Monday, August 10, 2015

Local Search Game Changers: New Organic & Paid Google Local Results Affect Local Businesses

Local Search Game Changers: New Organic & Paid Google Local Results Affect Local Businesses was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Google Local Game Changers
Google local results shifted in two significant ways that local businesses and home service providers should take note of.

  1. Fewer local organic results display on the first page.

Where last week seven local results were shown next to a map for a local-intent query, this week we see only three organic local listings by a map. As a result, local businesses ranked beyond the top three have no organic visibility.

  1. Google is testing a new search ad format for home service providers.

Google is beta testing home service ads. To be included in this coveted space, service providers must meet the most stringent qualifications for advertisers yet, including background and license checks, online reputation checks and mystery shopping checks.

3 Results in a ‘Local Stack’ Replace Local 7-Pack

With fewer organic local results displaying in the local-pack format on page one, businesses with store locations will be strongly impacted. We started seeing the new results consistently across all SERPs for all clients with brick-and-mortar locations late last Thursday night. Google hasn’t made an official announcement regarding the change, but considering the speed of the rollout and its permanence in all our test queries, we’re certain the change is a permanent one.

The immediate impact here is obvious. If a business ranks outside of the top three local results organically, visibility will be substantially impacted. The top three results are all that matter now when it comes to Google My Business (GMB) local listings.

The New Look of Google Local Organic: Before and After

Previously, Google would display Google My Business information in a 7-Pack with seven local results on a Page 1 SERP:

A local 7-Pack in May 2015

A local 7-Pack for “real estate olean ny” featured by Mike Blumenthal on his blog in May 2015.

The 7-pack has been replaced by a new local pack that contains only the top three results. Mike Blumenthal, a local search and Google My Business SEO specialist, is calling it the local stack.

Here’s what the new local stack looks like:

google local stack

A local stack for the query “hardware store” published in Search Engine Land on Friday, August 7.

On desktop and mobile, the phone number and full address for businesses are no longer displayed on the SERP. The street name and hours now appear on the new local stack as well as “Website” and “Directions” buttons.

This should impact the number of people who visit local business websites from local SERPs, as previously there was no direct link to the website from the local pack. It also eliminates the ability of the potential customers to dial or visit the store without interacting with the local listing in some way.

This is a very deliberate change by Google; there was a substantial amount of store calls and visits that they could never attribute to their SERPs prior to this change. Now if a searcher wants the information, they have to click through to get it.

It’s also important to note that clicks on the business name itself no longer take searchers to the business’s Google+ page, but instead take them to a “local finder” page that shows the expanded listing information for the result they clicked on, along with an expanded set of local results. Clearly here Google is cutting ties between Google+ and local, choosing instead to feature a hybrid of their maps products and removing any paths to the Google+ business pages that they previously required businesses to create in order to be listed in local search.

On mobile devices users get the same type of experience :


A local stack result for the query “hardware store” snapped on an iPhone this morning.

On mobile, the website and directions links that appear on the desktop SERP have been replaced by a single “Call” button. The phone number is hidden, and we suspect that this is also intentional.

Again, the upshot of the shrunken local listings is reduced visibility for any local business ranked beyond the top three. Not displaying core information like phone numbers and addresses in SERPs allows Google to directly attribute searcher conversion behavior (like getting driving directions or making phone calls) to local search results ━ a major requirement if Google hopes to monetize local search, which leads us to …

Sponsored Home Services Listings in Beta

Organic local listings aren’t alone in Google’s remodel; a brand new type of local sponsored listings began showing up at the end of July.

In July, Google acquired Homejoy, an online service connecting customers with house cleaners. At the time we reported on speculation that a new feature may be in the works to connect home services providers (house cleaners, plumbers, roofers, etc.) with people searching for home improvement terms, right in the results. That feature is certainly what we’re seeing today in the beta test available in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The New Local Search Ad We’re Seeing in San Francisco SERPs

In the home services ad stack we see three sponsored listings deemed “qualified,” and a call to action to “connect with trusted and experienced professionals in your area.”

Here’s Moz’s Dr. Pete’s snap of the SERP, one of the first reports:

That same day, a Google rep explained what we’re seeing via the @adwords account:

The support page on home service ads has more details about how businesses qualify for home service ads:

“To help provide peace of mind when booking a professional through home service ads, Google requires all locksmiths, plumbers, cleaning services, and handymen to undergo a series of screening procedures, including background, insurance, and license checks, interviews, online reputation checks, and mystery shopping.”

While home service ads are currently only available for businesses in the Bay Area, we see a connection between them and the larger changes to Google’s local space. On the SERP for San Francisco plumbers, there are no local organic listings on the page. Is the end goal of all the changes to Google’s local search results monetization of local across the board?

With the local stack shrinking organic SERP real estate, there will be businesses that find they are knocked off Page 1. For business that meet the qualifications and have enough budget to pay to play, service ads may be their best and only option to get back that Page 1 visibility.

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