As reported by Mike Blumenthal earlier this week, Google Local has shifted from the 7 Pack to a 3 pack. The shift was first reported as a possible test in various markets, is now rolled out to even more markets and should be nationwide soon.
The shift from a Local 7 Pack to a Local 3 Pack is a horrible user experience for several reasons. Instead of seeing 5 or 7 local results, there are now only 3. Those three local results:
- Do not have a website
- Do not have a phone number
- Do not have a Google+ page visible
- Take 3 clicks to find a meaningful result
Take a look at this SERP.
This is Google penalty worthy. All above the page fold are ads, a map and then three local results. What a great user experience!
So the Map changed from 7 to a Local 3 Pack. Lets dig a little deeper and see what else is different. What do the results look like? Where do the pictures come from? What do the links look like?
Let’s look at the insurance industry.
I’m seeing all cities for all search terms showing the new Local 3 Pack.
Even branded search terms are showing the Local 3 Pack.
The Local 3 Pack seems to jump from directly below PPC, to a spot below 1 Organic result, to 3-4 down the page from Organics.
New Local 3 Pack Deep Dive
The Map listings for Chicago Auto Insurance look OK, so lets dive deeper. Here’s the SERP again:
United Auto, Lincoln Auto and America Auto are all listed. They all have a good amount of Google Reviews but they dont seem to be that great. I mean, United Auto is rated 1.8 out of 12 reviews! How is that a helpful user experience? Fuck it, lets click on it anyway. I want the best deal for insurance…
Oof…that doesnt do anything for me. There isnt even any content on the damn page!
Maybe Lincoln Auto is better. They have better reviews anyway.
Ummm….at least they have a clear CTA and a bit of content?!?
None of these are good, in fact…Id lean more towards terrible. So how are they ranking so well in the Local 3 Pack then? Let’s look at the links.
Links or Citations?
United had 226 links from 44 domains, Lincoln had 144 from 44 domains and American (Murica!) had 511!! from 54 domains. All of this was according to Moz Opensiteexplorer. The citations on each of these listings seem to be strong though. Again, according to Moz Local, each had Verified listings within the city, minimal duplicates, minimal inconsistencies, and were feeding into nearly all of the big citations and data feeders. Maybe citations are the go to? Maybe links are key? Maybe its the volume of reviews because it definitely isnt the quality of them.
Ok, so the websites which are ranking in the Map Pack are low quality, have poor reviews but good citations. Google is not providing a website URL we can view, a G+ page, a phone number or an address. Lets click through to one of the listings and see what happens:
Now we are starting to get somewhere. A map of the Chicagoland area and a list of 20 Local results. But…Each of these listings is still completely useless unless you click on the listing. Once clicked, the listing provides a Picture, Reviews, Address, Phone Number, Hours, a link to the Website (but no listed URL), Driving Directions and a Review Summary. The G+ page is noticeably absent. That seems like a good bit of information though. Glad it only took me 3 clicks to get there.
Local 3 Pack Pictures
There is no picture listed for United Auto (and yet they rank #1 in the new Local Pack) but pictures are available. So where is G pulling them from? From the Lincoln Auto profile you can see a picture.
Clicking on the photo brings you….nowhere. Seriously, look. It’s a black page with a photo on it. You can switch between the photos on the bottom, but if you click the “X” in the upper right…you’re gone.
You can barely see text in the bottom right hand corner which states “Photos are copyrighted by their owners” but you aren’t able to click on that to find the image. If you click on the tiny “G+ button“, it opens your own G+ feed. Useful. The “Terms” button opens the “Google Maps/Earth Terms” page. I couldnt find anything on there that was worth my time but maybe I missed something.
I clicked through to the Lincoln Auto Insurance page and didnt find either of those 2 photos on their website. The second picture is similar to their logo but the one on their website has the text next to the Lincoln head, not underneath it. I was able to finally dig and find their Google+ page (again not available on this page) and found both images on their G+ page. Mystery solved on this one?
I did the same thing for American Auto and didnt find any photos on their website but found them on a few G+ pages. Note to American Auto, the G+ page on your website is broken.
Where is G Pulling Photos From?
Seems like most of the pictures are being pulled from a verified G+ page. They dont appear to fit well though. They are stretched, cut off and look terrible. Im not sure how to fix this yet, or even if we can.
It doesnt appear G is pulling pictures from the same space all the time either though. Check these 2 from Allstate. The first is either pulled from the agent website or the agent G+ page, as both have the same picture:
The half face, ugly picture is pulled from her generic G+ page or her website.
Now look at this one. Mr. Murray has a generic G+ background as his image.
His website and his G+ page have face pictures though….
Michael Murray had a face picture on his G+ and website as did Ms. Wagner. Linda Wagner had a generic, rainbow picture for her G+ background though. Why did G pull pictures from different locations for each?
Organic Listings Deep Dive
The Organic listings seem to be a mix of directories and local insurance agents. The brands which are in those cities are few and far between and most of the time when you see the brands, the city/state pages are the ones ranking instead of the actual agents in the city. The user experience on this issue can be debated but not when you look at the content. Most of the content on the city/state pages is trash. How are they ranking? Look at this. These 2 sites (ignore my terrific arrows) are ranking 3rd and 5th organically for Chicago Auto Insurance.
Their pages can hardly be considered authorities or helpful. Look!
Those pages are poor and thin at best. Especially the second one. We know the amount of links on the domains but what about the pages? Progressive has 18 links from 3 domains and American has 511 from 54.
It seems odd to me that the Organic listings were impacted this much from a Local Pack update. I often check Organic listings for the insurance industry and it rarely looks like this. Much of the time there are either branded local agents – Allstate/State Farm/Nationwide agents with offices in Chicago – or directories listed. These Organic listings mostly have local agents within local companies in the city, not branded agents from national companies.
On a branded search you still get a Knowledge Graph though. It even has the G+ page!
And a poor 3 Pack.
Look at the poor quality in the new Local Pack, it’s shady. The analysis speaks for itself. When Google dropped the Local 3 Pack from 7 to 3, did it cause a Pigeon like shakeup or are citations more important now? The Local Pack results look to be shaken up a bit. How is Google ranking them?
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?
It’s going to take more time, testing and analysis before we know if this change in the Local Pack is bringing in more traffic to the top 3 or is spreading the traffic around to other local businesses in the top 20 results. It’ll be interesting to see how much movement these Local 3 Packs have now based on CTR, Bounce, Time on Site, Links, Citations, etc.
Regardless, this new change in the Local 3 Pack is going to be tough on small business owners as they will feel the crunch on their Local SEO. Small businesses will most likely see less traffic unless they are in the top 3 of the Pack and if they aren’t, it’s our job as Digital Marketers to work to get them there.
I was going to analyze a few more industries but it’s late and I’m tired. Casey had a decent write up on Lawyers. I’d like to hear any others who went more in depth.
Update: Joy Hawkins has a good write up as well. More will undoubtedly be coming out today.