By Chad DelMain
Google is always tinkering, testing, changing, and evolving. Some changes, like the penguin-opalypse are major. Others, like A/B testing 41 shades of blue, don’t feel quite so groundbreaking. Some changes happen quickly; others take the better part of a decade.
Starting earlier this year, Google began experimenting with a new format for local pack results. And within the past month or so, it’s gone live for all Google users.
Let’s compare local search results for the phrase: seattle personal injury attorney.
There’s no official name for the new local pack, but you’ll often see it referred to as: “Snack Pack”, “Local Snack Pack”, “Local 3 Stack”, or “Local Stack.”
Now that the dust has settled a bit, experts have begun writing about their findings, explaining what the new Snack Pack means to you, and how it will affect the future of local search.
I spent some time recently researching, reading, and digesting some of the most informative articles about the Snack Pack rollout. Keep reading to learn what I discovered and to find out what some of the sharpest minds in the industry are saying.
More Google Best Practices
Google’s Local Snack Pack Shake-Up: What You Need to Know
“Google has always been very focused on user experience regardless of the product or platform, so it isn't at all surprising to see local as yet another area where Google is changing desktop to match the mobile user experience.”
Summary: Desktop search engine result pages (SERPs) are beginning to mirror Mobile SERPs. For the restaurant industry you can sort the Local Finder by quality of reviews. Should we expect this feature to roll out for more service based industries?
Addresses only display street names. This prompts users to make another click (or 2 on mobile) to get additional information.
You can now sort by ratings for restaurants and Jennifer anticipates this rolling out to more industries.
To optimize for the new Snack Pack, focus on links, citation consistency, and other marketing opportunities.
If Home Service Ads (currently in beta) are rolled out to more cities and more industries, the local pack may become “pay to play”. See the local pack below for the search phrase ‘San Francisco locksmith’ below:
Dissecting and Surviving Google’s Local Snack Pack Results
“Google may have turned off the carousel for restaurants, but human users are still getting quite a merry-go-round ride trying to use and interpret the Snack Pack that has replaced it. As they bounce from one Google-owned interface to another instead of being given immediate NAP+W or taken directly to owner-managed websites or Google+ Local pages, or even directly to platforms like Zagat, users are given few signals about what connects all of these disparate elements together. To me, the experience is piecemeal and lacking in cohesive glue and feels like a step backward from the clearer UX of the traditional local packs that Google has so long promoted.”
Summary: Miriam dissects the elements of local listings in the new Snack Pack using the restaurant industry as an example. She offers very detailed advice on how businesses like hotels, restaurants, bars, and clubs can thrive in the Snack Pack landscape. Other than filling out your Google My Business dashboard to 100%, Miriam also offers six additional tactics to help your business survive Google’s new trimmed down local landscape.
Full access to NAP+W (business name, address, phone number + website URL) is now a click or two away-- as opposed to requiring no additional clicks.
Google is making it harder to find direct links to a business's Google+ page.
Clicking on the business category now brings up a list of all the categories a business has selected to categorize their business as.
Clicking on the Zagat review keeps you in the Google interface, despite actual Zagat site having more relevant and useful information.
The New Snack Pack: Where Users are Clicking & How You Can Win
“However, another item of interest is that the listings with reviews got the clicks. The third listing, with no review stars, received zero clicks in the local 3-pack. Additionally, it's worth noting that most of the local-centric clicks land on the business name itself. These clicks no longer lead straight to your website or even your old Google+ page, where you still controlled the information to some extent. These now take you to a map page, where other businesses are displayed and where users can read your reviews.”
Summary: Casey conducted a few studies of click-through-rates (CTRs) and offers best practices and strategies to help businesses stay visible in the new Snack Pack results. Read Casey’s post to see the detailed results for each case study.
Organic listings above the Snack Pack still receive more clicks than the 3 businesses in the Snack Pack results.
Reviews still greatly impact user behavior. The #1 listing in the Snack Pack with reviews received more clicks than other local results. Most clicks on the #1 listing went to the business name instead of the website or directions.
Organic listings below the Snack Pack outperform the Snack Pack results when no reviews are visible.
The majority of the local clicks land on the business name itself, which now takes users to a Maps search where other competitors are displayed as well.
Reviews are still very important, but Do Not ignore traditional organic ranking factors.
Local SEO Is Not An Island (Or At Least it Shouldn’t Be!)
“Looking at a digital marketing strategy that includes local, organic, paid, content, social, lead generation and email will not only deliver more leads but will allow you to survive the twists and turns of Google’s ever developing search algorithm.”
Summary: By hedging your bets and making sure your marketing strategy includes paid, organic and local searches, your visibility won’t be wiped off the map. The traditional factors for ranking well will be even more important as local becomes more competitive. Focus on citation consistency, reviews, on-page optimization, and local links.
Instances where the Snack Pack sits at the top of the page with PPC ads to the right is very similar to the new sponsored local listings. Can we expect a new sponsored local listing product from Google in the near future?
Businesses in positions 1-3 are going to have to work even harder to stay visible, especially because the businesses ranked in spots 4-7 will be working harder to get their visibility back.
Organic is alive and well, so consider creating location specific service pages.
Thoughts About The New Local Stack Display
“The lack of phone numbers will necessitate additional click throughs to the Local Finder. So much for Google surfacing answers on the first query but at least it increases local opportunities.”
Synopsis: MIke was one of the first on the scene to acknowledge the Snack Pack rollout when he wrote this post on August 7th. He highlights the many user interface flaws plaguing the new Snack Pack. Many pieces of local business information we were used to seeing immediately now take as many as 3 clicks to uncover.
The new local display provides more opportunity for organic results on the first page.
The lack of phone numbers will require more clicks to the Local Finder, where there are 20 opportunities to display pieces of information.
All links to G+ have been removed and Google supposedly will be removing automatically created and non-verified listings (Finally!).
Single location branded searches still pull the knowledge graph, but multiple location branded searches pull a new pack with no phone numbers, prompting users to click twice in order to view their phone numbers.
Google goes to Local 3 Pack
“Google has been testing Local Sponsored Ads in San Francisco for a few weeks now. Could this new update to Local Maps be preemptive to these Local PPC ads spreading nationwide? Is Google prepping consumers for this new push?”
Summary: Brian reinforces Mike’s opinion that the new Snack Pack is huge downgrade in regards to user experience. It takes 3 clicks in most cases to access meaningful local business information.
He focuses on the insurance industry in his blog post and notes organic results had low-quality and thin content, raising the question: How are these sites ranking with such weak on page content? Read Brian’s full post to see why he thinks these sites are ranking and what he believes is on the horizon for local search.
Local rankings are still achieved through high-quality local links, citation consistency, and quantity (not quality) of reviews.
Snack Pack business photos are pulled from verified Google+ pages and look horrible. They are stretched out of proportion and even cropped in many cases.
Organic listings are still mixed with local businesses and relevant local directories.
Google’s ‘Snack Pack’ Update: Local ‘7 Packs’ Gone
“It seems like Google will be forcing all local businesses to ‘pay to play’ in their local market and may even start charging businesses for phone calls made from their search results in the near future.”
Summary: Andrew seems very confident that local search will no doubt become “pay to play.” In general, small businesses are losing while Google wins. More small businesses will have to turn to AdWords or a forthcoming sponsored local listings where you’ll have to pay for leads.
The value of links has increased. 4 local businesses are now gone from the local pack giving more room for organic listings to rank on the first page.
The average user loses. Additional info is now harder to find and takes longer to access.
There should be an even higher emphasis placed on getting reviews and building out your citation profile.
My Overall Impressions
The first thing I want to acknowledge is how Google seems to be listening to industry experts.
Business phone numbers have been added to Snack Pack results. There are no more additional clicks required to find this crucial piece of contact info.
Unfortunately, as others have pointed out, other user experience and interface issues remain.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The Google local landscape is shrinking. Now more than ever, you need to push your local marketing strategy in a new direction – towards what is known as “barnacle SEO”.
Coined by Will Scott at Search Influence, “barnacle SEO” is a term that’s been floating around for awhile now. Understanding and taking advantage of “barnacle SEO” is quickly becoming table stakes.
Barnacles attach themselves to objects (like a pier’s pilings or a boat’s hull) and let the current deliver food to them. How can this be applied to the world of digital marketing?
It’s simple: perform keyword searches relevant to your service or product and pay attention to the local directory sites appearing on and near the top of page one. These are the sites you’ll want to attach your business to and optimize for.
Here’s a hint: In most industries the strongest barnacle site will be either Yelp or Facebook. But let’s take a look at an example from the wedding venue industry:
Search Term: wedding venues in ma
For this search phrase, the above the fold results are dominated by Adwords ads and then the Snack Pack, but the 10 organic listings are made up solely of local directories.
In the above example, you would want to attach yourself to those 10 barnacle sites. Remember, you should spend more time on the top sites, including The Knot, Wedding-Spot, and Here Comes the Bride.
Final Conclusions from the Snack Pack Roundup
All in all, small businesses will have to be more creative and adopt a more well rounded digital marketing strategy.
Local pack visibility has been cut in half – meaning those top 3 spots will be increasingly competitive and more difficult to break into.
If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic since this update or want to hedge your bets for the future I’d recommend looking into AdWords, barnacle local directories, and of course keeping up on all the white hat SEO strategies that lead to great organic rankings, including link building and on-page optimization.
I’d love to hear from you! Share your comments below.
CHAD DELMAIN - DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIST
Chad DelMain has been with DelMain Analytics for over 2 years. Specializing in Organic SEO, Local SEO and PPC, Chad develops strategy, executes implementation and works closely with clients across all industries. Prior to working at DelMain Analytics, Chad was a junior digital marketer at Chi Evolution, an ecommerce company selling natural health products. A graduate of OSU, Chad can be found playing soccer and basketball, cheering on the trailblazers and hanging out with friends.