It has been a little over 2 weeks since Panda 4.2 refresh came out, where people are still trying to grasp the full effect of the update; when Google made heavy changes to their local listing service that has left local businesses and SEO companies in disarray.
Touted as the ‘Snack Pack’ update, Google has removed the existing 7-pack local listing searches for a short 3-pack version. Although, this single change in itself stands to scare the existing businesses who have their local listing results getting ranked on 4th and 5th positions and so on, there are however, additional changes and tweaks added to this update that have damaged a lot of Local Listing campaigns as well as user experience in general.
3 better than 7? Google Believes so
Up until now, Google had been providing a 7-pack local listing search result for businesses to rank upon. Many businesses aimed to be there in the top 7 and when they did, they were happy and had sufficient visibility.
With this change of 7-pack to 3-pack, the competition for ranking on the top 3 becomes more aggressive. One local business owner who has suffered a drop in his business recently said “It is literally a race to earn Gold, Silver and Bronze medals now. Businesses will spend more and more in their local listing service providers to be able to rank in the Top 3 positions in order to drive some sort of traffic or even have visibility for that matter.”
This change was rolled throughout Thursday (6th July, 2015).
Good bye Address and Phone Numbers
In my quest to unravel the mystery of local listings further, I randomly searched ‘Café Miami’ on Google. To my surprise (and horror, if I were a local business owner) I found the 3-pack search result with no exact address or phone number of the location (refer to the screen shot). I did find some cool Street View images, but that is more cosmetic than of any real help.
If I look at it from the user’s point of view as well, I would have to now, navigate to each of these locations to find out further information and frankly, that is quite tedious.
Google did add the working hours of the businesses onto the searches, but hey, if I can’t find the business in the first place, what good will the working hours do?
More clicks = More Frustration
Keeping the local businesses aside, let us look at the changes from the user’s perspective. Google has always tried to put the user first. They have strived and also achieved phenomenal success in creating value-added and accurate search experiences.
However, all that goodwill gesture is currently falling flat as the users themselves are finding it quite overwhelming to navigate through to the information that they are looking for.
Like I mentioned earlier, due to the absence of exact address and phone numbers, the user would now have to click on to the search results in the hope of finding what he/she is looking for. This means that although the website might get more clicks on it, however, if the user doesn’t find what they are looking for, they would bail instantly. This would directly affect the bounce rate of the website.
If Google wanted to improve the search experience by improving the accuracy and search relevancy in a quick fashion, this certainly wasn’t the way to go.
Overtime for SEO Companies
It is well known that thousands of SEO agencies and companies around the world are working day and night to bring result for their client’s businesses by optimizing the local listing search rankings on SERPs.
While in the previous 7-pack model they had a breathing space of 7 positions to rank on with additional benefits of phone numbers and exact addresses; all of that has not only gone for a toss but has also increased the work pressure on the teams following the latest ‘Snack-Pack’ update.
“Local Business clients pay us to help them rank, generate visibility and increase their traffic and overall business. With so much ambiguity and fewer positions to fight for, most of our previous on going campaigns will be hit. In order to bring a balance to those campaigns and also work on new strategies, we will not only have to double our efforts but also believe in the power of ‘luck’ thanks to the changes administered by Google” replied an SEO expert sarcastically upon being asked about his thoughts on the latest update.
Google has made certain other modulations too that include Reviews not entailing the Google tag (impacts brand value and trust factor), Google+ links removed and other minor tweaks. Compounded together, the general consensus is that Google has abandoned the businesses in open waters with limited to no assistance at all.
It will be interesting to see how these changes play out in the near future. Will we find new strategies to combat or take advantage of these changes? Will Businesses invest more in SEO services now more than ever? How will the users adapt to this paradigm shift? We’ll find the answers soon enough. Stay tuned.