Google recently updated the way they display results for search queries they deem to be location specific.

Local searches, such as “plumber in Nottingham”, used to return a list of up to seven local businesses at the top of Google’s results in what used to be termed the “seven pack“. However, Google now displays just three local results instead of seven. On top of this, changes have also been made to the design of the local business listings and the information presented.

In short, there is now much less space in Google’s local results due to the recent changes. Looking at the example below, all a user will see above the fold when browsing results on their desktop PC are the three chosen local business listings, and some PPC advertisements. Other than the three local business listings, powered by Google my business, no organic results are visible above the fold:

new local results

Businesses that previously appeared in the seven pack and have since dropped out of those results will be wondering how they can regain visibility on the first page of Google’s revamped local results. The first and arguably cheapest option would be to invest time and effort on the various factors that influence Google’s local results, a topic that has already been covered extensively.

The second option for businesses desperate to regain local visibility, which has been widely reported to be the reason Google made the change in the first place, is to invest in location specific Google AdWords campaigns.

Increasing Visibility via PPC

Pay per click (PPC) advertising has always been an option for businesses who want to increase their visibility in Google’s search results. Even before this update, paid adverts dominated the majority of space above the fold within Google’s search results. However, for those businesses who used to rely on being found in Google’s seven pack of local results, Google AdWords can be used to ensure they still appear above the fold on the first page of results for their target keywords.

The image below shows just how much space paid ads take up above the fold for the search query “Nottingham plumbers”:

adwords 1

Indeed, on mobile devices, PPC adverts are the only things that make it above the fold. This has been the case for some time:

plumbers mobile

Looking at the screenshots above, it’s clear that the majority of businesses wishing to appear above the fold on the first page of Google’s results will now have to pay to get there. There will of course still be opportunities for business to get into the first three local listings with continued focus on local SEO. However, for those businesses currently sitting outside the top three local results, pay per click campaigns can be a great way to quickly boost their visibility for location specific keywords.

Location Targeting via PPC

For businesses only able to serve specific locations, geo-targeting is crucial. Local service area businesses looking to invest in PPC advertising can set up geo-targeting to select specific areas in which they’d like their ads to appear. If you’re using location targeting, then be aware that this will reduce the potential reach of your ads – that is, the number of people eligible to see them – based on historical search data collected by Google in each location. However, location targeting will ensure that your advertising budget is only spent on people you’re actually able to serve.

geo trageting

When setting up geo-targeting in AdWords, I would recommend adding each town you’re able to serve separately. This will allow you to add bid adjustments to towns based on performance data in AdWords, which can help maximise smaller budgets. For example, bid adjustments can be used to assign higher bids in towns that are delivering leads, and lower bids in those towns that haven’t historically tended to convert.

Finally, don’t forget to edit the advanced location options. By default, Google will targets ads not only to people within your specified target location, but also to people who are searching about your target location. If you only want to target people based in an area you’re able to serve, you need to select the “People in my targeted location” option:

How to Use Geotargeting

Ad Scheduling

Google AdWords allows advertisers to choose when their ads run by both day of the week and time of day. For local service area businesses, scheduling can be a great method of maximising a small PPC budget.

For example, a plumbing company trying to promote same-day call outs may find it more useful to run their ads early in the morning until about midday. If appointment requests that come in after 1:00 pm aren’t able to be scheduled until the next day, this will probably result in lower success rates in booking the work, as people may take their business elsewhere.

In this scenario, budget will more than likely be wasted after 1pm, so it’d make sense for the company to schedule their ads to run between 5am – 1pm to make the most of their budget.

What If I’m Already in the “Snack Pack”

Your business may well have been lucky enough to have retained a spot in the much coveted new “three pack”. However, having a spot in the top three local results doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Local SEO will no doubt become more aggressive now that businesses are competing for just three local listings instead of seven.

Indeed, website owners can never be too complacent when it comes to search engine rankings. Just because you have secured a spot in the top three local results, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there indefinitely. I’d suggest taking the time to check out this guide on what you can do to retain your local rankings, and consider the benefits of combining your strong organic rankings with PPC campaigns to dominate the local results pages for your target keywords.

Sponsored Local Packs – Coming Soon?

In another twist in the way local service area businesses are displayed in search results, Google is currently testing a range of new home service ads in the US, which look very similar to their organic “local packs”, but actually contain sponsored – that is, paid – results.

Here is an example of one of the sponsored ‘three packs’ as it appears in the search results in San Francisco:

If the “more plumbers” button is clicked, users are taken to the screen displayed below, where they can request quotes from multiple different businesses:

Many local SEOs are concerned that Google will eventually expand sponsored local results to other cities and professions, turning local listings into a “pay for play” option. It’s telling that on the SERP for San Francisco plumbers, there are no local organic listings on the first page.

This is still very much early days, but with the local pack already shrinking and the potential roll-out of sponsored local results, PPC ads may eventually be the only option for some local businesses to regain Page 1 visibility.


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