This summer Google changed from listing 7 “related” local businesses for local search results to what’s known as the 3-Pack.
In real world terms, that means when someone searches Google for a local business (like a plumber, florist, dentist, mechanic, appliance repair, hardware store or landscaper) they used to get 7 helpful suggestions from Google for local business to contact. Now they’re only offered 3 choices.
(Conversely this also means 7 businesses used to be able to get in front of searchers. Not any more! now only the 3 best survive . . . and the other 4_ are left out in the cold).
Supposedly the motivation for this was to better server users on mobile devices (as if Google isn’t smart enough to detect if you’re searching on Mobile or Desktop).
As of the date of this writing (November 15th, 2015) getting your business listed there was free – you just had to sign up for a local business account with Google.
Compacting the results also fits in with Google’s general principle of only showing high-quality results to the user.
Mobile convenience aside, I was recently speculating that Google’s move for reducing the 7 locations down to three might actually be the first step in a progression towards making these listings paid.
(little known fact: AdWords is not only a way for Google to make money, but it’s an world-class filtering system. Everyone gets a shot at advertising, but only the best ads get a good run.)
After all, at least 4 local businesses in every category now have an urgent need to find their way into the top 3.
Sure enough, Google has begun beta-testing “Sponsored results” (their polite name for ads) in select cities and business types.
We don’t know if this will last, or spread further (Google has run tests before that never took root) but it seems quite likely that this will lead to a fresh round of AdWords taking display space away from SEO.