Google's Local Search Changes & Your SEO

    Oct 05, 2015 Jessica Jones

    The New Snack Pack

    Google has made a significant change to the way they display local search results, and a lot of people aren’t thrilled about the new format. When you search for something local - for example, “cheeseburgers Knoxville,” Google shows what has become known as the “Snack Pack” of featured listings. In the past, the Snack Pack would show up to seven listings, and included the business’s addresses and phone numbers along with the listings.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.10.27 AM The new Snack Pack consist of only three listings. If your business was ranking in the 4-7 area, that’s not good news for you. This doesn’t mean that your site won’t show up in the regular results, of course, but many people don’t look past the Snack Pack, choosing one of Google’s featured listings and going no further. There is an option to click/tap for more listings, but only the top three will be visible at first glance.

    Why would Google implement this sort of change? There have been some jaded speculations that Google is attempting to create more AdWords customers by forcing more local businesses to turn to pay-per-click campaigns if they want their listings to remain as visible as they previously were. Sure enough, it doesn’t take much digging to start finding articles and ads making that very suggestion to local businesses that have been dethroned.

    Another, less cynical, potential reason for the change is to bring the desktop experience more in line with the mobile experience - the new format strongly resembles what you would see by searching Google using your smartphone. It seems that they’re trying to trim the Snack Pack way down, because lowering the number of listings to three isn’t the only change they’ve made - they’ve also omitted full addresses and phone numbers from the listings. This change is, to me, the more baffling one. These seem like crucial pieces of information to leave out. The mobile version includes a “call” button, but desktop users have to click through in order to get access to a phone number, which seems counterintuitive.

    Google Home Services Ads

    If Google didn’t aggravate enough people with the Snack Pack changes, it seems like their next target is services like Yelp and Angie’s List. Google is beta testing a home service ad program in the San Francisco market that will allow users to see a list of qualified service providers and contact up to three of them directly through Google to request quotes for comparison.

    Service providers have to pay to be included in this list, of course, but they will also have to pass a review process - Google will perform background checks and assess a provider’s reputation, requiring a “strong track record” for providers to remain on the list.

    Whether this new venture will catch on remains to be seen - the ease of sending a quote request to three pre-vetted providers at once will certainly be a draw. If the process works smoothly and Google’s qualifying process consistently presents users with trustworthy options, it could become a popular feature. And if it does, local service providers will probably face a good deal of pressure to join the program, as even the #1 ranked organic search result might be overshadowed by this feature.

    The SEO Goalpost is Always Moving

    SEO is a moving target, that’s just the nature of the beast. Google loves change, and they’re likely to implement more and more specific services and methods of displaying results. I’d recommend making peace with the fact that resting on your laurels after attaining a strong organic ranking is never going to be a solid plan. Not only do the requirements for ranking organically continue to evolve, but changes like the new Home Services Ads can mean that, in some cases, even a strong organic ranking won’t accomplish as much as it used to.

    As always, if you need some assistance getting your search results to where you want them to be, give us a shout - let us learn more about your business’s needs and see what we can do to help out!

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