It has been a while since Google have turned the dial and shaken things up so drastically in the Local SEO game. The most notable change to local search results since the 2014 Pigeon algorithm update, which aimed to improve local SERPs for users, occurred on the 6th August when Google changed the look of the local pack. The familiar 7-pack listings (displaying 7 businesses in the pack and in maps) were reduced down to a simple, compact and more standardised 3-pack listing (widely known as the ‘snack pack’). Along with this change Google updated the design of the pack to give a more streamlined ‘mobile-esque’ feel, which also altered the level of business information immediately available for the user.
This shift has caused many businesses to ask the following questions:
Why has it changed?
How can I optimise my local listings to gain a competitive edge in this brave new world?
Let’s take a bite out of the snack pack, and find out.
The Local Pack: What’s changed?
Google have modified the snack pack within SERPs in a number of ways which can be categorised as the following:
The familiar 7-pack has been reduced to a 3-pack
Only the street name is listed instead of the full business address
The new snack pack gives users the option to filter by rating above a certain star (2 stars and up, 3 stars and up and 4 stars and up)
Google+ pages are no longer linked to
Examples of these changes can be seen in the video below which shows snack pack results from the query ‘dog walker London Bridge’. Google displays three business listings, allowing users to see more by clicking the ‘more places’ button. Once this is clicked, the user is taken to a knowledge graph where they are able to access full business information (telephone number, opening hours, address including postcode) for the top three positions seen on the previous screen, along with other listings on the left, and their location on a map on the right.
The Local Pack: Why has it changed?
Aside from UX and low CTR for local business listings at the bottom of the pack, there are additional reasons that local listings have changed so suddenly and drastically. These can be broken down into the changing face of Google+, mobile-centricity, and a potential movement towards paid local listings.
The changing face of Google+
Despite Google heavily pushing the social site Google+ since it was created in June 2011, search engine users clicking through to a social platform that was unfamiliar and not easily understood was not beneficial for users. With Google+ now being reimagined to focus on interests, “collections” (niche groups such as zombie cats) and “communities”(such as non-fiction addiction), providing a link to Google+ pages from the SERP is arguably no longer necessary.
Although it isn’t certain what will happen next with Google+, it is still important for businesses to continue to encourage users to leave reviews on Google+ since these still show in the snack pack.
With mobile overtaking desktops as the device of choice for searching online in 2015, Google has been moving towards aligning the desktop, tablet and mobile experience, which is reflected in the example views below for the search “chicken London Bridge”.
A movement towards paid local listings
With the change to three business listings in the snack pack, there has been speculation that Google may look to monetize local listings in the future. This speculation has been fueled by Google testing home service ads in SERPs that look very similar to the snack pack, which are sponsored results that connect users with qualified and vetted local plumbers, cleaners, handymen and locksmiths based in San Francisco.
What home service ads mean for local SEO in 2016 is unclear, sponsored listings could be rolled out to more verticals and integrated into the existing snack pack or even replace them altogether, making local SEO a pay-to-play model.
Stay ahead of the pack
Keep up with your competition, by strengthening your local strategy. Below are a few tips you can use to improve your local SEO standing:
1. Standardise your NAP (name, address and phone number)
Citation consistency is still a highly important factor in terms of local search rankings. When building local citations, it is important to make sure that your name, address, telephone number is consistent across the web to send a clear message to Google about business details and location.
2. Befriend local directories
It is important to know who the major players are in your vertical, in terms of directories to build a strong online local presence. If you are unsure of these, you can check out the Moz citation hub which outlines the best sites to be on for over 70 different business types. Once you have identified your target local directories, make sure to fill each out with complete information about your opening hours, location(s), high definition images, shop description and more specific requirements such as uploading menus for the restaurant vertical.
3. Beef up your 'Google My Business' information
If a business has a Google My Business Page on Google+, then snack pack information is taken from there. Make sure that the following information is complete on your Google My Business Page:
Don’t let missing information be the reason a user picks another business over your own.
4. Mark up!
Ensure that your pages use schema markup. As more and more companies are optimising their keywords, Google My Business information and on-page tags, schema is an important way for local businesses to send strong signals to engines about their business location, the content on your pages and much more.
Great schema to use for local businesses include:
Once you've implemented schema, make sure you review your code with Google's structured data testing tool. If you're having trouble with schema, checkout this post for solutions to some common markup issues.
Change is the only constant in the online digital space, and although Google’s rollout of the snack pack is a huge change for local SEO, it certainly won’t be the last. The importance of local SEO is growing by the day, and whether you currently feature in the snack pack or not, competition will only become stiffer as new SERP features and tests appear.
It is vital to ensure you are covering all local SEO bases to stay relevant and useful to users. Give yourself the best chance of visibility by getting your NAP in order by keeping them consistent and up-to-date, across the web, encourage your customers to leave positive and helpful reviews on your Google+ page, and claim your space on third party review aggregator sites and business directories like Zagat, Yelp and Trustpilot. Last but not least, remember to keep traditional SEO in mind.