Thoughts About the New Local Stack Display

Note: I am heading out for a 5 day vacation. Responses might be limited. Please fill in the blanks for me and keep the conversation going. Dave would get lonely otherwise.

Google seems to have completed the roll out the new local search result with reports of its visibility from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, UK, Australia, South Africa and even Canada (which is usually last in these sorts of things).

I would suggest for the sake of clarity and expediency that we name the new display the Local Stack to distinguish it from the Snak Pak that is used in the hospitality searches. Regardless Dave Oremland has special dispensation and can call it the Crap Pack.

Some thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.13.56 AMThe simultaneous world wide release is different than many previous local display rollouts. I am wondering if that is due to the fact that the European anti trust issue around local has dissipated or if it was viewed as important to put the final nail in the coffin of G+ Local with one fell swoop.

The new display certainly provides an increased opportunity for organic results. I am not sure what will happen on clicks for Adwords but those businesses that were lower in the old display may feel compelled to double down on their Adwords activity.

The display aligns neatly with the new Home Service Ad booking tests and could easily be replaced in those market segments that rely on bookings. Obviously complaints about Google not showing answers and being evil will be heard. Google, being driven by the capital markets, has one overriding interest that supersedes all others regardless of their happy talk and that is profits.

This reduces opportunity in the pure local display on the front  page but the total local opportunity may not be less as ALL links that previously went in disparate directions now head off to the new Local Finder (operative word is may) . That includes links that went to G+ but Maps as well.

The roll over that used to produce the Knowledge Graph now goes to the Local Finder. In that display there are 20 opportunities for visibility.

The lack of phone numbers will necessitate additional click throughs to the Local Finder. So much for Google surfacing answers on the first query but at least it increases local opportunities.

I am not convinced that exposure will come close to what has been possible in the 7-Pack but here’s hoping that the dashboard analytics (unreliable in the best of times) have been upgraded to handle the new display and can provide meaningful comparisons.

Clearly every link to G+ has been removed. This has been a long time in coming as has been in play for quite a while. Concurrently Google will also be removing “shell” pages, those auto created pages for non verified listings, from G+. Google+ is becoming Streams and as of now, its value as a local social platform is minimal.

Reviews, long disassociated from Plus are not really affected as they continue to display in the shadow box wherever they are selected from search, Maps or the new Local Finder. They continue as an element of the local Plus page but I doubt those ever got many views and will get fewer now. And seeing reviews is now a two click process into the Local Finder and then another click on the reviews. Not easy and not friendly.

A single location branded search still brings up the Knowledge Graph with phone number BUT a search for a brand that has multiple locations shows this new pack with NO phone number and requires what should have been a quick recovery search into a two click two step. Very bad form on that one.

There are some oddities in the display around service area businesses and those without websites as those two prominent icons are missing. As Phil Rozek has pointed out the current Local Finder seems to expose the exact location of those who have hidden their address. Not good for those seeking a modicum of privacy.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.14.48 AMI would love for folks to send me their Local Analytics a week and a month from now as well as report on their traffic.


Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Thoughts About the New Local Stack Display by

75 thoughts on “Thoughts About the New Local Stack Display”

  1. We are seeing it here in Australia already – not in the hotel industry but with Plumbers…a search for Plumbers Perth (a capital city in Australia) shows the new 3 Pack display…

    The results and order of the results don’t seem to be any different however. My client still remains in the same position as before, just now showing with less information and no phone number. So it may just be an interface change not an algorithmic update. Its difficult to judge that for sure however because my ranking software is still having a hissy fit with these results…Early analytics show an improvement in traffic volumes though which could be a result of people needing to click on the website link to find the contact details…

    The new display gives less information so my advice to clients is going to be maximise what you can display – if you have any advantage over your competitors take it. If you are open 24 hours – make sure your listing displays this. If you can get 5 star reviews…chase them. Your review score still shows even if the actual content of the review is a few clicks away.

    If you still rank in the top 3 then its really not a big deal – but if you were always struggling to get past the 4-7 positions then its going to be a real struggle now.

    The display seems to take up so much more of the page too – in some cases you have to scroll to get to the first organic result…its below the fold!

  2. @Lisa

    Good point about the phone numbers. It didn’t hit me before, but the fact that they don’t show the phone numbers for plumbers is sort of a big deal, since they’ve historically been part of their branding.

    I’ve worked with a couple plumbers who ditched their toll free numbers in favor of local area codes, to look more local. Then there was the plumber who requested a local number from the next area code over, since the clientele there was richer. But my favorite was probably the guy who fought to get his 20+ year old number ported from his old telephony company, because it had a prefix that they no longer issued (which proved that he’d been around town for a while.)

    Either Google doesn’t think that’s useful information for consumers, doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. Any way you slice it, I don’t think the plumbers are going to be too happy.

  3. I just came across a new 2 pack for “handyman south boston MA”. Looks like the 3 pack might not be worst case.

  4. Welcome home, Mike! My, we’ve been busy here since you left.

    Before you took off, you made a comment that because there was such little protest over Google’s shake-up(s) of the local pack before that they may think they did a good thing, or at least got away with it. I propose that we shake off our previous passivity and set Google straight on this.

    Wherever Googlers hang out e.g. support forums, G+, here…we should voice our concerns about their product. In essence the user experience now sucks. I’m sure Google would appreciate that feedback (not like they’ll do anything about it soon, but still).

    Their local product is far less relevant today due to the new UX. And as G has been telling us for years, if you aren’t relevant you aren’t going to rank. Whether it is ranking on a search engine or in your customer’s mind. I think they need to be reminded.

    I have concerns about their strategy. I agree with you that Google is pushing small, local business toward AdWords. And I think they will eventually price themselves out of the market for local ad dollars. CPCs will surely jump. Competition for ad position will be greater resulting in lower CTRs for those without deep pockets to make the top three in paid search results as conversion rates elsewhere on the page are typically not good. At some point the local guy is not going to see the ROI and opt out of AdWords altogether which is not good for Google’s business.

    How much does Google think it can cram down their customer’s throat before they abandon ship? The user experience now sucks. More clicks (effort) to get basic contact info (phone #, address, etc.) only to be taken to a screen providing it along with a whole page of direct competitors. Is that supposed to endear the business (customer) to Google? And after the big push for everyone to embrace Google+, they now essentially kick it to the curb. How is a local business expected NOT to feel betrayed?

    None of this is good for Google in the long run. I’ve got to believe that there are Googlers that would agree, at least privately. We need to support them. Lend credence to their objections that they can only voice within the company.

    They aren’t perfect by any means but Google has been a fairly good friend. And when a friend is making a huge mistake it is incumbent upon me and their other friends to say “Whoa, buddy!”. That’s what friends are for.

  5. This seems to be at odds with what some of us in the industry saw as a big push towards including more local reviews for local businesses. With what could be seen as a downgrade (at least visually) on their importance in the packs, one wonders if a corresponding shift in the importance of reviews as a Pigeon ranking signal might follow.

  6. When my clients see this, all they are going to ask me is “why are we paying you to do local SEO for us if all our competitors, who are using spammy tactics (like 60+ fake “reviews”), are the ones coming up in the top three local results?” Let’s focus on organic and paid advertising instead.

    This is going to make the cost of paid advertising SKY ROCKET for the industry I cover most – law firms. The small, newer firms will not be able to compete with the larger firms with more $$, bar none. I’m sure the same can be said of many industries.

    Whatever which way you look at things, people mostly click on the top 3 results and usually the first one. That has not changed.

    It’s as if Google is creating tiny oligopolies in every industry in every town in America. They make SO much $$. Where are the small business leaders? Why isn’t there more outrage over this? Do people who run small businesses just really have no clue how their lives are being controlled and manipulated because they simply don’t understand (still) how the internet works?

    As I said for a long time, if Google really wanted to do “no evil”, they’d simply rotate the local results … a small local business comes up number 7 in one search and then number 2 for the exact same search by another user. How difficult would that be? How much more useful to their users would that be? Isn’t that what they always say the bottom line is “usability”. Well, usability, my ass!! People should be sick and tired of this by now.

  7. p.s. I wish there was a way to “like” or “star” other people’s comments on this blog b/c there are some really good ones here.

  8. @Jami

    “a small local business comes up number 7 in one search and then number 2 for the exact same search by another user. How difficult would that be? How much more useful to their users would that be?”

    Pretty much useless. If I searched for a local lawyer and Google’s first result didn’t reflect reviews, connections, association memberships, local charities they’ve sponsored, the quality and usability of their website, how many people pogo sticked from their site to keep shopping around, or anything beyond the fact that they’re in my city… well, that’s the last time I’d use Google to search for a lawyer.

    In fact, I’d say one of the biggest reasons that people have adopted other platforms like Avvo is because they don’t trust Google’s rankings enough. I know I sure don’t.

  9. @Joe

    I see your point, but let’s assume those lawyers all pulled relatively the same weight … it wouldn’t be anymore useless than it has been in the past and because those small businesses are being rotated, it eliminates people trying spammy antics. In fact, the ones that are coming up in the top three right now are the ones that have done the most spammy things. 60 or more Google reviews for a criminal lawyer is not reality – there is no way 60 criminals or accused criminals signed up for a Google account and posted reviews in their real names.

    And despite their tv advertising, most people haven’t heard of Avvo. Most people go to Google, search and click on the first result.

  10. @Jami

    I definitely believe you that the top three positions right now are powered by the spammiest tactics. That’s probably true for half of the map packs out there. Also agreed about Google reviews, 100%.

    But, like you said, most people in the market for a lawyer still just go to Google and click the top result, almost automatically, instead of shopping around on a third party review platform. Either that’s because they don’t know who else to trust, they already know them and don’t trust them, or because they trust Google enough to give them first crack at helping them find a lawyer.

    Ultimately, I think it’s because people still think Google is smart, above all else. If Bob Loblaw is ranked first on Google, it’s probably due to some insanely complex ranking algorithm that the rest of us mere mortals couldn’t hope to understand. As soon as it becomes clear that Google is scrambling the results, and showing Bob in a different position every time you load the page, the jig is up.

  11. Good comments all.

    But regarding spammy listings on top – another observation… The top 3 results in competitive markets all have the query keywords in them.

    For a long time in local it’s been true that EMDs and PMDs rule the top of the pack BUT now that there are only 3 it’s so much more obvious. Seldom for a competitive query now do I see a name in the 3 pack that does not have city or KW in it.

    I just did a new post at the forum showing yet another test. This one with IMAGES in the Local Finder display. 🙂

    The search was for “Lawyers” but in the location this new style display is showing up, the #1 listing is “Super Lawyers”! No reviews, no knowledge graph. NO WEB SITE!

    Nothing going for it except for the name! 🙁

  12. In other words you are suggesting that Google is hitting many SMB’s and especially those in competitive environments with a double whammy on visibility: Really a triple whammy!!!

    It is unlikelier they will be seen in organic results:
    If they are in the Pack they don’t have address or phone number visibility let alone easy access to the website:
    And thirdly Google is rampantly allowing spammers to break the rules that google set up themselves…and it isn’t aggressively enforcing them.

    I’d say if that is repetitively the case, Google is “against” most local businesses and simply wants them to start advertising on adwords.

    I’ll tell you one ” hero’ who wouldn’t like this; Robin Hood.

  13. From a phone ringing standpoint in local, the last 3 weeks at NDAP have been miserable. Organic placement is consistent, PPC traffic is slightly up due to the phone number extension with good Average CPC actually decreasing slightly… Not having the phone number on the map listing is brutally hurting business.

    This crap pack needs to go the way of the dodo…

  14. @Scott

    That is terrible!! I haven’t hear much from my clients yet but I am preparing and letting them know what’s going on. I have noticed that their local rankings from Moz tools have ALL taken a sharp nose dive. I need to investigate further whether it’s only the local listings dropping off or if something else with organic has shifted at the same time. Ugh, this is truly truly awful for SMBs.

  15. I can’t understand why Google is doing this. It certainly doesn’t make better search results, since the 7-pak had many more businesses for the user to choose from without clicking which is inconvenient and it is more inconvenient for finding phone numbers. What is their motivation, do you think?

  16. @Cathie Dunklee-Donnell

    Their motive is money. They want the businesses to spend the $$ on Adwords instead of the freebies. They want their search results to be filled with directory websites that list local businesses instead of local businesses so that everyone starts using Adwords and drives the bids up. Money, money, money.

  17. @Cathie Dunklee-Donnell

    The 7 pack was great if you were looking for maybe 4 real businesses, 1 duplicate, 1 closed business, and a map spam listing for good measure.

    If it wasn’t for the HSAs, I’d say Google was just trying to sweep all their crap listings under the rug.

  18. Hey Mike

    Certainly looks like this is has rolled out fully across the UK now. There are a few interesting overviews on the Moz blog and the Casey Meraz one looking at click distribution is interesting:

    It is going to be an interesting few months. A 60% reduction in local results is going to drive competition for those listings and organic listings. Maybe there will be a spike in AdWords usage in local business areas as well.

    Will be interesting to see how this plays out and how the masses adjust to this but given the confidence in the roll out I suspect this is hear to stay (for a while at least).

    Never a dull day!

  19. Mike: Its been about 3 weeks since the crap pack came out. I’ve been studying results for our smb’s. I’m going to report on one of the verticals: This vertical has been pretty dependent on search for at least a decade. Nothing has changed in those 10 years….and danged if I haven’t tried a myriad of experiments to diversify away from search. After all being dependent on search equates being “dependent” or at Google’s mercy.

    This is anecdotal info. It represents 3 smb’s that are
    A. In a small niche service
    B. In widely different markets in different states, metro areas and related to very different citiees
    C. There are relatively fewer competitors
    D. The “market reach in each case is pretty regional…as opposed to city or town or a series of towns
    E. In each case the smb has pretty good pack and organic visibility relative to competition.

    The biggest impact of the change to a Crappy 3 pack without links/addresses, and phone #’s….was that the smb’s lost some of their visibility both in the pack and organically in “regional wedges” as part of a vast regional coverage. Not shut out…but a definite loss of visibility.

    So I wouldn’t use this as a basis for all smb’s. It is simply anecdotal.

    Comparing the past 20 days (almost 3 weeks) to the 3 weeks before the crap pack:

    1. Overall google organic and pack traffic is up….about 8-10%. Not huge. Not a loss, for which we are grateful.
    2. Leads to the 3 smb’s are up. about 10% compared to same dates last year. But last years results for 8/7-8/20 were low compared to previous years.
    3. When we work through the leads, we have lost a bit in leads from the “wedges” or series of towns, wherein we lost pack visibility and our organic visibility dropped. Now depending on search phrases used from those towns we could have great visibility…or dramatically less. From those towns where we lost visibility we lost on some discovery search phrases…but we remained strong on others.

    The totals aren’t huge. These are niche services with a relatively small draw.

    Where we lost search visibility we definitely lost some traffic. Right after the crap pack hit for all smb’s I contacted Lisa Kolb, from Lisa, as you know, handles many beds and breakfasts, all over the nation. The B&B’s got hit by the crap pack at least a year earlier or maybe 6-7 months before all SMB’s. She has good experience in seeing the impact.

    Her perspective, and the one I’m beginning to see is the following:

    If you are out of the Crap Pack (my words–certainly not hers) you have lost something. You have to do other things:

    1. Try and get into the crap pack if its possible
    2. Market all the other ways possible.

    We are trying both 1 and 2 above.

  20. All my clients are noticing a drop in their Google Business Listing analytics and the number of phone calls has gone way down. It’s frustrating to say the least!

  21. To clarify, the Local Finder is not considered first page local maps results? Is there any data showing how often people click through to the Local Finder? Just wondering how to encourage those people who are no longer in the 7pack and now moved to the Local Finder. Any insight on that?

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