If you’ve spent any time researching online marketing recently, you’ve almost definitely heard of the Google Three-Pack. What is it, and how can you ensure that you show up in it?
Let’s dig in!
What Is the Google Local 3-Pack?
When you perform a Google search, you are presented with a series of options for results. The core of these options is the organic search results, the list of results that come up for the search related to the keywords you used, ranked according to over 200 factors that Google considers for their algorithm.
The arrangement and contents of these additional search results vary; some are Google’s own resources, some are excerpts from top-ranked sites, and some are embedded media from other sources. But, over time, Google has been adding more and more additional stuff around these search results. There are paid ads, and there are infoboxes, there are excerpts from Wikipedia, and more.
Do an experiment: search Google for “Pizza.”
What do you see? Chances are:
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- A notification of a location (taken from your connected IP address) for where the search is being conducted.
- A series of ad results for pizza near you.
- A sidebar embeds on Wikipedia that defines what pizza is, showing some pictures of pizza and listing nutritional information and other details.
- An embedded map of the area around you (or the location your browser provides) showing local pizza joints.
- Three specific local pizza joints, with their star ratings, addresses, embedded images, and perks like no-contact delivery or curbside pickup.
- An option to expand the list to show additional pizza places.
- Organic search results for pizza places, usually big names like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, or Papa John’s.
- A “People Also Ask” section with questions about various aspects of pizza.
- More results, either local businesses, aggregators like TripAdvisor or Yelp, and others.
- A bar that shows pizza recipe posts from blogs.
- More organic results.
- Related searches you can click to perform.
- More and more organic results. Google has recently implemented infinite scroll rather than pagination for their search results, so this can go on for a very long time.
That’s a lot! So, what’s the local three-pack?
Well, take a look at that list again; do you see the fifth entry, “three specific local pizza joints,” underneath the embedded map?
The local three-pack is only available for searches with local relevance. If you’re searching for, say, the metropolitan museum of art in NYC, you aren’t going to get a local list of museums; you’re going to get results relating to that specific museum no matter where you live.
Calling the local three-pack a “three-pack” is entirely because it only shows three results by default. The map shows more than three, and you can expand it to show more than three, and you can click through to Google Maps and see every local restaurant that serves pizza in a ten-mile radius if you want.
But, as with all forms of Google search, being in those top three is a distinct advantage. Many people searching for local products don’t want to dig through results and analyze which is the best; they want to see a few options and pick one that fits their needs. Being one of those top three means distinctly more visibility and web traffic than being the fourth, hidden under the “see more” button.
The local 3-pack affects mobile and desktop searches. Check out the results we got when we searched for “ice cream” with an iPhone:
You’ll see that Google showed us a map with the locations of several local ice cream shops, followed by the top 3 listings for ice cream nearby.
Now look at our results from a desktop:
Not much different, right? Google still showed us a map and 3 local results. The only difference is that we can see the Wikipedia entry for ice cream to the right. (Along with the nutrition information to feed our ice cream guilt. Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Why Does the Google Local 3-Pack Matter to Your Business?
If you’ve been paying attention to SEO strategies, you probably already knew that SERP rankings have a big effect on your site’s traffic. Research shows that the results on page 1 get 67% of the clicks. On mobile, many users don’t want to scroll down past the results that show on their first screen let alone the first page. And since the 3-pack is taking up the bulk of the screen on page 1 of the SERP, you can see why that little panel would be valuable real estate.
How to Rank in the Local 3-Pack
Unlike general Google searches, there are no “canonical” search results in the three-pack. Even normal Google results are heavily customized these days, but there are still clear winners and losers, and in general, people from one side of the country have the same or largely similar results as people from the other side of the country.
Local results, in contrast, are extremely heavily focused on location. The search results for one location will be somewhat different from the search results just five or ten miles away, let alone half a state away or on the other side of the country.
Three factors are the primary deciding factors for which businesses show up in the local three-pack. These are Proximity, Prominence, and Relevance.
- Proximity: the closer your business is to the people searching, the higher you are likely to appear.
- Prominence: The bigger the name of your brand or the bigger your local reputation, the more likely you are to show up.
- Relevance: The closer you match the query, the more likely you are to show up.
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
Proximity is largely unchanging. Unless you’re operating a food truck (in which case Google’s results won’t update fast enough to work for you in the first place), you have a fixed location for your business. It’s your customers who move around. You’ll appear higher on the list the closer people are to your locations. You can, to an extent, optimize this by opening more branches of your business, but this isn’t exactly an SEO technique, is it?
Prominence is all about building up your brand and business. It’s why Pizza Hut will (almost) always show up on local searches for pizza, assuming there’s a location nearby. However, local pizza joints will show up quite well if they’re well-reviewed. Prominence is where the bulk of your efforts to optimize for the local pack will go.
Relevance, of course, is about the match-up between your business and the search. If you’re a pub that happens to sell pizza as one of a few dozen menu items, you’ll show up for pizza searches, but not very high. On the other hand, if you’re a local gourmet pizza joint, you have a good chance of topping the results.
How to Optimized for the Local 3-Pack
So, here’s the thing: you can’t.
At least not directly or not the same way as normal SEO.
The local three-pack is heavily weighted towards its three factors, with most of the weight pushing towards the location. That means it’s more about where your customers are than about anything on your website or your profiles.
That said, you can optimize several factors that you can influence, and that can position you better for local results in general, which can lead to more prominence in the three-pack for nearby searchers. The only question is, what do you need to do?
Completely Optimize Your Google Business Profile
The bulk of Google’s information for the local three-pack comes from the information you give them about your business. That means filling out a Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) and keeping that information accurate and up to date.
What should you optimize?
- Business Name
- Business Hours
- Phone Number
- Website URL
- Contact Information
- Business Description (with keywords!)
- Primary Business Category
- Ad Extensions
- Business Posts (like events and offers.)
- Menu Items
To get started with this, go to the Google Business Profile page and log in. If you haven’t set up a profile before, you’ll need to claim your listing and validate your ownership. If you have a profile, review every little form field and profile element to optimize them.
The biggest influences on your local pack ranking, according to data from Whitespark, are:
- Your primary business category.
- Keywords in your business title.
- Address proximity.
- Additional business categories.
- High organic SEO rankings.
Other factors, like fighting spam and getting more reviews, are also influential but not as important as the five listed above.
Solicit Positive Reviews on Google
Reviews account for about 15% of your ranking in the local three-pack. While that might not sound like much, it’s one of the larger single factors you can work to optimize, so it’s very important to spend some time focusing on it.
First, go through your existing reviews. Report and remove any that are fake or spam, and use Google’s spam-fighting tools to help remove them if necessary. This includes any that are “beneficial” spam! If your profile looks inflated or biased, you won’t get as many natural reviews, and your rankings will fall.
Develop a process for responding to reviews. In general, you want to keep an eye on your reviews and respond to them when they come in. This is a venue for customer service, and it’s a public way for people can see your quality control in action.
- When a positive review comes in, thank the user for their review and welcome them back at any time.
- When a neutral review comes in, ask if there’s anything you can do to improve their view and generally solicit feedback. You may not be able to do anything, but even just asking can show you mean well.
- When a negative review comes in, investigate the situation, respond tactfully, ask how you can make things right, and take decisive action as necessary. The entire field of reputation management digs deeper into this, so there are plenty of options for you.
It’s also generally a good idea to implement ways to solicit more positive reviews. There are a lot of different ways to do this, from printing a CTA on your receipts to asking users directly. You just need to make sure not to violate any of Google’s rules about review compensation and other quirks.
Validate and Ensure Consistent NAP Information
NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistency is a huge and often overlooked element of local ranking.
Scan the internet for places where your business information is mentioned, whether it’s your website, social media, aggregators like Yelp and YP, or local websites mentioning you.
Then, make sure that your NAP is identical down to the punctuation in every venue it can be. Even small variations can be damaging. It’s a minor detail, but it’s strangely important.
Also, it’s a great idea to get your business listed in as many directories as possible. If Google sees your NAP across many sites, it assumes that your business is worthy of a bump in their results rankings. We’ve seen small, local businesses beat out big chain stores in Google rankings simply because they got themselves listed in a ton of directories. Check out community web pages, your local chamber of commerce, city squares, and local business guides. Regularly update all of your social media pages, and make sure you have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and any other relevant sites.
Getting links to your site and to your business profile can both influence and enhance your local search results, especially if they’re local authorities.
What do we mean by local authorities?
- Local magazines.
- Local newspapers.
- Local prominent blogs.
- Local social media aggregators.
- A Chamber of Commerce.
- Local business directories.
The key is anything that is locally relevant. Getting a great backlink from an industry-wide blog is good for general SEO, but it’s not all that relevant to local search results. All of these links help increase your prominence.
Mobile Friendly Site
Finally, it’s super important to make sure that your site is mobile-friendly. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Mobile is taking over the world of SEO. If you want your business to rank, you’ll have to keep up with the changes. Check out our other blog posts on mobile SEO for more information, or give us a call. The SEO and digital experts at White Peak can help you get your business noticed.
Provide a Good Experience to Online Shoppers
A huge portion – over 60% — of local searches result in a no-click search. This is because Google front-loads all of the information a user would need to, for example, drive to your business location, make a phone call, or tell whether or not you sell what they need.
This means you need to provide the best possible experience for users, ranging from those who only want to see your address or hours to those who want to view a menu or catalog and make an online order to those who want to call you or message you, to those who want to click through to your site or visit your store. Consider every possible way a user might want to interact with your business when they view your results and optimize for it.
Finally, another great option is to just hire some experts. There’s a lot that goes into local three-pack ranking; do you have time to do it all yourself and give it the attention it deserves? If not, hiring pros like us can get you everything you need faster and more reliably. Drop us a line for a free, no-obligation consultation, and we’ll chat about what we can do for you!
Tim Woda is the CEO and founder of White Peak Marketing. He has been on the founding team of five successful start-ups and his digital marketing campaigns have acquired more than 800 million customers for his start-ups and White Peak’s client companies. Tim has been featured by The New York Times, Fox News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more. Under Tim’s direction, White Peak was selected as one of America’s Top Digital Marketing Agencies for 2021 by MarTech Outlook magazine.