellers and rank locally?

This is possible but not likely.  Resellers are more likely to rank well organically but the Penguin filter may impact local listings.

15. People say that the phone number needs to be the same on all local listings, but how can we track advertising if we advertise on specific listing such as Yelp?

Having a consistent NAP across multiple directories is a very important foundationally for local SEO tools.

Several call tracking companies now provide technology that allow you to port over an existing number and still enable call tracking metrics. This could be a solution to track phone calls coming in from Yelp.

16. For brands with a templated location page, will reusing intro copy or brand blurbs be filtered as similar listings? Or is it most important to differentiate the NAP info?

It is a very common question we hear if content templates on a multi-location website is being flagged as duplicate content and/or filtered in local listings. From our observations we have never seen a major brand get penalized for localizing a content template on multiple location pages.  Google understands this is a common practice for many large brands. Although custom content is very useful and can be positive SEO signal, it is not always possible to created hundreds if not thousands of different pieces of custom content.

We recommend to localize templated content for multiple brand pages. This means to include variations of different city, state, zip code and address information in the content template.

17. What is a locator?

A locator provides site visitors information to access specific locations. This is most effective way for a multi-location business website to provide a search function that answers location information needs such as the address, phone number and opening hours of a brand’s various locations. See 6 Reasons to Make Optimizing Your Store Locator #1 Priority for more info.

18. Are there ever scenarios (or specific industries) where it may not be beneficial to be in the local pack? For example – say the local pack has a poor CTR…

We have never heard of this scenario. Ideally, a local business should strive to be in both the local & organic listings.

19. What’s your best advice for a service-based business that services the entire country but doesn’t have actual locations in every city/state?

Customers in those states and cities are still going to be looking to access a solution to their need in their local area. Create local landing pages for each service area.

20. In your experience, have you seen using customized images that use actual storefront or landmark photos on location pages increase rankings, CTR or conversion?

Customized images are considered more authentic and trustworthy than stock art images if they are included on GMB listings and location landing pages. There is evidence that this can increase CTR and also make a visitor spend more time on a Google My Business listing and/or local landing page.   

This also indirectly impacts local SEO rankings. Google is now factoring user behavior such as long clicks into their local ranking criteria. So a user who spends more time browsing through multiple authentic photos on a GMB listing or a local landing page is showing extended engagement with the SERP result.  This is considered a positive SEO metric and can increase rankings.

Here is an excellent article about 9 tips for image search engine optimization.

Prepare for the Holidays & Beyond

Realizing that the holidays are right around the corner is certainly a great motivator for getting your listings in order. In 2017, 80% of consumers will be searching online to find information about local businesses. Deloitte expects 2017 retail holiday sales to top $1 trillion, growing as much as 4.5% over the last holiday season.

Preparing for your busy season is one thing, but a sustainable local presence drives sales all year-round. How are you doing right now? Get a Free Local Search Presence Audit today and see where your greatest local marketing opportunities lie.