Google Local Pack positions can now be paid for

Google Local Pack positions can now be paid for

Oct 31 2016 | by SONYA FRY

Back in September last year we published a blog post on changes to Google’s local search results. As a reminder; this was about Google changing what was previously 7 local search results on page one to just 3. Google made this decision with mobile users in mind, and with more Google searches taking place on mobile devices than on computers, this makes total sense as the 3-pack fits neatly onto a standard-sized mobile screen.

The latest update for local search results came back in June, during the SMX Local Advanced Workshop in Seattle, when Google confirmed that they are testing the insertion of paid Ads into the local 3-pack organic search result. So not only have Google reduced the presence of local pack search results by half on page one, they are now considering making one of those results a paid for listing. The example shown at the workshop was of one paid Ad above two organic business listings within the local 3-pack, essentially replacing one of the organic results.

Since then there has been plenty of discussion on what this might look like on Local Search Forums, with people sharing results found in America with the same set up described at the workshop, and more recently results like this one shown here, which was spotted by Ryan Scollon with three organic listings and one Ad at the top in a UK mobile search. This would actually make it four local listings, which makes this change slightly less scary for those who are currently reliant on SEO alone.

However in the US there have also been instances showing three sponsored local packs above the map labelled as ‘Nearby businesses’, with three organic listings underneath the map, which will push any organic listings much further down the page.

From all of this it is clear that Google have not yet decided what they want to do with paid Ads in local search results, so we will have to wait and see how exactly this will affect current local pack results. However one thing is for certain, one way or another paid for local business listings will be present in the local 3-pack in the near future and they will feature more prominently than organic listings.

This change sits inline with Google’s preference for paid content appearing above organic content, which we saw earlier this year when paid for Ads went from three to four positions at the top of the page, which pushed organic results further below the fold, especially on mobile.

What does this mean for consumers?

When carrying out a local search consumers should hardly notice the change, with a similar number of results being shown, the only difference is that one or more of them will be identified as an Ad.

What does this mean for local businesses?

This new development can be taken one of two ways; that organic search results will suffer with less visibility and businesses will now have to pay to reach audiences they could previously have reached organically. Or that with the new Ad space on offer is an opportunity to develop a strong paid advertising plan that can reach a larger audience than previously possible and with the bonus of being highly trackable.

Whichever way you look at it, consider the following facts about local search:


  • “46% of all searches on Google are local”
  • “Google 3-pack local results appear for at least 93% of Google searches having local intent”
  • “Around 50% of consumers who use smartphone to do a local search will visit a local store within a day and 34% of those who use a computer or tablet do the same”
  • “18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day”
  • “87% of smartphone owners use a search engine at least once a day”

Now do you think ranking for local search is worth paying for?

How should businesses prepare for this change?

If your business is location based you will be highly reliant on local search, and you will most likely have some form of SEO strategy in place already. With Google reducing the number of organic local packs last year it is now twice as hard to rank within page one of Google local search results. In our previous blog post we provided some helpful tips on how to get into the top three local pack positions, but with the introduction of paid Ads in local packs, we would strongly recommend that local businesses also consider paid advertising if they are not already. Note that the business ‘Ricemedia’ on the example screenshot above has covered both bases with a paid for Ad and an organic listing. This is a sensible decision as in some of the examples where Google has been testing the local pack Ads, no Ad has been shown when the business is closed. This means that if customers are searching out of hours, ahead of visiting and a business is only relying on paid Ads in the local pack, they will have no visibility for this search.

There has not been any official advice from Google yet on how exactly this form of advertising will work in Adwords, but we would assume that if your Google My Business information is linked to your Adwords account, the geographical information from your local pages will be used alongside the keywords you wish to bid on. Reviewing your marketing budgets now and getting a strategy in place for each of your locations will enable you to act quickly when Google officially roll out the change.

Top tip:

If you do not have any geo-targeted Adwords campaigns currently running, as a starting point it would be worth carrying out some keyword research into local search terms using Adwords Keyword Planner to gather insights into the suggested bids for each keyword. This should give you a rough idea of the level investment needed to carry out paid advertising for local search.

Sonya Fry

Google Local Pack positions can now be paid for