On the 6th August Google made some big changes to the way that local businesses are presented on the Google Search results. To the average Google user, it’s an update that has probably gone undetected, as it’s certainly not been launched with much fanfare.
However, the update is one that all businesses wanting to target local markets must pay attention to, as it may have impacted whether or not your business is being presented to that market when they search for your service.
What was the Google “Snack Pack” update?
The update (see below) changed the search results displayed from queries that have local intent (e.g. Accountants in Oxfordshire, Dentists in Shropshire etc…) to now show three local businesses listings (referred to as the “snack pack”) opposed to the seven listings it used to show (previously the “seven pack”). wing only 3 local results (down from the previous 7 pack) has gotten me thinking a lot about what local, service area businesses need to do to reach potential customers today. Google has been steadily moving toward showing search results based on the searcher’s actual geographic location (though just how accurate their placement of searchers is, is a topic for another post!).
The update doesn’t stop there, as in addition to the large reduction in listings, the new “snack pack” has also reduced the associated business information initially presented alongside the listing, including:
• The replacement of the full address of the business to just the street name of the business
• Removal of the Google Plus page of the business
• Removal of the phone number of the business
• Replacement of the URL of the business, with a link to their website through the website icon
• Removal of Google Reviews
• Addition of an icon link for directions
• Addition of opening hours for the day
When you then click on one of the results, or the button to view more, you are then taken to the following screen where you can find some of this removed information in its new home.
So, Why Have These Changes to Google’s Local Business Listings Been Made?
As I previously mentioned, this major update came without any forewarning from the folks at Google, and they’ve been relatively silent on the matter directly since the changes were made.
However from our knowledge and experience gained over the years as a Google Partner, and from our conversations within the search marketer community there are a number of theories about why this update was made.
Theory 1 – Google want to better align the experience that their customers are getting between platforms
The 3-pack fits perfectly on the screen for mobile users. If you compare how the search results are presented on a mobile compared to a desktop, the look and feel is much more similar with the “snack pack” when compared to the old “7 pack”.
Theory 2 – People weren’t clicking on the listings after the 3rd one anyway…
Google don’t make such radical changes without lots of testing and reviewing what the data tells them. For them to have taken these spots away suggests that they were not being clicked on as much as higher spots. As Jennifer Slegg of Moz.com discusses “In mobile, even if they were showing 7-packs, it is the top three that fill the mobile screen, making those 4-7 spots invisible until someone scrolls down”, so this is perhaps rather unsurprising given the growth of mobile.
Theory 3 – They want to eventually monetise local search listings
Businesses do not currently pay to appear in this prime retail space in the Google search results. However Google are in the process of testing new “home service ads” in San Francisco (in replacement of the “Snack Pack”) for the plumbing and locksmith professions. It is expected that this will soon expand into other industries and cities. With the reduction in the number of listings in the results it’s now much easier for Google to apply the pay per click system as people clamber to become listed in one of those coveted positions. At the end of the day Google is a business and will always seek to make more money where they can.
Theory 4 – They want more people using Google Adwords
For those businesses who were previously being displayed in the “7 pack” that haven’t made it into the “snack pack”, the fastest and most effective solution to get back onto the search results is Google Adwords. Above and alongside the “snack pack” there is plenty of Google Ad space available, and you can even get above the “snack pack” to make your business the first option if your keywords and bids are well managed.
What does my business need to do to get back in front of local customers?
The first thing to check is where your business is appearing when you use local search terms. If you’ve made it into the “snack pack” then for the moment you don’t need to panic! However if you’ve suddenly noticed a dip in your website traffic or a reduction in phone enquiries over the past month, and you’re not appearing in the search results where you once were, you need to act quickly if you want to make sure that local people can find you instead of all your competitors.
Getting into the “snack pack” requires looking at your local SEO strategy, and focusing on link building, citations, customer reviews and directory listings, all of which can be time consuming and will take a while for Google to re-index.
If you want to get back onto the search results page fast, then advertising via the Google Adwords platform offers the best solution. Once your campaigns are built and live, with the right keywords you’ll see the traffic start flowing back almost instantly! If your business thrives from local trade, then this may be the time for you to consider adopting Google Adwords into your marketing strategy, to make sure that you’re not missing out on your most profitable area of interest.