Last year, Google changed its search results pages to show just three local businesses instead of the former seven. How did this change impact small business owners?
When it comes to the three listings in the search results page, perhaps not much.
One school of thought is that only three listings instead of seven was less a penalty to the sites ranking 4-7 than an acknowledgement that users weren’t clicking these listings much anyway.
Another school of thought is this change just unified the user experience across devices. Three listings fit perfectly on smartphones, so showing three on the desktop as well made search results feel more familiar there.
Regardless, for small businesses, the important change what how many listings are shown, but what information appears and how.
Let’s take a closer look at Google local results and identify the latest tips and tricks for ensuring maximum exposure for your business.
UNDER THE HOOD
The image below is the 3-pack Google served up in response to a search for a plumber in downtown Chicago.
These listings are heavily dependent on the location of the searcher. If you search locally and don’t find your business in the 3-pack, this doesn’t guarantee no one else does. Try searching from other locations to make sure.
Note that searching for the same thing multiple times from the same location will produce slightly different results, so the results rotate at least somewhat.
One important thing to notice is the stripped-down information presented in the 3-pack – no street address is provided. To obtain a street address, the user would have to explore one of the options.
Clicking the website link takes you to the business’ website, but clicking the business name takes you to an expanded map listing of up to 20 competing businesses preceded by up to two paid listings. This is good news for businesses who don’t appear in the 3-pack, as it gives them another chance to be seen by a user who clicks on one of the listings.
Clicking on one of the businesses on the map page or on the 3-pack itself shows the card for that business. The card consists of Google reviews (if available), information from their Google My Business (formerly Google+) page, and standard search result listings for pages related to the business. Note there is no link to the Google My Business page itself.
The card above is an excellent example of one for a business that is doing a great job of securing positive reviews and properly managing its Google My Business page.
Ratings, both in summary and detail formats, get prominent visibility on search result, map and card pages. This makes obtaining good customer reviews more important than ever.
If you don’t have any reviews and haven’t claimed or fully populated your Google My Business page, the card shows no reviews and only the standard Google street view, with no business hours listed.
TOP FIVE PRIORITIES TO MAXIMIZE LOCAL SEARCH OPPORTUNITIES
The best ways for local business owners to gain positive exposure in the Google 3-pack now are:
- Claim and populate your Google My Business page. This will ensure an updated business card including photos, correct phone and address and business hours.
- Keep your NAP (name, address & phone number) listings updated and consistent. This information should appear on every page of your website (such as the footer) and should not deviate between third party sites – Google My Business most importantly, but also directories such as Yahoo, Yelp, Facebook, etc. You don’t want to be sending Google conflicting signals when it comes to important business data.
- Give great customer service and encourage your customers to write positive reviews. The prominence of the reviews in search results, map and card pages will have a significant bearing on a customer’s inclination to seek you out. There is also a strong correlation between the quantity of good reviews and high rankings in local search results.
- You find your way into the top 20 listings, and therefore into the 3-pack, by pursuing good old-fashioned SEO techniques. If you aren’t showing up in either list, concentrate on tried and true SEO tactics to improve your ranking. For local SEO results, this means working especially on earning backlinks from websites from other local businesses, local directories, citations, associations and blogs.
- Spend time optimizing your webpage snippets (also known as meta description tags). Snippets appear in your listing on the original search results page below the 3-pack, and also on your card underneath the Google My Business content and reviews. Snippets do not provide any SEO value per se, but a catchy snippet provides another way to catch a user’s attention and drives CTR (click-through rate).
Importantly, Google is widely expected to incorporate a paid listing into the 3-pack, sacrificing an organic result to make room. With only the top two organic results likely to show in the near future, undertaking local SEO efforts is as important as ever.
And what about those who already appear in the 3-pack? Now is no time to relax. If you want to stay there, or earn your share of clicks from the 20-listing map page, you’d be wise to continue doing the things that got you there.