Paid Media, Search Engine Marketing, SEO
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Recently, Google made some big changes in their local business listing results. These changes may have a dramatic impact on the number of new customers your company gets from your Google visibility.

At the time of this writing, it appears adjustments are still being made to the new Google local pack, but it’s expected that most of these changes are here to stay, at least for a while.

What Changed?

Old Local Business Listings

Before the changes, Google displayed seven local business listings on desktop computers when consumers searched for companies in their geographical area. If consumers searched for “auto repair hollywood fl” local business listings would display as a seven-pack. These seven local business listings displayed the name of the business, website URL, physical address, phone number, link to business reviews, Google+ Local Business page and a Google map with the seven businesses included in the seven-pack.

These seven-pack listings appeared in the organic search results near the top of the Google search results pages, and companies appearing in the seven-pack generated lots of leads by gaining visibility on the first page of Google.

Unlike Google Adwords, where business owners pay to get their listing on the first page of Google, seven-pack listings are free.

New Business Listings

On August 6, 2015, Google changed the seven business listings to three business listings on desktop computers. The new format, known as the three-pack, does not show physical addresses or phone numbers. On mobile devices, the phone number is not displayed, but there is a button to call the business. Consumers must now click-thru to the website to get the physical address or phone number of the business. The new three-pack also eliminates the link to the Google+ Local Business page.

Since there is no link to the G+ page, if the searcher clicks on the business name within the three-pack, Google Maps display a list of 20 companies and their business information. So if the searcher wants to learn more about the company, they will also be exposed to their competitors.

How Does This Affect My Business

Many local search consultants are reporting that the top three listings are the same as before. Not exactly true. It seems that Google has fine-tuned the rankings within the three-pack based on the searcher’s IP address.

For businesses listed in positions four through seven of the old seven-packs, you will no longer be displayed under the new format, but you will be in Google Maps. Competition will be fierce for one of the top three listings displayed by Google in the three-pack format. It will not be as easy to get to one of these top three spots, especially beyond Google’s perceived IP address range based on your location.

How Should Businesses Respond To These Changes

Don’t panic if you have been dropped from the first page of Google. There are many other ways to generate online leads for your company besides the three-pack listings.

Optimize & Update Your Existing Website

Outside of the three-pack listing, it is still possible to optimize your website to show up in the free listings on the first page of Google under the standard organic Google SERPs. Any reputable local search engine consultant can guide you through the process of optimizing your website for Google in 2015 and beyond.

Advertise on Google Adwords

Spend money through Google’s paid advertising program to get on the first page of Google for your desired industry terms. If you don’t have time to learn how to build and manage your Google Adwords campaign, pay a marketing consultant to manage your campaign for you.

Furthermore, Google is testing sponsored advertising for the three-pack listings in the San Francisco area. There is speculation that the three-pack listings will become paid listings all over the USA and around the world in the future. Personally, I doubt that. If they do, it would likely go back to a seven-pack with the top three being paid and marked as such.

Optimize Local Search Directory Listings

Optimize your local business directory listings on sites like YP.com and Yelp.com through a process known as Barnacle SEO. Fill out your profile completely on all of the major local business directories and ask your local marketing consultant for details and guidance if it’s a new process for you.

Like Google, Bing also displays local business results for local search queries. Try to optimize your business listings for Bing and Yahoo, too.

Get Positive Reviews

Reviews may not matter in the overall SEO ranking algorithm, but they matter greatly to the searchers. 90+% look at and trust online reviews. Having that five star rating on Google+, as well as high ratings on major directories like Yelp, Manta, YP andCitySearch will help immensely with getting prospects to call or visit your business.

It is difficult for the average business owner to keep up with all of the algorithmic changes happening every day, so talk to your local business marketing consultant to explore what opportunities will be best for your company.

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