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If you haven’t noticed, in the last few days Google has put some significant changes into local search that may make you happy or not so much. For many years, Google has experimented with a variety of ways of presenting local search results – those searches where people are looking for a business¬†in a specific location.

Many years ago, they started with a 3-pack or three business listings. Later, as competition grew, that was expanded to a 10-pack or ten listings for local search. Then they pulled it back to the 7-pack (seven business listings) that we’ve become used to. A map with thumbtacks was in the upper right corner, that interestingly floated down over the PPC ads on the right if you scrolled down.

Google 7-Pack

Google 7-Pack (image credit www.ricketyroo.com)

Google reviews were prominent on the listings, and there was a “flyout” to the right. If you hovered over the business listing, more information about that business would show up on the right.

Google is always messing around with things, and the only constant is that they change it all the time. And I bet you guessed it, the pendulum went full-swing back to a 3-pack just a couple weeks ago:

Google 3-Pack

Google went back to a 3-Pack for local search

So what does this mean for businesses that have a local presence? 97% of all businesses in the USA are small businesses, and the vast majority of them have a local presence, meaning that people within a small radius seek them out. This can include attorneys, accountants, hair salons, auto repair, electricians, plumbers, garage door repair, winshield repair, bookkeepers, and so on. I could list 1000 businesses in which their clientele don’t want to travel farther than a handful of miles to get to them or those that won’t travel more than a dozen miles to deliver services.

Unfortunately, this switch to Google’s local 3-pack means that there is less than 50% of the room for those at the “top” of the heap. If you used to be in the top seven, you may no longer be in the top three.

Furthermore, Google is no longer displaying your address, your phone number or web address. Instead, there may be a “Directions” button and a “Website” button, but no other information about those on top.

How Do You Get To The Top of the 3-Pack?

So what can you as a business owner do to get to the “top” of the heap, and get your position back in the 3-pack on Google?

Some things you can’t control, like your address. If your address is not within or near the geographic center of the particular city or location, that’s going to count against you. Even though you may serve a town 20 miles away, if your address isn’t located there, you probably won’t show up in local search results.

What you can control include the following:

  1. Claim, update and verify your business listing on Google My Business (formerly Google+). It’s critical that you update the listing with as much information as you can provide, and verify it by having them send you a postcard or calling you on the phone.
  2. Start building citations and business listings on as many other sites as you can find, making sure that the information is 100% consistent between listings: business name, address, phone number, web address, and so on. Don’t forget Bing Places for Business, Yelp, and there are many others. Take the time to do this, or hire a company like WhiteSpark to do it for you (there are several others that do this service for you too).
  3. Make sure your website is fully optimized for the search engines. The better optimized your website is, and the more it matches up with your local listing categories, the more likely you’ll show up in the local searches.
  4. Make sure your website is mobile-aware and passes Google’s mobile tests.
  5. Nurture reviews on your Google My Business pages! Make sure you actively ask your clients to leave a review for you. This helps build your reputation, and helps Google feel that you’re “worthy” of a position.

You can get to the top 3, but it may take a little work to get there.

Related article: Your Online Reputation Can Make or Break Your Business