On June 21st, during the SMX Local Advanced Workshop in Seattle, Google revealed that they are testing the insertion of paid ads into the Local 3-Pack organic search results. Although a full rollout of this new feature will not be available until late Q3 2016, this initial test may signify brands with an opportunity to gain valuable incremental local search visibility with an advertising slot in the area of organic local search results. Placement in this section is especially important because users conducting local search tend to scroll to these results first.
In fact, the Local 3-Pack Ad could prove to be the most important ad on the page for local searches because consumers trust Local 3-Pack content significantly more than other search results. Currently, the information in the Local 3-Pack is pulled from Google My Business (GMB), which uses several key factors to rank listings including proximity to user, quality of structured citations, proper category associations, and others. Moving forward, some of the listings will also feature an “Ad” label (see the screenshot mockup we created below). These could be based on paid signals that also help determine the listing’s rank, thus blurring the lines between the paid and organic space.
When Moz performed user studies in August 2015 to assess how switching from a 7-Pack to a 3-Pack affected performance, user heat map analysis consistently placed the Local 3-Pack at the top of the list for clicks and visibility. Including a paid ad listing in the Local 3-Pack means there will only be two spots left for organic listings. This will increase competition for local organic visibility, but also make it easier for businesses to easily gain visibility via paid ads. This scenario could provide a tremendous opportunity for brands that have a lot of locations, but have difficulty consistently developing local SEO that is both granular enough to address each location individually and flexible enough to adapt rapidly to extremely localized competition. Our friends at Google shared that certain market verticals – such as the hotel vertical – will be exempt from this development for the foreseeable future.
It’s also worth noting that, with the addition of this new feature, it will now be possible to obtain up to three listings on a given search results page – one standard ad placement in the top AdWords 4-Pack, one paid/GMB listing in the Local 3-Pack, and a standard organic listing. This offers an unprecedented opportunity to saturate the first page of results with your brand.
In addition to the visibility benefit of having the Local 3-Pack Ad be positioned prominently in the local organic listings favored by users, this placement will also drive users directly to the business’ product/services page. Similar to AdWords, instead of landing users on the general and more competitive Local Finder/Maps page on Google.com, the Local 3-Pack ad will direct users to the business’ own site domain, increasing the likelihood of conversion. Overall, this new feature provides more control for the advertiser and should also improve ROI.
Earlier this year, Sridhar Ramaswamy, Head of Ads and Commerce for Google, revealed that a third of all mobile searches are now local and that the volume of local search is growing 50% faster than overall mobile search. Combined with the fact that mobile now accounts for more than half of all searches, that makes local mobile search the most important search segment right now. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that Google finally expanded paid inclusion into the local results on the search results page itself. If your business doesn’t easily rank organically in the Local 3-Pack, the paid ad feature gives you an opportunity to increase visits, brand exposure, and conversions via hard-to-achieve top organic local listings.