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Big changes have been introduced in the way local businesses are presented on Google search results.
Since early August 2015, Google altered the usual seven pack local listing to a smaller three pack (aka snack pack) listing across all its sites worldwide.
How businesses react to these changes will define how easily consumers can find them.
Let's take a look at what the new search results look like and what insights we can gain from them.
Key highlights of the new Snack Pack
Some of the changes are quite noticeable. The following items have been stripped from the listings:
- Google Plus page of the business
- Complete address of the business (instead only the road is mentioned)
- Phone number of the business
Consumers were accustomed to getting the above data on search results, but the new stack requires that they click on the individual listing.
Each individual listing leads to a new knowledge graph interface overlaid over a map.
Business information, photos, and reviews drawn from the Google Plus page of the business are listed, without providing a direct link to the page.
So in essence, what was readily available from search results, now requires a two click process.
Whether or not this additional layer improves the consumer experience is debatable. However, by removing the Google Plus page from the equation, the customer does not have to delve into a social media site that very few actively utilised.
Impact on local businesses
Many local businesses that were accustomed to having a featured spot via the seven pack SERP are now invisible with the three pack display. This will inevitably create more competition for the coveted three spots.
Some have cynically pointed out that this move is Google’s attempt to turn more local business into paying AdWords customers.
While the changes may indeed cause a scramble towards more search engine marketing to compensate for lost visibility, the changes could also motivate businesses to take the Google My Business platform and local citations more seriously.
Indeed, the vast majority of the data that is provided for both the knowledge graph and SERP excerpt is drawn from existing Google Plus pages or high authority local listing sites.
We may get a small burst of black hat tactics from companies displaced in the latest update. Nevertheless, these create short-lived success.
The long term local search success factors are still the same and they are what businesses coveting to be in the three slots will have to focus on:
- Accurate and complete citations
- Customer reviews
- Strong on-page optimisation
- Quality links
As with all competitive spaces, companies in the top three slots cannot simply relax and rest on their laurels, as the displaced firms will inevitably work on improving their local on page and off page SEO techniques.
While it is too early to foresee the full long term impact of the snack pack update, the increased competition could be beneficial to consumers as more local businesses take an interest in refining and improving their online presence in order to make it into the three slots.
Equally, businesses that have always focused on the local search fundamentals are rewarded by having to contend with fewer SERP competitors.