Google has started including advertisements to the local 3 pack in search results. On June 21st Google announced that they will be allowing advertisements into the local 3 pack in an effort to help advertisers “fully unlock the potential of local intent”. The local 3 pack is the name given to the map and business listings combination given for search queries where location based information is required. For example in Vancouver the search “Coffee shops near me” yields the following result.
As you can see all three of these local coffee shops are organic (unpaid) listings. Soon one of these will become an advertisement. Advertisers will be able to place an ad at the top of this box displaying their business just like the other two results, however, it will not be organic and instead a managed placement. This is truly unprecedented in the world of SEO/SEM as up until now it has been impossible to pay to have your ads added to the local search maps (except when Google has been testing this feature). A prominent position on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) was always something that had to be fought for using on-going SEO strategies or Pay-Per-Click advertising. This will be another search engine strategy for businesses to use to most effectively reach their customers – by vying for the ad placement in the local 3 pack. It is still slightly unclear how these ad placements will work. It could be managed bid placements, creation of location specific ads that Google could serve as they see fit. The earliest indicators seem to suggest a relationship between location based extensions in Adwords search campaigns and being placed in the local map results.
You may remember we had discussed this topic a few months ago when Google was testing Paid Local Search Advertisements. Well it appears the time has finally come as these changes will be in testing for another few months but should be live before the end of 2016. In what form these changes will take place is also slightly unclear as Google’s Global Product Lead for Local Ads, Ali Turhan stated that Google “was still testing, and the ultimate result might be different from what he showed.” Potentially leading us to believe that we could see the Local 3 Pack revert back to a 5 Pack with 2 Ads and 3 Organic results.
What Does this Mean for You?
As a business owner you are probably aware of the amount of traffic that can be sent to your store or website just by having a prominent position on the SERP. Now you will need to fight even harder to try and get one of the top two spots in the map pack. Your pages will need to be more highly targeted, more relevant, and about more specific topics (not necessarily just keywords – see Voice Commands & How It’s Changing Search) than ever before. This is yet another strategy to keep your eye on in the coming months.
According to Bright Local 58% of consumers they surveyed about the new ads in local packs said they did not like the idea of paid advertisements in local search results. As a marketer I can definitely see the benefit of having paid placements here for my clients, however, as a consumer I would have to agree with that 58% and say that I do not think ads should be in the local pack. Once Google rolls our these changes will they stick? or will they be just like Google+, Sidebar ads, and many other Google products that have been implemented but eventually revoked. Regardless the local search landscape is going to change dramatically by the end of 2016, make sure your business is ready.