Google has been testing a new layout for the Local Pack interface over the last few months, and has now announced that the change will be permanent.
The Local Pack is a prominent section of the local search results. It features the top three businesses for a local query, as well as a map pinpointing the location of each. Being featured here can make a huge difference to local business web traffic and sales.
Google has typically displayed three results with a map above since 2015. Before then, seven results were listed in the Local Pack without the addition of a map.
New Local Pack Design
The new design—which only applies to searches made on desktop—will feature three results on the left of the page and a map to the right. One notable advantage to this is that the map is bigger and could therefore be easier for some searchers to use.
The updated design:
The old design:
Confirmation from Google
In a statement made to Search Engine Land in confirmation of the changes, Google said, “We’re constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information that they’re seeking.
“We’re currently rolling out an update to the Search interface on desktop so when people search for places or businesses nearby, like ‘parks near me’ or ‘restaurants near me,’ they’ll easily see local results on the left and a map on the right. We expect this to be broadly available over the coming weeks.”
SEO experts have shared on Twitter that they’ve recently spotted the updated interface for certain local searches.
Spotted: the GIANT MAP local pack: pic.twitter.com/ARW8juTGeI
— Miriam Ellis (@Miriam_Ellis_) December 9, 2021
Whoa. Check out this massive local pack: pic.twitter.com/C8y2KZo3gu
— Darren Shaw (@DarrenShaw_) December 7, 2021
What does this mean for BrightLocal customers?
We’re confident that BrightLocal customers shouldn’t be impacted by this update, and that reporting data will likely be unaffected.
As usual, we’ll continue to monitor the situation and release any updates accordingly.
Local Search Ranking Fluctuations
As more and more local SEOs have reported seeing the new Local Pack design, there have also been reports of big changes to local rankings.
Businesses have been spotted moving up into the Local Pack for the first time, with those that have high numbers of reviews appearing to enjoy the most gains.
Reports of unexpected fluctuations in traffic from local searches have also been circulated online. A number of SEO experts have speculated that this could be the result of an algorithm update, although some suspect the Local Pack redesign could be the culprit.
Adverts in the Local Pack
As if there wasn’t already enough local search change taking place at the moment, there’s also been some talk around increased ad presence.
Joy Hawkins from Sterling Sky tweeted that she’d seen two adverts in a Local Pack, where it’s previously been the case that one is the maximum.
Not sure I've ever seen 2 ads show up in the Google Maps app before (it's usually 1). pic.twitter.com/h4MrR2zaae
— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) December 7, 2021
In response to Joy’s tweet, others shared that they’ve also been seeing two adverts in the Local Pack recently—with some predicting this may become more common over the coming year and beyond.
A potential problem with adverts in the Local Pack—besides arguably impacting user experience—is that they can sometimes show up in surrounding cities to the target location. When this happens, it isn’t great for the advertiser who is wasting a portion of their budget, and is likely of no value to the searcher either.
With increased ad presence in the Local Pack, the visibility of organic results will naturally be affected. This could be of detriment to how valuable these results are for local consumers.
It remains to be seen if this two-ad anomaly is a permanent and universal change to Local Pack advertising, or if it’s simply a test or a bug.
Changes to Local Search
These changes to the Local Pack are arriving shortly after Google My Business was renamed to Google Business Profile (GBP)—an update which also saw Google making additional announcements about the future of this local business tool.
If you’re an agency managing GBP listings, or a business owner taking charge of your own local SEO, then now’s a good time to make sure you’re adhering to best practices. Volatility within search engine results is to be expected, but, as the dust settles, those following the guidelines and optimizing effectively can expect to benefit in the long run.