Google 3-Pack to become 2-pack, with new paid listings

Google 3-Pack to become 2-pack, with new paid listings

Joy Hawkins yesterday reported that Google’s local 3-pack (aka ‘snak-pack’) will soon include an Advert in it.

Thus the 3-pack becomes the 2-pack…

Thug Life


Hat-tip to Colan Nielsen for using the 2pac quip first!

Joy from Imprezzio Marketing was attending SMX Advanced in Seattle when Google made the announcement in their presentation.

She was even fast-witted to photograph the 2 pack and share it with her contacts.


The photo is a bit grainy so here’s a mockup created from that photo, to show what we think it may look like.

Google 2-pack

Note the Ad label on the top listing

Paid-for Inclusion Squeezes Good Businesses

So it’s here – paid-for inclusion in local results. Now any business – the good, the bad & the ugly – can get a highly prominent placement in local results by paying for it – rather than by genuinely being the best business for local consumers to use!

This will undoubtedly make life harder for local SEOs & business owners.

The 3-pack hard was challenging enough to get included in, but that job has now get tougher with 33% of the local pack space being sold to the highest bidder.

If you consider the amount of spam in certain categories then genuine, quality, play-by-the-rules business owners are being squeezed out!

The upshot for Google is clear = more revenue to satisfy bottom-line growth.

The downside is also pretty clear –

  • Worse experience for users
  • Good businesses being penalized
  • Lower-quality results as more businesses/SEOs employ grey-tactics to get a foot-up on rivals

Local Extensions for Adwords

The local pack Ad inclusion is not yet rolled out and hasn’t been spotted in the wild – yet!

According to Joy these ads will be part of Adwords Extensions which will be available to local business advertisers who have their GMB listing connected to their Adwords Accounts. Presumably they’ll also be available via Adwords Express which might finally make Adwords Express a viable, high performing channel for local businesses.

Intuitive dashboard, affordable, easy-to-read reports and the most accurate local rank tracking in the business. I highly recommend their service.

Jennifer Poole Los Angeles, CA

New ‘DEALS’ Tag for Hotel Searches

This new development is different to the green DEAL icons which have recently featured in hotel listings.

As reported by The SEM Post, DEAL tags can feature in both the 3-pack (see screenshot below) and the Local Finder page. They display when a Hotel has rooms offered below normal rate, or lower than the rates of similar Hotels – or when a partner is offering a discounted price vs the market rate.

google local hotel results

DEAL tags feature on Hotel listings

The big difference to note is that inclusion of a Deal does not put the Hotel top of the local results. The hotel still needs to rank on merit but the Deal tag helps it stand out which should boost conversion from browse to click.

Will Consumers Rise-Up Against Google?!

A key question is how will consumers react to this?

Will they vent their frustration at yet more ad-encroachment and flee to another search engine?

Or will they barely will notice the change, and if they do, will they really care?

Searchers have become accustomed to seeing more PPC ads in organic listings, and most consumers understand exactly what they are. However, despite the Ad label, it may take consumers a while to get used to paid ads in local results.

We’ve run some consumer focused research on this to find out how consumers will react to these local pack changes. In the meantime please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • Are you surprised by paid ads in the local pack?
  • How do you think it will affect local consumers / searchers?
  • What’s the future for the new 2-Pack?

You can also follow the discussion with Linda & Joy on the Local Search Forum.


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31 thoughts on “Google 3-Pack to become 2-pack, with new paid listings”

  1. I think you need to update this post. I have not seen an instance where the 3-pack became a 2-pack because of a paid ad. I have only seen a 4-pack become a 3-pack with a paid listing. I believe that deals are here to stay.

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for your comment.

      As this is presented as a dated news piece based on a local SEO expert’s presentation nearly two years ago, and doesn’t present itself as en evergreen and ‘current’ piece of content, we won’t be updating it with any new information.



  2. I have done a little testing and research and I have found that my organic ranks have improved when I have ads that are showing on GMB.

    I have seen huge increases in rank for my organic articles if I have linked them with my paid ads.

    So no matter how you cut it, Google is pay to play.

    1. Hi Jae. That’s interesting and not something that i have heard other SEOs mention. When you say ‘ads’ in GMB what ads do you mean – adwords or Google Home Service Ads?

      If you have any data you could share I would be very interested to see this.

      Thanks Myles

  3. This is inevitable. As marketers, we have to find a way to service our own paying clients and/or use this to get or retain paying clients.

    Do we push organic or do we push our Adwords clients? Since I have no Adwords clients, should I now try to get some?

    Advise anyone?

  4. Does this mean that even though i don’t reside in a particular area but still cover that area in my radius i will be able to get a paid map lisitng to show for that area?

    1. Hi Carl. That’s a very good question…but i don’t have the answer.

      I’ll see if Joy Hawkins has any insight on this.

      1. Hi Carl. Joy did have an answer – of course she does, she’s brilliant!

        Here is what she says + link to original thread on

        The farther away you get, the less likely the location extension will show. It’s also based on things like Quality Score and ad relevance. So if Google has 6 people to choose from, and 1 spot, they would probably pick the one that’s most relevant (actually in that city) with the better quality score/performing ads. I think it’s definitely possible to show in surrounding cities but not as likely if there are lots of good competitors who are actually in that city with great AdWords accounts.

  5. “Will they vent their frustration at yet more ad-encroachment and flee to another search engine?

    Or will they barely will notice the change, and if they do, will they really care?”

    My guess: The latter.

  6. We will have to dance to Google’s music until any other Search Engine comes up with a better Search Experience for the users (which I don’t think will happen soon). No other option since we need to survive.

    1. True, if we don’t improve & adapt, we die. Same for our whole species as well as SEOs. Lucky humans are good at adapting!

  7. I wonder if the mock-up provided is how it will actually appear or if the ad will be more visually different than the standard 3 pack look and feel. I have a feeling there will be a more prominent visual difference.

    1. As the sun-rises in the East, Google will test lots of formats & colors so we’ll see a bunch of tests before coming out.

  8. Google pushing SEO down and PPC up. As an SEO company we will go along with it because we have to. Leaves opening for other new Search Engines to show more and better organic listings. Paid ads are crap listings on mostly irrelevant keywords. Google is infringing on quality listings which is what got them to the top. I hate Google! But I am a SEO multi-millionaire because of them! I will dodge and bob at everything Google does to promote PPC but great SEO will always be in play and ultimately way better ROI. So I’m safe so will be user experience because of organic listings never going away, it may be chipped at by Google, but organic will never die!

  9. Google will always put the User first…Nothing really changing here for the User as the best SEO v the best Adwords marketers will still get the exposure…relevance is still key.

    Free disappeared years ago.

  10. From a seven-pack, to a three-pack, now down to two results. Added to that the fact we typically have 4 Adwords ads at the top of Google search results page, and Google’s “commitment” to local businesses is clear. Ultimately it is all about one business – Google.

    One upside of this, though, is that by doing effective local SEO it is still possible to appear naturally in the reduced snack-pack, and bid for an ad in there too, so for clients with a reasonable budget there is the possibility of snagging another space on Page One.

    However, for those businesses that can’t afford a ticket to Google’s party then things could get a bit leaner.

    Something tells me that this won’t be the last encroachment of paid/sponsored listings on Google search pages. “Don’t Be Evil” – now who was it that said that?

    1. I’m with you on that Stephen. I think we’ll see paid-for-promotion occurring in many different forms throughout Google’s platforms. They need to keep growing and rinsing more revenue out of their best performing platforms. They’ve never monetised local/maps very well so this is an obvious area for them to focus on. Big gains, little effort.

  11. well, another blow to the local seo community. Another source of income will have to be paid for, and big G is the one who comes out on top. Thanks for the post I hope they re-think this in the future.

  12. Well, not spotted in the Wild yet.

    As it happens, it could be on the horizon as soon as this week sometime.

    I belong to a private community, and the feeling is it is on us, due to certain things happening in peoples Adwords accounts, like new menus, adwords keywords tool not accessible, the new menus not being accessible yet, and adwords accounts being not accessible, as in, a page saying adwords is unavailable at this time.

    1. Hi John. It’s nice to see someone finding a positive view on this change. And you’re right. There are many good, legit businesses out there who, for one reason or another, can’t break into the 3 pack. So this gives them an option to gain promotion and attract customers.

      I wonder if Google will take star rating into account as part of quality score. So businesses with good reputations don’t pay so much?!

    1. Thanks Josh. I think this is just the start of major encroachment into Local Pack / local promotion spaces.

  13. It’s unfortunate that Google keeps on coming up with clever ways to bombard us with paid advertisements while all the while, under-minding the user experience. Local search should be local search based upon RELEVANT and Organic listings. Remember, Google, there’s always Bing…

    1. The thing is Kyle T, Yahoo and Bing are worst for ads than Google so as long as they stay just above the better user experience then they are still the best search engine.

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