What Happened?

After seeing the prominence of location listings increase over the last few years, we’ve seen an interesting reversal of course by Google as of last Friday, August 7th; the local pack has been shrunk from 7 results to 3.

Additionally, the layout of these results has been altered, with the presentation now feeling a bit more like what searchers are used to seeing on mobile devices. Here’s a look at the old layout (search result is for “clothing store”):

And here’s how the new one compares:

There is no more link to the Google location page, as clicking on the store name will take you to another search page that features the results shifted to the left and the result you clicked on highlighted on the right (this echoes the user experience found on Yahoo Local, oddly enough).

This presents an interesting dilemma as it relates to Google My Business Locations pages. The visibility of the pages themselves is reduced through this move, but it’s still going to be critical to keep them maintained in order to feed the right optimization data to Google to enhance the chances of showing up prominently in this smaller SERP section.

But the potential impact of the branding of these pages (cover pages, images, etc.) looks to have been nullified in the near term. I find it hard to believe this will be the permanent state as Google’s put a significant amount of effort into those pages, especially in the last year.

You’ll also notice that in shifting the address and phone info that had resided on the righthand side of the listing over to the left below the store name, they’ve freed up room to make an icon for the web site itself and the Directions page very prominent call-to-action type links.

So What’s Next?

There are a few obvious potential outcomes this is likely to trigger:

  • With fewer local results, a number of businesses and brands that had only obtained SERP exposure through local are going to see sudden sharp declines in traffic.
  • For businesses that solidly own top 3 spots, traffic to their sites may increase as a result of the more prominent web site link
  • Organic traffic may grow for web sites that have held the 1-3 spots, as reducing the number of total local results will move these back up the page. We’d seen local showing up before organic in many searches, meaning that what we’d call a 2nd place organic ranking was really potentially the 10th or 12th result seen on a SERP once you’d factored in paid results, local results, and the first organic result. This may restore a lot of the value that had been lost in those positions in the past 2 years.
  • For sites that have come to rely on netting local traffic from the 4th-7th position, the need to recoup lost visits may result in more aggressive AdWords bidding, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on CPCs on terms that trigger local results and alter bidding strategies to either defend against higher bidders or make up for potential traffic loss that might come from organic.

As with any Google SERP change, this may be a temporary test or a step towards future changes. The best course of action for now is to monitor traffic from the aforementioned sources and consider strategic adjustments like bid changes.

What Should I Do Now?

  1. Continue to maintain Google My Business Locations pages. Even though the branding aspect of the pages has been devalued (for now) by this move, the data in those pages is still going to be key for showing up prominently in SERPs.
  2. Monitor your local, organic, and paid traffic. As outlined earlier, fluctuations are likely to occur at some level in all three of those mediums as a result of this change.
  3. Identify your core PPC keywords that trigger local results, and devise a bid strategy adjustment that can help you defend against increased bids from competitors or that will help you get out in front of any potential traffic loss you might suffer from these terms
  4. You may also want to identify low-cost keywords that you have untapped spend opportunity on and begin diverting additional budget to those in anticipation of local traffic fluctuation

This is the first shakeup in the local space we’ve seen since the last algorithm updates, and it’s not uncommon to see multiple changes occur in a short span of time, so the last piece of advice is to keep watching the space for additional changes and consult with your contacts at Geary LSF on further next steps to minimize the threat of these changes and maximize the opportunity they might create.