Google Testing HSA display + Local 3 Pack

Service businesses have been in a tizzy of late worrying about the possible demise of the local pack and its replacement by the Home Services Ad format. This would effectively monetize all of the prime real estate in local search and interject Google into their quoting process.

Maybe this screen shot will provide a small safe harbor in an otherwise stormy Google.

David Rodecker of Local Splash just shared this screenshot for the search: Plumber Emerald Hills which includes both the home service ad pack PLUS the new Local 3 -Pack.


Clearly this layout is a test as while it is currently returning this result for the Emerald Hills plumber search, it does not return for a San Francisco plumber search. As a side note, the Home Service Ad is now showing as far south as plumber san jose (that seems to be an expansion?).

I get why service area businesses are worried but I have, after many years of dealing with Google, learned that all you can count on with them is the NOW. Google is what Google does, today (only). They test so fast, change so quickly that their rate of change is quicker than you can ever respond as a business.

Thus the only offense is a good defense. Diversify, diversify, diversify. Diversify your search strategy to go after more organic and long tail opportunities plus video and Adwords. Diversify your advertising into other avenues besides Google even if the ROI is not as high as search.

But most importantly diversity your customer relations and retention. The best customer is one you already have not one that you have to find anew.

Make sure that you are taking care of every customer in a way that makes them want to share your information with their friends. Make sure you are staying in touch and get their buy in on how they want to hear from you in the future whether that is email, text or Facebook. Figure out a way to measure their satisfaction and if it isn’t the best in the market figure out how to change your approach so that it is.

Only then will you have some immunity from the vagaries of Google local search.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Testing HSA display + Local 3 Pack by

17 thoughts on “Google Testing HSA display + Local 3 Pack”

  1. Nice write-up, Mike. As a possible direction for Google to head in, this makes more sense than would pure pay-to-play. To me, it would be a minor relief. At least Google wouldn’t *totally* be killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs: some users’ trust and confidence in the “free,” ostensibly unbiased search results. So at least in that sense users’ interests and Google’s profit interests are aligned.

    Of course, it’s still a game of how many kids they can let crap in the pool before emptying it out and finally paying for a new filter and chlorine.

  2. Though HSA plus Local is not coming on my browsers (tested for 7 locations) but surely SERP is changing a lot and very frequently. Now, I am not sure whether it is good or bad but surely these changes make things difficult for the companies and optimizers. We are good on our local ranking and improving globally but I believe, Google needs to settle down the SERP layout for some years before they bring the next big change like 7-pack to 3-pack.

  3. Hey Mike

    I think every smart / old head in this game is saying diversify. If you rely purely on organic traffic from Google you are always at risk from the flick of a switch at Google HQ.

    No doubt organic traffic is hugely valuable but sooner or later much of the prime real estate around commercial terms will be paid and savvy businesses will look at other ways to use organic to bring folks through the door.

    Ultimately, the only thing we can consistently rely on in organic / local is change!

    1. @Marcus
      Yes diversification is key. But I think in the service verticals they need to take it one step further and come to grips with the fact that existing customers are a much easier and better source for that next job. That means more than diversifying their digital marketing but flipping their viewpoint so that everything they do makes the current customer the target of the their attention and affections.

  4. Mike:
    Thanks for your update and comments. The worst number is business is “one” (ala diversification). Your comment on providing great customer service directly leads to retention. It is and always been true that it’s less expensive to keep the customers you’ve got than to get new ones.

  5. Mike,
    You bring up a great point in having a customer retention strategy. The average business loses around 20% of its customers annually by failing to attend to customer relationships. According to a Harvard Business School report, increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25% – 95%.

  6. @Jon
    Absolutely and yet Google has “forced” people into thinking the top of the funnel is the only place to be..

    Yes those should be compelling numbers. But all too many seos and SMBs focus on search and lose site of the other stuff.

    In recent research I did on how consumers found lawyers a full 37% were word of mouth referrals vs internet/google search at 16%.

    So not only does taking care of current customers pay off with their loyalty, they go forth into the market and recommend you to their friends, family and business associates. Thus customer retention creates a huge multiplier affect.

  7. Interesting report, interesting test, interesting article and tone by you, Mike.

    “Diversify, diversify, diversify”. That is not a google love or google focused response.

    But I agree with you. it is necessary in this environment. We operate what are essentially two different types of smbs. They are as different as night and day. One type entirely relies on search. Or almost. The other type relies on search, but even before the web and since we have always focused on diversifying sources of leads and business. In that case its primarily through some kind of word of mouth, social (before their was the social web) reviews, and relationships. Early on as we viewed the power of google we have put most of our marketing visibility efforts into these other areas.

    It works for that smb type.

    Now on the other one we also put ENORMOUS effort into diversifying outside of google. Enormous. But search dominates in turning up real leads. That makes the process very contingent on how we show in google. In the second case all the efforts that WORK, only increase leads and sales by a sliver. In other words we need to produce about 25 or more of these efforts to have measurable impact. It is TOUGH, and it is potentially expensive.

    Google is a monster. They are mostly interested in increasing their own revenues. We advertise on adwords with them. Its like a tax from your friends from the mafia. Not a pleasant situation at all. I wish they were regulated.

  8. @Dave
    Right you are. Not every segment can focus on retention and word of mouth as powerful tactics for increasing business but I think that plumbers and others affected by the HSA ads are prime candidates for this sort of thinking. I mean what plumber that came on time, did good work and left the bathroom as clean as they found it wouldn’t have a ton of both repeat and word of mouth business?

    Its not just limited to plumbers though. My recent research into lawyers indicates that there are two parts of the post sale process that any given business needs to think about: retention and word of mouth. In the case of many lawyers its not so much retention as it is referrals and word of mouth.

    They are different. Some businesses need one more than the other, some need both. But most all businesses need at least one.

    And given that the impact of either is significantly greater than search, a commensurate amount of effort should go in those directions.

    Certainly not to the exclusion of search but in terms of all the “fretting” that goes on, it should likely be focused elsewhere. It makes more sense to me to worry about whether the organization IS providing the type of care that 1)will retain customers 2)that will motivate customers to review it positively and 3)will stay front of mind for that customer so that when their friends ask about any given product or service, its your business that they recommend.

  9. Hey, Mike: I agree with your comments above!!!!! 😀

    But consider, great word of mouth within an urban area has little impact overall. In a smaller community it goes A VERY LONG WAY.

    Reviews expand the visibility of word of mouth. The reviews have to be seen!!!!! Cr@p. With a crap pack/3 pack the g reviews of only 3 smb’s get seen. Of course adwords “might feature them” (the review ads DON’T always show). The Home Service Ads aka Google PAID RESULTS in the SERPS might feature them. Only 3 get highlighted.

    The changing nature of visibility in the Google serps is such that google is restricting visibility to other review sites.

    I’m going to add something that is self serving, but it works to affect that which you recommend above. Its worked for us for years for a variety of smb’s. It works in urban regions wherein you need greater visibility.

    Phil Rozek interviewed me on this topic on his blog . The example isn’t the most direct application of “spreading the good word of great service” within a community or local social setting. But its close.

    For other smb’s we more directly get “testimonial” type presentations as part of social meetings etc. Its a function of “spreading the word” about your great customer service. The thing you suggest above for the plumbers and home service smb’s and the attorneys.

    The strategy works. You really have to work the details to get this spread into the right audiences. But if and when you “hit it” it works.

  10. I think when people really think about these things and do a little research you’ll find new elements ALWAYS start in a prominent place. I remember when Videos were added I suddenly had 100’s of new #1 positions a month later those were all number 10 and month after that it was random as to whether they were even in the result. Google places what it thinks is a major addition to the SERP in the number 1 position to get as much data as possible to start off so as we all know position 1 gets most clicks…. they may have also removed phone numbers as a test and changed to all 3 pacs to make room for the new ads…. in short it will take a month or two for this to really become stable to where it is worth making adjustments to the change in SERP layouts. If you were removed because of the change to 3 Pacs…I’d say you should have already been trying to move up to the 3 PAC.

  11. I’ll add one thing: Looking at that search from a rather large desktop its virtually AN ENTIRE AD Format above the fold.

    ITS ALL ADS!!!!!

    OKay. not totally. I see the map and 1 member of the local crap pack.

    ONE. Everything else is an ad. They aren’t even ads…they are probably BIG PAYMENTS to get into that HSA thing.

    Google is simply a money grubbing taxing entity on these SMB’s. Nothing less.

    Before the web there used to be paper and book directories and then there were directories. Back in the day the feds, regulating phone books made sure everyone got a phone book and every business got a listing in the phone book.

    Not anymore. Google controls search and google taxes visibility. The feds have bowed down to google. Its a sad commentary on our current society and this administration.

    The current results are EXACTLY what was slammed and ridiculed in the not that recent past as presented by crappy BS “search engines”. By not doing that and presenting some kind of “fair” results google became dominant.

    Now its the crappy results it once slammed and the public agreed with google and made it a monopoly. Now it is taking advantage of that monopoly.

    Woe is us.

  12. Great commentary, Mike. I totally agree that SMBs need to diversify.

    Email marketing continues to be a great way for local businesses to keep in touch with their greatest asset — their existing customers.

  13. @Mike

    Hey, could not agree more. This is the problem really – folks are so focused on digital and new leads they forget about marketing fundamentals. I forget the exact statistic but they say it is something like 7 times easier to get work from an existing customer than to find a new one – that is just so true.

    Any sensible marketing plan has to look at how to use existing customers to do more great work for them and to use them to advocate the work you have done to build physical links.

    I think the inbound mindset and churn + burn mentality will always exist to some extent though. 🙂


    1. @MArcus
      So true. Churn and burn ends up being like selling on Groupon below cost but making it up on volume. It patches over but might in fact exacerbate fundamental issues that will ultimately destroy the business.

  14. Yes, I agree the key is diversification although its difficult to do everything at once. You forgot to mention standing on your head while juggling a bunch of lit candles. Lol. I try really hard to retain clients I already have, for instance, but some loss is inevitable. I still aim for the highest customer satisfaction, I can manage, and then raise the bar.

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