In the biggest change for local SEO since the Pigeon update a year ago, Google has just unveiled a change for search results for local businesses. Formerly when searching for local businesses in particular categories e.g. shoe shops, Google would display seven local businesses. This has now been reduced to just three recommendations, a move which has vast implications.
Winners and losers
In a nutshell this will hurt a lot of small businesses. It basically makes it imperative to try and rank in the top three if you can, which is not an easy feat. To do this you will need to have a strong organic link profile, as well as taking Google AdWords into consideration to gain exposure. The winners are obviously Google, who get to retain users on Google products for longer, increasing ad views and therefore dollars, as well as big businesses who have larger budgets for AdWords campaigns.
This is not a time to give up and put local SEO in the ‘too hard” basket though. Instead consider this a prompting by Google to up your game, and be strategic.
This change also means that ratings are going to become more crucial than ever. Since Google has rolled out these changes, it has also allowed users to search for restaurants by ratings. Users can choose to filter the results for restaurants with a certain number of star ratings and higher e.g. 3 star and above. This change is likely to expand to other service and product based businesses, and likely without any notice being given. So if you don’t have many ratings, or your ratings are on average below 4 stars it might pay to start asking your happy customers to leave reviews to boost your ratings.
Another thing that has changed is the displaying of addresses. Previously addresses were displayed in the search results if you were in the top seven, however nowadays even if you are in the top three, addresses don’t show up immediately, instead you have to click through to find them. This may result in increased traffic to your site with users having to hunt a little more to find the information they want.
Google has also changed the appearance of search results so that the desktop experience is closer to the mobile experience. The new 3-pack search results fits perfectly on mobile screens, and Google’s removal of the 7-pack search results equals the playing field between desktop and mobile.
How to get into top three
To improve your chances of getting into the top three, pay particular attention to using white-hat, organic local SEO techniques. This change means there is more competition than ever for the top spots so Google will be paying special attention to any suspect marketing tactics.
Also take this time to build your credibility by using solid internal backlinks, and external citations such as listings in online business directories. This will help Google verify the information in your site, and establish you as a trustworthy site.
It’s too early to tell if this change is here to stay or not, or whether it will be refined further in the coming months. Google has previously rolled out changes only to discover a public backlash and has then reversed the changes. Some experts warn that this change may not be the end game for businesses that aren’t in the top three due to the fact that this change has negative repercussions for user experience, with users being forced to click through to get information. This means other factors such as site loading times, and website navigation may prove to be more important now than ever.