Throughout August, Google have updated the local listings to a smaller “snack pack”, which means that many businesses will need to focus on local SEO if they want a competitive edge locally.
Google has reduced the number of local listings, down from what was from 4-7 listings to just a 3-pack on desktops and laptops. These local listings are widely called a “snack pack”, and are now in effect across all of its sites across the world.
This is possibly one of the biggest changes to local SEO since the Pigeon algorithm update in 2014, which was focused on improving local search results. So what does this mean for businesses who rely on local listings, and what can be done?
The Changes in the Google Snack Pack
Google have tweaked the snack pack with a number of different changes within the search results. These include:
- Google+ pages are no longer listed
- Only the road name is listed rather than the full address
- The phone number is no longer included
This now means that searchers must click on the listing itself in order to find this extra information.
The 3-pack you can see below comes from Googling only the word “plumbers”, with Google recognising I am based in Ely. As you can see, it draws up three candidates Google deems worthy, with a dropdown to reveal the rest.
Once they click, it leads to a new knowledge graph interface shown over a map. It now takes two clicks to get what used to be available in the search results.
If a business has a Google Business Page on Google+, then information is taken from there. Whether this serves consumers better is questionable, but Google wouldn’t do it for no reason at all, right?
Below is an example of a search for “pizza takeaway”, and then clicking the top result through to the knowledge graph. As you can see, more listings are on the left, but also shows Google reviews, the full address, phone number, opening hours, and map information on the right.
Why has it changed?
It seems that Google may be looking to replicate the same listings across all devices, with a 3 pack being much more useful and concise for mobile use.
With the rise of mobile usage for searching online, Google has been steering towards becoming mobile-centric. Many aspects of the mobile-specific results have made their way onto the desktop and tablet search results.
If you consider that a mobile has a much smaller screen, then the top three listings make up the screen above the fold, and this is purely for consistency reasons. Google have always been keen on user experience whatever device a customer may be using.
Google is stripping Google+ of many functions, and this is another way for Google to de-emphasise Google+.
Having consumers click through to a social media site that many people did not use, or were not familiar with, wasn’t especially useful. And now that Google is dismantling Google+, it’s not necessary to click through to the page.
Whilst the future of Google+ is uncertain, it’s changing rapidly. What is for sure, is that the Google Business Listings associated with Google+ will likely be going nowhere, as these are crucial parts of local SEO.
On a more paranoid note, it’s possible that Google are attempting to push businesses towards spending money on AdWords. Whilst AdWords is a very useful way of gaining customers interested in your business, it’s unlikely Google made this change because of this reason alone. However, this doesn’t remove the fact that AdWords will likely benefit from this move.
It’s also been suggested that Google continuously tested the local listings, and found far fewer clicks on listings that aren’t in the top 3. This would then lead to them deciding to do away with them altogether, and presenting a more streamlined snack pack in the process.
Google has added in the option for searchers to view businesses which are above a certain rating.
This means that it’s never been more vital to make use of Google ratings, and ensure your ratings are good. Of course, there’s no other way to game this, other than providing a good service to your customers, and encourage them to review your business.
Google are currently testing new home service ads, which resemble the local pack in the search listings. These are sponsored results, and are only focused on plumbers and locksmiths based in San Francisco – for now.
How this will evolve is unclear – it could mean sponsored listings could be integrated into organic listings in the local snack pack. Or, it could mean Google are considering replacing the organic snack pack altogether in the future. This would also mean Google could be testing a new way to charge businesses, on a per-lead basis.
What does this mean for my business?
If you were in the 7 pack listing, but weren’t in the top 3, you could now be invisible unless searchers click to reveal extra listings. If you have more than 2 competitors, then you could be missing out on traffic and potential sales.
This means that you will need to ramp up your local SEO efforts, or use PPC advertising to appear right at the top for key searches.
If you haven’t been utilising the Google My Business platform, then it’s time to do so. Make sure it’s up to date, and completely filled out with all your information, as it can really make a big impact on your visibility for local searches.
It’s likely that competition for these top 3 spots will increase, as local businesses can really benefit from getting pride of place at the top of Google’s local listings.
Even if your business does reside in the top 3 listings in the local snack pack, then there’s no reason to get complacent. SEO is an ongoing process, and it’s bound to get more competitive and aggressive as more businesses reap the benefits of referrals and sales directly from Google. Local SEO is more important than ever, and you will need to stay on top of the latest updates in order to stay at the top. However, if you do still reside in the top 3, it means you will now have fewer competitors to contend with on the results page.
Organic SEO has played a big role on getting a good local ranking on Google, and getting a spot in the 7-pack. Whilst this won’t change, it’s going to be a lot more competitive now.
However, now all the local SEO tricks are necessary to get into the top 3, whilst also maintaining organic SEO for good rankings overall. Providing useful or informative content to potential customers can help you rank well and climb the local listings.
But it’s also necessary to ensure you follow all the local SEO hooks to make your way into the top 3. Links, citations, directories, and digital marketing will all play into where you appear in the local snack pack on Google.
For more information on local SEO, read our quick-start guide on how to rank locally.