Yana Krotova
29th Sep, 2015

Google’s local listings have undergone some significant changes recently. Gone are the ‘traditional’ 7-pack results for local searches. They’ve been cut down considerably now to show just 3 results. Termed the ‘Snap Pack’, this new format is going to impact SMEs and local businesses looking to optimise for local SEO. These changes actually came into effect in August, but we’ve let the dust settle a little before drawing our own conclusions and how we can advise clients in their SEO efforts.

Here’s what a search for ‘Plumber Sydney’ yields:

google listing result

Kudos to Jim’s Plumbing, they’re bound to get more clicks than the other listings here.

Along with the obvious reduction is possible visibility, this update comes with some pretty important changes important and ramifications for local businesses.

  1. Links to Google+ have been removed
  2. Phone numbers have been removed
  3. It now requires two clicks to see actual reviews (although the star-rating is still present)

We don’t like to be cynical here at Vine (actually, we do, but let’s call it ‘healthy scepticism’ instead) but the feeling we have toward these changes is that is pushes more local businesses towards purchasing AdWords. You can see form the screenshot above how much search real estate the adverts take up. It can’t ever be forgotten that Google’s priority is their own profit margins, and some aspects of their organic search facilities often lean in this direction.

So what can we do?

  1. Recognise that Google is beginning to abandon Google+ as a ranking factor. And damn right it should, too. Anyway, the majority of people on Google+ are marketers for that very reason. Google should not prioritise its own properties as ranking factors, it’s unethical to say the least.
  2. Focus heavily on the things that are still visible in the local listings. More than ever, you need to encourage genuine reviews on Google. In a very useful test by Casey Merz on Moz, users were shown to favour listings with reviews on nearly every local search. Make sure that every aspect of your listing is optimised (it’s apparent that top 3 listings contain exact-match keyterms in a lot of cases).
  3. Become more focused on your organic presence.  In the same test by Casey, it was refreshing to see that organic (non-local pack or paid) listings were still attracting clicks, which leads to the next point below.
  4. Optimise your local landing pages for inciting action for when someone does click. Make a return to the good ol’ days when your website was the best way getting people to call your local business or know where to find you so they could come pay a visit. The general SEO of your website needs to be on full-burn. This will inevitably strengthen your local-pack hopes anyway.
  5. Don’t completely neglect local SEO either, though. Many clicks still come into the Map page, in which your website’s listing, should you make it into the traditional top-7, are still visible. Those star-ratings are critical here though. If you don’t have any stars next to your listing you can effectively kiss goodbye to potential visitors as they’ll more often than not click the listings that have them.

As has always been, and forever it will be, Google’s methodology is in a constant state of change, and so must role with the punches and take advantage of what others consider to be negatives. Although the reduction in listings isn’t great for some, for those who do manage to appear, they’re bound to see quite a dramatic upturn in click-throughs to their sites. All the more reason to step up to the mark and ensure your website is in tip-top shape, your SEO and UX is current and never left to stagnate, your offsite campaign is firing on all cylinders, your customer service is the best it can be, and your business offerings continue to be vital to your local community.