Google wields a great deal of control over local businesses, because it decides how to design the search engine results pages that potential customers see when they look up those businesses and their services. It’s a well-known fact that businesses that appear higher up the page get more clicks, so the way Google ranks business pages can make a big difference to the bottom line of those businesses. However, it goes deeper than that. This summer, Google rolled out a new update that changes the way its results pages look. There were no changes to the rankings of pages, just the design. But that change has major implications for the way businesses approach local search marketing.
The old design would list seven local businesses that were related to the keyword the user was searching. This list was called the local stack. The local stack was the place to be, because it always appeared first and attracted a lot of clicks. Now, however, the stack has been shrunk. Google has turned the stack of seven into a stack of three, so fewer businesses will show up in front of the user. They can still see the other four businesses, but they have to click on a new “more” button to display them.
This all adds up to say that it is now much harder to become a top-ranking business in the local search market, but also more important. Getting relegated to the bottom four local results is a major problem because it is hidden from view by default. In addition to the new stack, Google also changed the way search ads appear. Now, there are more of them, especially on mobile. In fact, on mobile, the ads take up the entire first page that Google displays. Mobile users need to scroll down to even see the stack.
It is very clear what Google is attempting to do- make it harder to get away with not paying for search ads. By making the ad space larger, Google is using positive reinforcement to make buying ads more appealing. Shrinking the stack is a push in the same direction, because it makes not advertising through paid ads more painful. Businesses that decide not to buy paid search ads will be fighting for fewer spots and will be pushed lower by the bigger ad space.
Local businesses need to be ready to adapt to this change. It’s becoming more important than ever to either commit to search ads or really sharpen the SEO for every page the business controls. The stakes are higher than ever now that Google has made getting into the stack harder, and some business owners may find that it is no longer feasible to not advertise. This, of course, is exactly what Google wants- to push businesses into the ad space. It costs money, but not advertising might cost even more money through lost customers.
It might seem like a trivial change to the layout of the results page, but this new local search display has major implications for how businesses run their marketing. It is no longer enough to sit back and relax in the 5th or 6th rank. Those coveted top three spots are going to become difficult to hold, and the question of advertising might soon turn into a question of when to buy ads, not whether to do so. Google has also added maps to search results. That’s where a lot of the space for the stack went. The local stack is a major change to the way local search works, and businesses need to be aware.