If you’re not on top of local SEO, you’re behind. Google makes changes to their algorithm faster than the spinning of the Google Local Carousel. (Don’t know what the Local Carousel is? Don’t worry – it disappeared about a year ago. Case in point.)

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to keep up with your business’s Local SEO, here are the significant changes Google made to Local in the last few months of 2015.

Shrinkage of the 7-Pack

A few months ago, if you searched for a local business, you were likely to see 7 local results – addresses, Google+ pages, maps… In August, the bottom 4 results vanished, turning the 7-pack into a 3-pack, no matter what term you were searching for.

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If you want more suggestions, you can click on More Places, and you’re taken to a page with 20 results.

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Why’d Google do it? Ah, if we only knew that…

The conspiracy theorists will claim it’s another step in Google’s plot to take over the world.

We’re not taking sides on that, but there is a practical explanation. Only 3 results fit on a mobile screen. By changing all local searches to the 3-pack, Google created the same user experience whether you’re using mobile or desktop.

Whatever the reason, the practical consequence is that the stakes for local SEO just got higher. You need to get into the top 3, or all your local SEO efforts are for naught. Accurate NAP and standard citations may not cut it. Depending on your industry, you’re going to need to up your game. That means:

  • improving your regular organic SEO
  • pushing to get more reviews and Google Reviews in particular
  • creating hyper-local content
  • and always looking for new citation and link sources.,

The Incomplete Addresses

Concurrently with the switch from the 7-pack to the 3-pack, the building number disappeared from the address in the search results.

Instead of our listing saying 3824 Spring Valley Road, Mountain Brook AL, it just said Spring Valley Road, Mountain Brook, AL. In order to find out the exact address, you not only had to click “More Places”, but had to click on the individual business in the More Places list.

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Local SEOs and businesses were annoyed. But I guess enough actual searchers were annoyed also, because the full addresses came back. Here’s the above search as of a few days ago:

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Minus Google Plus

Google+ is waving its sad, slow goodbye as Google phases it out of part after part of its services. Around the same time the 7-pack vanished, the link to the business’s Google Local page vanished as well.

You still can and should be using the Google My Business interface to manage your business information, but there will no longer be  an “official” Google+ page for your business.

It’s an Ad World, After All

Why does Google exist? To help people?

Remember – Google is a for-profit business, not a non-profit. Helping people might be the means, but the end is a profit. What makes Google its profits? Ads.

To that end, Google is rolling out Home Service Ads. When you search for a home service (plumber, electrician, etc.), you’ll get ads for local service providers, that have been reviewed and marked with Google’s seal of approval.

The searcher can submit bids to up to to 3 service providers, who get back to you with proposals for the work you need.

Right now this is a very limited rollout, only in the San Francisco area, and just with plumbers and locksmiths.

Google’s still testing out the format. In an article written in August 2015, right after these changes were made, the ads for “san francisco plumber” looked like this:

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Now, the ad looks like this:

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When you submit an area code, here’s what it shows.

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Where’s it going? Pay to play.

When the home service ads show up for a query, there are NO local results. Local service providers who can’t make it in the organic (and face it – it’s hard to beat out Yelp) will be forced to pay into the Adwords system in order to reach searchers.

Humph..

So to recap, what are your to-do items for Local SEO in 2016, in light of all these changes?

Expand your local SEO efforts to include regular organic optimization, including linkbuilding and production of quality hyper-local content.

If you’re a home service professional, keep an eye on what’s going on with Google’s Home Service Ads.

Keep getting those reviews! They’ll equally important for success in local SEO and in the Google Home Service Ads.

Good luck in 2016! And if you need any help keeping your business on top of Local SEO, drop us a line!