The Google Local Pack, also known as the “Google 7 Pack” is now the “Google 3 Pack.” Google completed the move to the 3-pack across all countries and industries on Thursday, August 6th. This change has significant implications for local businesses with more than two competitors, and for those that showed up in positions 4-7 in the 7-pack.

Some businesses have kept their spot in the 3-pack but have to fight harder than ever before to keep them as they are now in competition with the four businesses that were dropped (from the 7-pack). In fact, everyone in local search is fighting to get into the 3-pack.

We’ll take a look at some of the changes in further detail (below) and show you what you can do to make it into the new pack.

Why The 3-Pack?

Google has always been focused on user experience. As mobile usage increases, Google’s desktop search results are now looking more similar to mobile search results. Local search results on mobile featured the map and 3 search results on the screen. Searchers had to scroll down to see the other 4 results in the local pack. User experience on mobile and desktop for local search results are now similar with the new 3-pack.

Google may also be looking to monetize the 3-packs down the line by turning them into sponsored results. They are currently testing out a 3-pack sponsored results format with local locksmiths and plumbers in San Francisco. This may be further expanded to include more industries and locations. Stay tuned.

How The 3-Pack Affects Businesses That Were In Positions 4-7 On The 7-Pack

Google conducts extensive testing before introducing significant changes and updates. They must have substantive data to show that sites listed in positions 4-7 were not clicked on or called nearly as much as those in the top three positions. Sites below the top three must have gotten less screen time, as searchers must scroll down in order to see them, especially on mobile.

Even if those businesses were not getting much traffic, they still received important branding opportunities. They now need to work twice as hard to retain these opportunities.

Let’s take a look at some of the changes on the 3-packs and what they mean for your business.

Position in Google SERPs

According to a report from seoClarity, the 7-pack used to show up in the number one position in web search results only 25 percent of the time, whereas the new 3-pack shows up in the number one position 93 percent of the time. The 3-pack shows up in the top two positions in web search results 99 percent of the time. This means that is even more crucial for local businesses to get into the 3-pack and competition will be fierce.

No Phone Numbers

Phone numbers no longer appear on the local search results page. Searchers will now have to click on the listing to enter the Google Local Finder or go to the business website to get the phone number. Many businesses, i.e. plumbers, value this feature above all else. The good news is that a “call” function is enabled on mobile local searches (see below).

No Exact addresses

Google has excluded exact addresses from the 3 pack listings, only showing the street name. Searchers have to go to the business site or click on the map to get the exact address.

Store Hours Included

Store hours are now included in the 3 pack listings depending on the time of day of the search.

Google+ Pages Missing

Links to Google+ pages no longer show up on the local pack listings. The links do however show up in the regular organic search results. Another significant change is that photos for businesses are shown through the Google Maps display instead of Google+ as they were in the past.

“Google Reviews” now “Reviews”

The “google reviews” is now called “reviews.” These reviews are pulled from Google+. Searchers also have the option of viewing only businesses that are above a certain rating. It appears local businesses now have to put more of a focus on building and improving their ratings.

Denver Restaurants2 Types of Clicks

When a searcher clicks anywhere other than the web link on a listing, they see additional local listings (20 listings per page) and the map. Clicking on the web link will take them to the business site.

Flyouts Removed

The local business card no longer pops up when searchers scroll over a local listing. Searchers have to click on the listing to see it on the next page.

The 3-pack on Mobile

 A “call” function is featured on the mobile local listing. Somewhat of a relief for those businesses that depend on the visibility of their phone numbers as these no longer appear on desktop 3-pack listings.

How To Get Into The 3-Pack

These changes are quite significant. Local businesses will be in fierce competition to stay in the 3-pack. Even those businesses that previously did very little to feature in the 7-pack have to start marketing themselves effectively online. These businesses can shoot their way up to the top by focusing on SEO, Competitive Analysis, PPC, User Experience and Analytics.

SEO

Local businesses need to focus on SEO. Regular organic SEO plays a huge role in local rankings in Google. Organic ranking determined the ranking order of the 7-packs. So focus on well-rounded organic “white hat” SEO techniques, online and offline, to climb up both top local and top organic results is now vital. Google shows one organic result (if the business ranks #1 for the search query) above the 3-pack and sometimes two if there are no AdWords ads.

Also ensure that your business is in Google Maps; and focus on sharing your great content across your social channels to increase your online visibility.

Competitive Analysis

Positions in the 3-pack are the most sought after spots in local search and competition is much tougher than it was in the 7-pack. Everyone needs to be monitoring their competition, particularly those businesses in the top three if they want to maintain their positions.

Monitor competitor back links; and set up google alerts for their business names to stay on top of any articles, updates, press releases, promotions and reviews they release or attain.

PPC

Businesses that want to compete will now rely more on PPC than ever before. Invest in AdWords to keep yourself above the local pack and in the organic search ranks. In fact, the only way to stay above the 3-Pack is through AdWords since those ad results rank above 3-pack results. This investment will also pay off if Google monetizes the 3-packs down the line.

An effective AdWords strategy and solid SEO will get and keep you in and above the 3-pack.

User Experience

Businesses should focus on converting their site traffic by improving user experience on their site. If a searcher is not satisfied with the search results in the 3-pack, they can click anywhere but the web link on any listing to view the full 20 listings. If they visit your website and have a bad experience with your design and content, they can easily leave and visit the other 19 businesses in the search results. Improving user experience on your website and focusing on factors like your Click Through Rate, Bounce Rate and Time on Site are now more important than before. Focus on providing quality content on your site and all your online channels. This will also improve your visibility and keep you ahead of the pack.

Analytics

Tracking is arguably the most important thing to do to stay ahead. You need to measure how effective your marketing strategies are paying off for your business. A great tool like Google Analytics can help you track the right information to measure your ROI.

We are not sure whether the 3-pack is here to stay as it is. Google has a history of updating, pulling back or completely scrapping new changes. Until we know for sure, local businesses must amp up their efforts in order to get into or maintain their positions in the coveted 3-pack.