September 13 2016

About a year ago, Google shook up how they display local search results moving away from seven map listings in search results to only three listings. With four fewer spots up for grabs, this particular update made it more competitive for many local businesses to show up for relevant local search queries. While this update left a handful of businesses out of luck, it also increased the likelihood of the 3-pack appearing, making Local SEO strategies much more important. In a study last year from seoClarity, it was found that the 3-pack shows in 93% of searches with a local intent versus around 25% with the 7-pack previously.

Fast forward a year later, and Google is shaking up local search results again with a change that could be in favor of a lot of businesses who have found it tough to get visibility in the 3-pack.

Google is expected to add a paid ad to the 3-pack space late this quarter.  When this was originally announced, there was some speculation based on an image seen at SMX that it would be 1 ad and 2 organic listings. However, early sightings of test ads in the UK have shown a layout with 1 paid ad and 3 organic spots.

local map pack ads

In this mobile screenshot, there is a paid ad showing above the local 3-pack of results. Image source: Ryan Scollon

Whether it’s 1 ad with 2 organic spots or 1 ad with 3 organic spots, a few things are for sure:

  • Search results are becoming more ad-focused. This change to Local results along with the removal of right-hand ads and the addition of another top ad shows that search results are becoming more top-heavy with paid placement.
  • For local searches, there could be 5 paid ads before an organic listing. According to Google, 56% of searches on the go (outside of the home and on mobile) have a local intent. On a mobile screen, five search results is a good amount of space/swipes.
  • The new paid position in the 3-pack creates an opportunity for businesses to gain or improve upon their local presence and brand exposure.
local ppc ad mockup

Local search marketing is becoming more competitive now with a paying player in the mix. And while it may feel like attention is being shifted away from organic results, local SEO isn’t going anywhere. It’s still very important for the best chances to show up organically for local searches. And if this local paid ad in the 3-pack operates similarly to other paid ads, local SEO efforts could improve the relevance, quality score, visibility and cost of your ads. It further shows the need for an integrated digital marketing strategy utilizing both SEO and SEM.

Visibility in both organic and paid results also could lead to potentially three listings on a search engine results page for a local query.

  1. A paid ad in the top 4.
  2. A paid local ad or organic result in the Local-3 Pack. (It’s unclear if both are possible, but this could potentially make it 4 results on one page.)
  3. A traditional organic result.

That would be at least 3 times on one page where your brand and website are shown, which is some serious real estate.

One of the biggest questions from this change is how this will impact businesses that rely on local visibility. There are a few scenarios to determine the impact and how you should move forward.

What if I already have a spot in the local 3-pack?

Just because you have a spot in the local 3-pack doesn’t mean it’s a time to become complacent. For one, there’s a new kid on the block that’s paying to be above your position. Maintaining your position organically in the local 3-pack should also be a priority with a Local SEO strategy and a commitment to getting reviews from happy customers. And if you’re really serious about maintaining that positioning, it may be good to consider the paid ads in that space as well.

I’m not in the Local 3-pack currently. Will this change help me?

With this change, there is now an opportunity for businesses to gain or improve upon their local presence. However, that opportunity is one new spot opening up that you and your competitors will be going after. Don’t forget that you have 4 ads at the top and a handful of organic results for visibility as well. If you don’t show up at all for local searches around your products or services, you might need to make a local marketing strategy a priority.

Not sure if Local needs to be part of your digital marketing strategy? We’ve created a quick tool to help you understand how this change may impact you and if a local search strategy should be part of your overall marketing strategy.

I am a  , do I need a local marketing strategy?

You may manufacture products for customers nationwide, but that doesn’t mean Local isn’t important. Do you work with customers near you that make shipping and transportation easier? Would you like to? Do you have Local competitors? If you answered “Yes,” then Local should be part of your search marketing plan.

As a supplier or distributor, you may be contractually obligated to sell to certain regions, meaning this update is important if you are trying to capture qualified leads from specific areas. Search engine optimization and pay-per-click strategies focused on local should be part of your digital marketing strategy.

Depending on what type of B2C company you are, local could be important. For example, if you have a retail location or multiple locations that need to garner website and foot traffic, this update impacts you. 50% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day. 34% who search on desktop or tablet do the same. (Source)  With that in mind, local strategies for your digital marketing are important and the addition of a paid ad in the local 3-pack could be beneficial for your marketing, brand exposure, and reputation.

Depending on the type of B2B company you are, local may be important. Maybe you offer a service nationwide but are headquartered in a city where you have many local clients. Or perhaps you have locations in many cities with client bases in those respective areas. Local strategies would be useful to consider in these scenarios.

If you’re a local business, you can bet this change will impact you. Perhaps you’re a doctor, dentist, pool cleaner, accountant or another type of business that relies on local customers as your bread and butter. Local should most definitely be part of your digital marketing efforts. If you are already in the 3-pack, it may be a good idea to consider advertising options as the local space will now have an extra player in the mix. If you’ve struggled with the 3-pack area, a local ad in this space may benefit you greatly.