Notice something different the last time you searched for a local business? You’re not alone. As documented by Jason Decker of Search Engine Land, Google has made several changes to the way in which it displays results for local businesses. The changes, which have been noticed on both desktop and mobile searches, are not so much a change in local search ranking factors, but a change in the way that local results are displayed.
From Six Pack to Snack Pack
As Decker explains, Google has traditionally displayed 6-7 local listing results before displaying organic results. Now, many searchers are noticing a reduction to just three results, or a “snack pack” as Decker calls it. This means it is extra important to do everything you can with regards to local SEO strategies to land your business within this so-called “snack pack” of results. This section also includes a map of the top three-or-so businesses that takes up a decent amount of real estate. Also, there has seemingly been a decrease in the display of business’ phone numbers within this section.
More Ads on Mobile
Another change is an increase in above-the-fold ads on mobile, which has effectively pushed local listing results to below the fold. In the example given in the Search Engine Land article, only ads were displayed above the fold for the search term, “furniture store Atlanta.”
Home Services Ads
As previously discussed on our blog, Google has been testing a new AdWords format for home service professional as far back as July. While beta testing was performed in the San Francisco area, the new format seems to be rolling out in more locations. In many cases, the paid home service professional ad results are displayed in place of the organic “3-pack” or “snack pack.” These paid results are somewhat deceiving, as they are very transparent and it’s not immediately obvious that they are ads, save for a small “Sponsored” label. For service professionals augmenting their local SEO strategies with paid ads, this is a big win.
The major changes to local results have been covered, but there are some smaller changes to note. Local results have included fewer photos, review star ratings have been removed for branded searches, and in some cases, local businesses’ addresses have been removed.
There are a few important takeaways here. For one, Google seems to be favoring paid results over organic results when it comes to local searches. The search engine has always given preferential treatment to those utilizing AdWords with top-of-page positioning, but now it seems that is giving advertisers the landscape that used to belong to organic results. This is certainly something to keep an eye on for marketers using both organic and paid strategies. While those using local SEO strategies may feel as though they need to allocate their resources towards AdWords, this is only partially true. While AdWords can certainly yield results more quickly, marketers should not be so quick to abandon local SEO – if anything, marketers should spend more time trying to rank in the coveted “snack pack” of results.