Service Area Businesses: GMB ‘Service Area’ Update and SERP Clicks Analyzed

Service Area Businesses: GMB ‘Service Area’ Update and SERP Clicks Analyzed
  • You can now set your service area in Google My Business as a region, city, or ZIP code.
  • No longer are Service Area Businesses required to provide a physical business address in Google My Business.
  • Consumers searching for Service Area Businesses are most likely to click on organic links to directory listings.
  • Clicks on Service Area Businesses in the Local Pack are heavily motivated by review scores and totals.

Big news for Service Area Businesses (SABs) this week, as Google has confirmed and rolled out a change to the way you set your service area in Google My Business (GMB).

Whereas previously you could define the radius around your business address (e.g. ‘Serving customers within 40 miles’) in GMB, you now have to define your service area by region, city, or ZIP code instead.

As this is no longer tied to your business address, you now have the option to not display this in your GMB if you don’t serve customers at your business address. This will be a welcome relief for SABs having to turn customers away from their front doors!

In addition to this news, GMB Gold Product Expert Ben Fisher published a few notes on this change in this excellent Local Search Forum thread:

  1. SABs will now be able to create a listing without designating an address (verification may still be required in most instances).
  2. Increased focus on place-based service areas to provide human-readable descriptions
  3. Existing SAB’s will be able to remove their address.
  4. Removing your address and not designating a Service Area will default to the country.
  5. Existing radius areas will eventually translate to places (cities, zips, etc.)
  6. If postcard verification is needed, the address will not show on maps.
  7. The core reason for this is to better match the consumer to SAB’s.
  8. If you designate multiple service areas, Google will rank them equally.
  9. Drastic changes to your service area could require re-verification (e.g. changing from AZ to NY)

Source: Local Search Forum

It will be particularly interesting to see how much this affects how Google’s Local Services Ads (LSAs), which appear at the very top of SERPs for searches for service areas businesses in certain parts of the USA.

Where Do People Click on SERPs for Service Area Businesses?

On that note, as part of our recent study into the impact of LSAs on SERP clicks, we broke down where and why users click on particular SERP links when searching for a SAB.

Even though the study was ostensibly about LSAs, we noticed some really interesting trends on clicks on standard SAB SERPs (for searches like ‘plumbers san francisco’).

Breakdown of clicks on SERPs for Service Area Businesses

As you can see, more than 50% of all clicks on SAB SERPs (without LSAs present) go to organic search results, and an impressive 32.26% go to the Local Pack. Although PPC ads appearing at the top of the page receive a credible amount of clicks (14.11%), the same can’t be said for PPC ads at the bottom of the page, which receive a paltry 0.44%.

Click here for a full visual representation of these clicks on the page, complete with a side-by-side comparison of clicks on SERPs when LSAs are present.

That’s the ‘what’ covered; now it’s time to look at the ‘why’, which reveals some really interesting motivations behind clicks that can help your refine your local SEO strategy.

Why Do Consumers Click Where They Do on SERPs for Service Area Businesses?

Reasons for Clicks by SERP Type

This data reveals a few key things that should help anyone working with a Service Area Business to focus on areas that will really make a difference to clickthroughs.

Most people click on directory links

Firstly, nearly a third of people who clicked on an organic result did so because they knew it was a link to a directory. Although these links tended to appear the highest in organic rankings, you’ll notice that only 8% of people clicked an organic link because of its position on the page.

This strongly suggests that those in the local SAB research phase are highly likely to be looking for a list of the ‘best’ or ‘top’ businesses, rather than refining their search based on what appears in the SERP.

This means it’s absolutely crucial for your SABs to be included in directories to stand a chance to appear in one of these directory lists when a local search is performed. (We just happen to be a dab hand at citation building if this is something you’re looking for assistance submitting to online directories.)

Reviews are king in the Local Pack

When it comes to the Local Pack just beneath the map, an astonishing 50% of people said that their clicks on these business listings were primarily motivated by the review rating appearing in the Local Pack listing. Not only that, but the number of reviews was cited as the second most important reason.

This highlights how critical your online reputation is to clicks through your listing. You might be doing everything else you can to appear in the Local Pack for relevant search terms, but if your competitors are beating you on strength of reputation, you’re likely to be losing out on clicks.

We’ve researched and written extensively on online reviews, so if you need a business case to get serious about reviews, the following studies should help reinforce it.

If you’re looking for help generating, monitoring and responding to reviews, guess what, we’ve got that covered, too! Check out our recently launched tool, Reputation Manager.

The Local Services Ads Click Study

If you’re working with Service Area Businesses in the US and haven’t already taken a look, I’d strongly recommend you check out the recent Local Services Ads Study. With expert commentary, you’ll come away with a full understanding of what goes on in SERPs when someone searches for an SAB.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts

How do you feel about the update to Service Area in GMB? Is it a positive or negative change? And what do you take away from these findings about SERPs? Let us know in the comments below.

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22 thoughts on “Service Area Businesses: GMB ‘Service Area’ Update and SERP Clicks Analyzed”

  1. Hi – Also interested to know if this means it’s no longer necessary to cite your operating address on your website? Lots of SMBs are resistant to this as they operate from their home address, so it presents a privacy/security risk.

    1. Hi Nicky, yes, that’s right. Although it makes getting citations tricky, the most important directory listing (GMB) uses ‘Service Area’ as a way around having to display the address there, so that’s the route to take.

      Hope that helps!


  2. Hi Jamie,

    Does this GMB update mean that it’s now more viable to create geo-location landing pages for SABs? Only since the addition of Google Maps, these have only been working well for businesses with separate branches including separate area-coded landline numbers. OR should we only consider building geo-landing pages for PPC, Social Display etc. Are businesses still only likely to appear in organic SERPs for their primary area to reflect their operating address?

    1. Hi Nicky, great question!

      It’s only worthwhile creating geo-location pages if you’re really able to invest the time in creating location-specific content for them (e.g. guides to local events). If it’s purely so you can have a list of ‘Plumbing in X, Plumbing in Y, Plumbing in Z’ pages linked to in the site footer, it’s not going to work. However, if you’re planning on using them for PPC, there is an argument that these are still required.

      Hope that helps


  3. What is the difference for service area if I inputted the name of the city like Austin, TX versus just inputting the one of zip code of that city like 78703? Additionally, would it be advisable to input multiple zip code for this city rather than the name of the city? If you just put only the name of the city, does it means it covers all the zip code of it? How about inputting the full city name and specific zip codes that my business needs to be visible? Thank you.

    1. Hi Fred, if you input Austin then you’re indicating you serve all zip codes in Austin. If you just put 78703 then you’re indicating you only serve that specific area of Austin.

      But at this point don’t expect this to cause your listing to show in areas you indicate you serve, or your listing to not show in areas you indicate you don’t serve.

      If you serve all of the zip codes in a city then you can just enter the city. Once you have entered your full service area and the update has published, search your business name in Google to view the knowledge panel result for your business. If your listing is set as a service-area business with address hidden, the knowledge panel will include a map showing the service area you indicated. This is what potential customers will see when searching for your business. To me, at this point, that is the most important aspect of indicating your service area.

  4. Some of the findings are super interesting:

    1. “..nearly a third of people who clicked on an organic result did so because they knew it was a link to a directory.”
    2. “When it comes to the Local Pack just beneath the map, an astonishing 50% of people said that their clicks on these business listings were primarily motivated by the review rating appearing in the Local Pack listing.”

    This could explain why Yelp has such dominant presence in certain local SERPs as they combine directory listings + reviews.

    Have you ever done a similar analysis looking at behavior on branded vs non-branded queries? I’d be really curious if there are differences there.

    1. Hi Travis, glad you liked the post! Be sure to take a look at the original study if you haven’t done so yet.

      Great idea to compare branded vs non-branded searches, though my guess would be that if someone searched for a specific brand, they’re most likely to click on links to that brand? Would be interesting to see if I’m wrong, though!



  5. Hi Jamie,

    Nice Post! I have one question. The point where you mentioned that “Removing your address and not designating a Service Area will default to the country.” is not clear to me. We are managing a few SAB’s and after the update in GMB, their service areas are still appearing in terms of Radius. What do you suggest how should we make the changes to their target areas?

    1. Hi Matt, if you’ve updated the service area to specific location rather than radius, then it will definitely end up showing as service area in GMB. I think it’s just taking a little time for the change to occur. Google have themselves said that any businesses with only radiuses (I want to say radii?) input will end up having them automatically shifted to specific service area once they fully remove the option to include radius.

      Hope that helps!


  6. Hi Jamie,

    We are a floral shop with two locations, both listed as service areas. The first one is where we work from, the second one is just an office, so I can have the physical address, which is the main city where most of our business come from, and where we want to rank well. How do I deal with this situation now? Another question: before the areas serviced could not overlap, what about now?

    Thank you

  7. Isn’t this going to increase local pack competition and expose genuine local businesses to more inter town, regional competition? I guess results will be tied to on page content, reviews and local citations

    1. Hi, that’s a strong possibility. While prominence and relevance ranking signals won’t be affected, it’s too soon to see how proximity will now factor into what ranks.



  8. I saw this change earlier this week and tried to change the areas targeted in my listing by defining it as 3 counties (states). According to Google, Berkshire does not exist in the UK! I’ve come across that issue before with Google’s list of counties. It’s only a few miles from here, so I kinda know it exists. 🙂

    1. Hi Ofir, I guess the biggest change for me is that your service area no longer has to be tied to your address, so you could theoretically say you ‘serve’ a completely different area to that in which you live. This might help SABs with multiple locations avoid overlap.



      1. If you don’t have to provide your address, I can’t see any reason why not, but I might be wrong. Happy to hear otherwise from someone who’s tested it!


      2. So according to what you saying. If you have 2 locations in Coloardo with 2 different GMB’s 1 in Denver and 1 in Colorado Springs we don’t need them both anymore, we can use only one of them to target those cities?

      3. If the two locations are staffed by different people, potentially providing a different business experience to consumers, you’ll still need the two GMB listings. I’d recommend keeping the two in this case.

    2. I see it in a different way. I believe business owners would prefer to save money (rent,employees,bills..). They are anyway serve customers in their location so why to have staffed office

  9. This is just fantastic news! Wow. What a revelation and so sorely overdue. Shame on Google for taking so long to do this. I find the data so interesting.

    I have a question for all of you Marketing pros out there. Considering that the majority of people click on the organic rankings with directory listings, predominantly Yelp in Los Angeles, often taking up the first 3 – 4 slots, does it make sense to build links to a service professional’s Yelp listing?

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