What is the Local Pack?
The Local Pack is a list of local businesses that appears prominently in search engine results pages when searchers type in what Google deems to be a local-based query, such as “plumbers London”.
What Changes Have Taken Place?
The Local Pack used to be a list of up to seven local businesses. Now, however, the Local Pack lists just three local businesses. On top of this, changes have also been made to the design of the listings and the and information presented:
- Full addresses and phone numbers have been removed, with only the street name displayed
- Links to Google+ pages have been removed
- An obvious redesign has taken place, presumably to fit more with the mobile user interface
Despite these changes, searchers can still click to expand the new local results box and view more listings – up to 20 per page – either by clicking on one of the results or the “More” link at the bottom.
Here are before and after screenshots of the local search results for the term “boutique hotels paris”:
If a searcher wants to get more information about a business, they now have to click directly through to the business’s website, or click on the Google Maps listing to expand the results and get information drawn from the business’s Google+ page:
So not only are Google providing fewer local results in the SERPs, they’re also providing less information on the businesses that make the listing.
Whether this positively or negatively impacts the user experience is up for debate, but there have already been a number of theories as to why Google has overhauled the Local Pack in this way.
Why Has Google Made This Change?
Google wants their desktop search results to look more like mobile results. The pack of three results fits perfectly onto the mobile screen. Getting rid of the seven pack has aligned the mobile and desktop user experience, and actually means that desktop users get the same experience that mobile users already have had for some time. As Jennifer Slegg states for Moz, “the look and feel is pretty close now for both desktop and mobile searches”.
Another reason that Google may have gone down this route is that the 4-7 spots in the Local Pack weren’t getting much traffic anyway, so perhaps they ultimately decided that there was little point in displaying them. However, the exposure and brand awareness that businesses listed in the 4-7 spots received was surely worth more than direct traffic anyway.
Some have argued out that this change proves that Google is trying to get more local businesses to become AdWords customers, as those who were in spots 4-7 will now need to do more to increase visibility. As Mike Blumenthal points out, rather diplomatically, “I am not sure what will happen on clicks for Adwords but those businesses that were lower in the old display may feel compelled to double down on their Adwords activity.”
What Does This Mean for Local Businesses and How Should They React?
While the new display provides an increased opportunity for organic results, many local businesses that previously had a spot in the seven pack are now no longer visible, leading to inevitably higher competition for the three spots available.
On the one hand, this change means that businesses will now have to take Google My Business and local citations more seriously, as most of the data that is provided within the Local Pack is drawn from existing Google+ pages or authoritative local listing sites. In particular, they are still pulling through reviews from Google+ pages. But on the other hand, Google is also taking away some emphasis on Google+, as the links to Google+ pages have been removed.
Business also need to remember that there’s more to local SEO than link building, reviews, and directories. Before this change, some businesses may have been able to get by with only minimal SEO efforts, particularly if they weren’t based in especially competitive areas. But now that those 4-7 spots have gone, they need to up their game to stay competitive.
The long term local search success factors are still the same. To acquire or retain a top three spot, a company needs to focus on the following: