Google Shakes Up Local Search Results
September 17, 2015 | Contributed by: Michael Solms
In a slew of recent updates, Google has revamped how they display local listings within the search results. Most notable was the reduction of the map pack results down from five to seven listings to just three results for locally targeted searches. These updates have been the most significant change in local search since Google’s Pigeon Update back in July 2014.
With Google’s local listings playing such an important role in establishing online visibility and generating leads, it is important to understand the recent changes and their impact.
Google Reduces Map Pack to 3 Results
In one of the more obvious changes, Google reduced the number of map pack listings from five to seven listings to just three results. Referred to as the “snack pack”, this reduction in listings means that competition for higher listing placements will be stronger than ever.
Most searchers choose not to move beyond the first page of results, making the new snack pack results extremely valuable. Businesses once in positions fourth through seventh have now been removed from the first page and will be working especially hard to find their way back. As a result, verifying and managing Google local listings is more important than ever given that first page space is limited.
Here is a before and after example of this change:
Before: 7 Listings
Search Example: Downtown Austin Apartments
After: 3 Listings
This change may also drive more competition within the Google AdWords space as businesses that lost first page position explore new ways to generate leads and traffic. Google AdWords provides an opportunity to gain immediate visibility and may result in businesses that were previously not advertising to enter the ad space.
Google Changes Listing Results Format
In addition to reducing the number of listings, Google also adjusted the local search results format. Did you happen to notice the removal of the phone number and review stars in the new snack pack listings and the addition of directions and website buttons? By making these adjustments it allows Google to better track and understand user intent. They can identify people looking for directions or the website and people seeking additional information such as the hours, phone number or reviews by requiring them to click the listing itself to get that information.
They also removed the knowledge graph that normally appeared to the right when a user hovered over a listing shown in the search results. See before and after examples below.
Before: Knowledge graph appeared on the right hand side
Image Credit: TheSEMPost
After: Knowledge Graph has been removed from the right hand side
This hover or flyover effect automatically populated the knowledge graph whether a user wanted to see the information or not. With Google’s continued focus on user experience, the removal of the knowledge graph may indicate that users saw the knowledge graph as unnecessary or distracting. The new results page is less cluttered and requires users to take an additional step, by clicking the listing, to get more detailed location information through the new Local Finder View that is discussed in the next section.
Google Removes Google+ Link, Adds Local Finder View
Next, you will notice in the examples above that the Google+ link that was featured on listings prior to the update has also been removed in the new set of snack pack results. This is a clear indication that combining the local and social aspects of Google+ has failed.
The Google+ link normally took users to a detailed profile page that had a combination of local and social elements including business descriptions, social posts, videos, cover image, hours of operation, photos, and reviews. The Google+ link has now been replaced by the Local Finder view, shown below, which is accessed when a user clicks the listing.
This new view has removed the social elements such as posts but still offers critical location details including contact information, hours, photos, and reviews.
New: Local Finder View appears when listing is clicked
Google Testing Monetization of Listings
Finally, with Google local listings bringing so much value and benefit to businesses, marketers have often speculated that Google would eventually try to monetize these listings. It appears Google is now testing that premise (see screenshot below).
Right now the test appears to be restricted to just a limited set of business categories including dentist, chiropractor, acupuncture and dermatologist though new categories are being discovered everyday. Instead of individual “Ads” tags for each ad, Google has labeled the entire pack of ads, making it less obvious that all three are in fact advertisements. If Google decides to fully roll out local listing ads, there is no doubt businesses will find room in their marketing budgets for this opportunity.
Why Did Google Make These Changes?
1) Improved user experience. The new snack pack and removal of the knowledge graph provides a cleaner, less cluttered set of search results which ultimately provides more intuitive interactions and a better user experience.
2) Better tracking. The new layout provides Google with the ability to track user intent more reliably, which may better position them to monetize the Map Pack results in the future