Throughout the day on Thursday, August 6, SEO experts around the globe started to notice a sweeping change to Google Search. Each time they searched for a local business, the format of the search results had been altered from the familiar “7-Pack” format to the newer “3-Pack” format, also known as the “Snack Pack” format. This seemed to be true for all searches, desktop and mobile, all over the world.
As search engine optimizers and online marketers put their heads together, it became clear that Google had rolled out a new international search format – one that would have a significant effect on small businesses everywhere.
After being questioned about the changes, Google released a statement: “We are constantly exploring the best way to bring a better search experience to our users. This update provides people with more relevant information, including photos, reviews and prices, for searches that have multiple results for a given location.”
However, while the new search experience may be an improvement for the user, how will it affect small business owners? Let’s take a closer look at both the changes and their possible consequences.
The 8 Major Changes To Google’s Local Listings
- Fewer local businesses are listed. As you might be able to guess from the name of the new format, there are only three businesses listed in local searches instead of seven. This means that the four businesses that come after the top three spots will no longer be a clickable option at the top of the search results page.
- Specific addresses have been removed. The old format offered a full address as well as a pinpoint that mapped the address when clicked. The new format only lists the street that the business is on, not the mailing address or the street number. To access more specific address information, the user must click on the business or the website link.
- Specific phone numbers have been removed. Neither the desktop or mobile versions of the new format show the business’ phone number, though the mobile version does have a one-click call option. Again, users must either click on the business to get to a new page that displays the number or click on the business’ website to find further information.
- Added “More” option. Although the 3-pack format only showcases a handful of businesses, there is a “more” option at the bottom of the box that shows up to 20 local businesses and a large map when clicked. This page also includes flyout virtual “business cards” when you click on each business. The business cards contain full addresses, phone numbers, and other important information.
- Google+ profile links have been removed. The 3-pack format also no longer includes a link to a business’ Google+ profile. SEO experts are unsure of why Google would make this change, especially considering how much the company has stressed the importance of these pages in the recent past. Once again, this change puts added importance on a business’ website and slightly less importance on the Google+ profile.
- More mobile-friendly design. The 3-pack is an all-around simpler and clearer design that is much more suited to mobile devices. The smaller number of businesses and the smaller amount of information makes it easier for users on smart phones to navigate the results.
- Store hours have been added. One piece of information that has been added instead of subtracted is store hours. This shows Google’s continued interest in local, brick-and-mortar stores and in making sure that on-the-go users know whether or not they can call or drop into a business immediately.
- Flyouts have been removed. The old 7-pack format allowed users to scroll over local businesses and gain immediate, same-page access to each business’ virtual business card of information. This is now no longer a feature unless the user clicks through to the “more” page.
How Google’s New Local Listings Could Affect Your Law Office
At first glance, these changes to Google local search results could seem relatively minor. However, formatting alternations like these can have surprisingly far-reaching consequences for you and your law firm. Here are the five major takeaways:
- Being in the top three listing is now more important.
- Having a great website is now more important.
- Listing your hours is more important.
- Organic SEO is now more important.
- Ad Buys may now be more important.
What can you do to help your business continue to succeed in the face of these changes? The best strategy is to increase your efforts to be listed within the top three local businesses for your top keywords. At the same time, making certain that your website clearly states vital information like your phone number and address is also imperative. Finally, you may wish to look into changing your Google Ad Words strategy to make sure that your business stays on the front page of local search results.
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