On August 6th 2015, Google released their biggest local SEO update since their first local algorithm, called “Pigeon”. This update affected the look and appearance of the “local pack” in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). While it is too early to say if the change is more positive than negative for most businesses, it is important to know how the change may affect what you see in the search results.
What Changed After the Local Pack Update
Before the update, our team would see a lot of inconsistencies in local pack results. We might see a 7-pack result, or 5, or 3, or sometimes even 0. With the latest update, we are seeing a uniform 3 listings in the local pack section of the SERPs. Example below, the red box shows the new layout of the local 3-pack.
Due to this change some businesses may be seeing changes in SERP results for the keywords they care about. Appearing as the 4th - 7th local result in the map pack prior to this change could often garner you a spot on page 1. Now, a ranking beyond 3rd in the map pack will take an extra click or two to see. Searchers can still see more than three local results by clicking the “More” menu link at the bottom of the 3-pack which leads to a larger selection of local map results.
A preliminary heat map test by Moz bloggers last week showed that many searchers are indeed clicking on the “More” link, which is good news if you aren’t in that three pack yet. Google is still showing 10 organic SEO results per page, along with paid ads on the top and sides of the SERPs. That did not change. However, with the reduction of local listings, we know that competition is going to be tight for those top three local spots. Since most people want their business to be the one that is shown in the 3-pack, let’s take a look at what Google is looking for in a Google My Business (GMB) listing, and how you can improve a listing to make it more relevant to Google and those who are searching for you.
How Google Decides What To Rank In The 3-Pack
With the change in map pack results, it is important to understand why Google chooses certain local listings over others. It’s not just claimed GMB listings or listings with the most reviews that are being served up, though both of those things in an overall strategy are important. Google is looking for one thing: to serve up the most relevant results for the person that is searching. So what does Google see as relevant?
What Google Considers Relevant
While we may never know all 200 ranking factors or 10,000 sub-factors that go into the Google algorithm, we have seen a few things that Google likes, and rewards in relation to local relevance.
Proximity – Especially with local results, Google is hoping to show you a good fit that is close to your location. Google looks at the proximity of your business to the searchers location. Proximity isn’t the only factor it thinks about, but it does take it into consideration.
Interaction – Interaction with the GMB listing can come in many forms – requesting driving directions, embedding the map, viewing photos, leaving a review, and watching videos are all interactive responses to content on a local listing. Clicking through to the website from the local pack link is also a form of interaction. Because real life interactions (aka, visits to your office) can result from the information on a GMB page, it is very important to keep your NAP (business name, address, and phone number) updated and accurate. It is also important to keep business hours updated as well, especially if people are getting driving directions. It would not be good for your listing to say you are open until 5:30pm if you actually close at 5pm.
Keyword Relevance - Google is looking at your GMB listing and trying to see if that searched word or phrase matches content on the page. Does it match wording in reviews left on that listing? Have past searchers who looked for that keyword or phrase clicked on your listing? Did they stay or do they bounce away? Google also takes your linked website into consideration, looking to see if people engage with similar content there. Do people bookmark your local listing for future reference? Do they save it to their own maps listings? Many things can show Google a listing is relevant to users.
CTR – Google also looks at at Click-Through-Rate (CTR) of your local listing/GMB Page versus the CTR of other listings in the area. Do people click through and stay on your lisitng, reading through your reviews? Do they look at photos or videos? Do they stay engaged or do they bounce off and look for something else? Our goal is to keep people engaged. Think of what you would want to see if you were one doing the search.
Trust – Trust is one of those topics that is hard to quantify. Google tries to deduce trust from many factors like review rate and frequency, social interactions, how often your brand name is mentioned in conjunction with certain keywords online. Does your site convey your brand clearly and do people know exactly who they are dealing with when they get to your site or your local maps page? What kind of online reputation does your brand have? It is best not to be confusing with your brand or business name. Good reviews from credible sources builds trust.
Reviews – As mentioned above, reviews go hand in hand with the trust factor. Do people talk about you often, are they constantly reviewing your business? Are they sharing info with others on social platforms? Is there a “buzz” about your business? Popularity can sway many people. Reviews can boost searcher confidence in a business they do not know much about. It can also be the deciding factor if a friend has reviewed the same business. Because of personalized search, you are more likely to see a friends review of a business, especially if you are logged into your account on that platform. A lot of reviews in Google (usually more than 5) can catch the eye of searchers by adding a star rating image to the 3-Pack result under the business name. Example:
What To Focus On
So how can an unclaimed listing or a listing with no reviews rank higher than a listing that has 20 reviews and has been claimed and optimized? That is a good question that I’ve heard several times. While I cannot say for sure, I have a good feeling that in those instances it’s all about what is going on ‘behind the scenes’. A popular brand’s listing s might outrank an unknown brand just based off of other signals that are pointing to that brand across the web. A lot comes down to user interaction. If that listing (claimed or not) is getting a lot of click-throughs, and people are using it to get driving directions, download a map, or are using it to visit the website, then it is probably also gaining some kind of ranking points or popularity points with Google.
If a website is extremely popular and brand recognition is really high for that practice, a messy business listing just might outrank one that is pristine, all because user intent shows that more often than not, people who search for keyword “xyz” end up on their site and don’t bounce away. Time on site is probably also a consideration, and the number of return visitors probably also plays a role. There are hundreds of things that Google is looking at to try and figure out what people want to see in their search results pages. What you want to focus on is getting your listing in the healthiest shape it can be in and hoping for the most user interaction possible.
What Local Pack Strategy Should Look Like
Strategy wise, it is important to know that anything you do to improve your 3-Pack ranking will also be beneficial to your organic SEO overall. Bottom line, keep all business information in order and entice outside interaction whenever possible. Keep your GMB page up to date with the most relevant information about your practice as you can. Add photos, videos, and ask for reviews or referrals (offline and online) as often as you can. These are things that are speaking directly to your potential new clients and patients, helping them connect to you and with you. These things show Google that you and your information are exactly what people are looking for.
Keep focused on the things that boost your GMB page from a users perspective. Did you win an award recently? Write about it. Did you add a new staff member? Post a photo. The stronger the signals that point back to your website, the better you look to the search engines. Focus heavily on getting positive reviews, this won’t win you a spot in the local pack alone but it will go a long way to show potential new clients how great you are at what you do. Having a constant stream of new reviews shows Google that you remain relevant in the digital space and the real world. Keeping your traditional organic signals strong and user focused will help get return visits from those who find your website from your map listing. Your efforts to grow online relationships, and to create a healthy website and a hearty GMB listing will go a long way in seeing your relevance rewarded organically and in the 3-Pack. Remember, Google thinks in numbers and statistics. Whatever you can do to keep people engaged, happy with your brand, and coming back for more is what will help your relevance translate to rank.
~ By Tammy Smith, Page 1 SEO Specialist