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8 August, 2015

Google’s New 3 Pack Local Stack

The digital landscape for local businesses has shifted again and like any shift there are winners and losers.  The winners are businesses who already have a strong local presence, and were already ranking 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the local packs. The losers are those businesses who weren’t there, and to some degree businesses with multiple locations.

But the jury is out on just how big a loss the losers are experiencing. The new display certainly limits the number of businesses that show on the home page – on the other hand it makes it much quicker and easier for searchers to go to Google Maps, where now 20 businesses can show.

Let’s take a deeper look at what we’re dealing with these days.  Before and after:

There’s a subtle change that may slip past, first time you look at it.  For those of us who work in this space every day, it’s a biggie.  There’s no link to the Google Local page!

But in clicking through, what struck me is NO more G+ L pages in the SERPs. No links at all. The reviews just show in the overlay and Google no longer feels the need to link to the actual page.

This seems totally contradictory to their goal of getting SMBs to claim/verify their local listing. The average SMB isn’t doing to know that the data on their page is what shows up in various places. I think some will think, there’s no page anymore so why bother to claim and maintain one. If they can’t see a page, it’s like why bother with it, right?
– Linda Bouquet

As it stands now, the only way to see the Google Local page (Google My Business > GMB page) listing is to search for the business by name.

While the GMB page itself does not have a link to it with the new search pack, there is information that still comes from it. I agree with Linda the public facing part does seem to be irrelevant now. However, the info that displays such as business hours, reviews and photos still seem to come from the page. How long is anyone’s guess.

Some listings have descriptions after them, most do not. For the pages that do get the description, it does not come from the Google local page – it’s coming from the same source as the knowledge panel.

Whether this new 3 pack genuinely impacts local businesses remains to be seen. Lots of folks believe this will hurt local businesses that were 4-7. I can see it has the potential to lift the top 3, but I’d like to see whether that potential gets realised. I’ll be watching the data across a number of client’s accounts to see what happens to clicks to their site; some are in the top 3, others at position 4 or lower.

There’s a lot of teeth-gnashing as well about the phone number no longer being on the display. Yes, that’s true for desktops, but not mobiles or tablets. Each device has a distinctly different display now. Interestingly, the tablets still have the “old” pack display, with up to 7 listings and disclosing the phone & address. Wonder if that will change shortly too.

local search

On desktops, people now have to do an extra click to go through to the full Local Finder which now displays 20 results, instead of 10 as it used to.

Click to call – not

The phone number situation on the desktop display is wonky.  It doesn’t show on the first page of the search results, but when you click on a listing or click on the “more” link, it takes you to the Local Finder display.  And you can display the phone number by clicking on a business name.

What makes this unusual is the phone number is “click-to-call”, meaning Google makes it possible to place a call from your computer.  click to callTo do this it asks for permission to use your mic and also places the call – via hangouts. Hmmm…okay, interesting use of another Google product. However, this is really silly if you’re not in the US or Canada.  Why?  Because you can’t call! The green call button isn’t clickable. If you hover over it, you see a “checking account status…” message. What does that mean?

Sloppy, Google. If you’re not going to make a service available, don’t display it.

The local map is no longer top-right

The new local search map and pack can vary enormously where they are on the page. In some instances, it will be below the fold (off the bottom of the initial display). Fortunately most of us are now trained to scroll down the page. Still I wonder how many local businesses will miss out on eyes because of better ranking organic listings?

local map can appear anywhere on the page now

Businesses display in a range of formats

These start at the most basic name, address, phone, website (if applicable) and the directions button, to a far more extensive display including photos and reviews.  You’ll notice the similarity between this display and the knowledge panel display.  So this heralds well for businesses that are giving Google their info in a search-engine friendly manner.

Photos are well… rather ordinary

As mentioned before, the photos Google is pulling into the knowledge-panel-like display seem to come from local pages.  How they get displayed is underwhelming. The images themselves seem to be hit and miss as to whether they’re good or not.

If you’ve gone through the process of getting a Google Business View the display tends to be better – you still get the “see inside, street view, photos” sequence. If not, Google picks a photo from various photos it has associated with your page and takes a slice from the middle.  Sometimes that looks okay to intriguing, most of the time it just looks odd.slice

If a visitor actually manages to find the image interesting enough to click on it, the page changes to a full-screen, black background, single image display, same as what you see if you’re looking at images via Maps.  No surprise then that following the trail of links takes you to a screen with the notice “Views is becoming part of Google Maps.”

This makes sense for exploring the planet, just seems a little odd when exploring a business.  I see the logic, it’s just that it feels utterly clunky.  Getting images of a business didn’t used to take quite so many clicks or feel quite so much like you were jumping between very different Google products.

Google+ and Google Local are disconnected

There are no more links to your business G+ profile from your Google My Business page, unless your business profile loaded the image to your GMB page. Even then, it’s hard to get to and I doubt anyone wants to go to that much effort to see your GMB page.

Service area businesses no longer have hidden addresses

This is a really BIG GOOF.

For years Google has been insisting businesses that do not allow customers to come to your premises or are appointment-only shopfronts, declare their addresses hidden. And many SOHO’s who qualify for Local pages do not want their home address disclosed. And yet, going through to the Local Finder display clearly and obviously points to exactly where that business is registered. Not good Google, not good at all.

Multi-location stores lose review prominence

If you’re not searching for a business by category, but by name, multi-location businesses may miss out on reviews displaying on the home page. Compare the search by category below to the search by store name. Same applies in the Local Finder results. By category you see review count, by name you don’t.

City name doesn’t always mean the city

It used to be that if you typed in a search and a location, Google took that location literally, regardless of where you were. For example, if I typed in “plumber Melbourne” and was located in the city centre, then Google would return the results with the map centred on the CBD.

If I typed in “plumber Cheltenham”, then the map would be centred on the South Eastern suburbs, same as if I were in Cheltenham and simply searched for “plumber”. The listings could vary of course because of the slightly different search term.

It looks like Google has recognised we’re all a bit lazy and type in the name of the capital city, even if we’re looking for something within our own local area.

So based in Cheltenham, I get the map more centred on the SE suburbs if I search for either “plumber” or “plumber Melbourne”. The maps are slightly different, but there’s still a clear skew to my location. To get plumbers genuinely based for the city centre, I have to add CBD to the city.

If I change my browser location to say a western suburb and search, I get the map centred on my new location. If I use the capital city modifier, the map more or less extends to cover my new location and the capital city.

Note – if you’re in a completely separate geographic area, then the map for the city name will likely come from that city’s centre.

This bodes well for people who have been wanting to show in the local packs for their capital city. Someone living in one part of the city might search by term or term + city. The local businesses wanting to serve that person still stand a chance of showing in the local pack.

So why the change?

There’s a lot of speculation that this is all about the $.

Google have already dabbled in being an online travel agency in the USA, taking hotel bookings directly.  This has lead to more than one issue, so it will be interesting to see if this test is repeated.  This is driven by the Adwords division.

They are also now dipping their toe into being a booking agency for home services in the USA, possibly a reaction to Amazon launching a similar service in March of this year.  This too is driven by the Adwords division.

At around the same time, Google rolled out a car insurance comparison service, again in the USA.

Our service is free to you, but to operate this service, we are compensated by some of these insurers.

The upshot of all of this comes down to one key message.  The era of the free Internet is coming to a close for businesses. Australian businesses: prepare for the era of pay to play.

In my next post I’ll cover some of the things you can do to help lift your local presence that you can do for free if you’re a DIY type, or pay to have an agency do on your behalf.

Other great write-ups on the topic: