Optimizing for the Local Pack Today
Search engine optimization has always been a dynamic practice, where changes in how the engines index and return websites and content drives how a digital presence is optimized. This is illustrated clearly in the recent changes to the Google Local pack.
Google rolled out a rather significant update in early August to how it displays local businesses within its results pages. Instead of the 7-pack of listings that most consumers and Web professionals have grown accustom to, Google now only displays 3 local listings.
In addition to this rather significant change in the number of listings returned, Google has also replaced the exact address with the street name only, removed phone numbers and Google+ links, and has added opening and closing times.
When users click on the title of a listing, they are presented with (and redirected to) more details on that business (within a popup that is overlayed on a map along with up to 20 other listings). Only when a user clicks specifically on the website icon in the listing pack will their click end up on a website.
What is generating the most discussion among SEOs, however, is the frequency with which the 3-pack is being displayed and how their visibility in the search results has likely changed. Recent research from SEO Clarity, for example, revealed that the new local listing format shows in the #1 rank position 93 percent of the time, a big increase from the 25 percent of the time that the old 7-pack was shown in the first position.
Google has long been on a mission to localize its results and there have been plenty of updates (e.g. Pigeon) to validate that claim. And as it stands today, the new format seems to be the standard across nearly every keyword with local intent.
What this means for SEOs is that local search optimization is an absolute requirement. If SEOs want to optimize for the local pack today, the information provided in Google My Business is of the utmost importance.
Among the easier optimization tactics for Google My Business is ensuring NAP data (name, address and phone number) is accurate, as well as listing the company's website, hours of operation and the payment types accepted. This is a no-brainer for anyone involved in digital marketing in the last decade or so, but managing this information for multiple clients or properties can be a time-consuming task but one definitely worth completing.
Google also advises to pick a business category out of its list of suggestions, as well as to choose very specific ones to separate the company in the result pages. Google states that its search algorithm, "makes sure that users looking for 'Book Stores' will see businesses in more specific categories like 'Used Book Stores,' 'Comic Book Stores,' and 'Rare Book Stores' too."
Additionally, reviews will play an even more important role in local search with fewer businesses to immediately choose from. Companies will want to not only ask for reviews on their Google+ pages, but also ensure they are monitoring them and replying to them, good or bad, to have an active presence on the social/search property.
Another piece of the local-pack puzzle is photos. By using Google My Business, companies can select a "first photo" that Google may or may not use alongside the business on Google maps and Google search, as well as other business-specific photos that could appear. While a number of factors go into what Google ultimately shows to a user, businesses will want to indicate to Google what their preferences are for the photos that appear for their companies. Google has plenty of recommendations on which photos to upload here.