Changes to Google’s Local Pack Make Optimizing Organic More Critical Than Ever

SMX Advanced is buzzing about local.

On Tuesday, hints were dropped that Google’s Local Pack may be changing from the current 3 pack into a 2-pack plus an ad. If it happens, the number of organic slots will drop and become more competitive. To beat the odds, it’s going to be more important than ever for businesses to make sure their local listings are clean and consistent — and under control.

Google is constantly experimenting with the design, layout, and functionality of its Search Engine Results Page. Its goal in doing this is to provide the optimal search experience for users, while at the same time maximizing its potential for ad dollars.

Just in the past couple of years alone, we’ve seen significant changes to SERP and ad placement:

  • Removal of Google’s “Carousel”
  • Google Knowledge Panel (the box that sometimes appears in search results with rich information pertaining to your search query)

For some time now ads have been appearing as part of ‘Knowledge Panel Results’

And as Mike Blumenthal pointed out a couple months ago, ads have already  begun appearing as offers within local pack results.

However, these ads are simply offers that enhance the organic local pack result, and as far as I can tell, do *not* influence whether a Hotel ranks in the local pack.

Take the following mobile search as an example:

For the search query “hotels near me” this is exactly what I would expect to see in search results. I’m physically located near these three hotels (see the blue dot) but note that although the Westin has a paid AD and AND it’s the closest hotel to my location, it’s the second local pack result.

It’s unlikely that Google will ever fully tip local results in favor of paid ads, since this would create a bad user experience. But with less organic real estate available, businesses will have to pay even more attention to the quality, and searchability, of their local listings.

 In my opinion, it seems like Google’s introduction of ads into the local pack is really Google’s attempt to encourage advertisers to buy these ‘Enhanced Results’. It’s just a matter of time before we see them showing up for more and more industries in the local pack.


– Lenny Pham, Yext Manager, Professional Services


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