Over the past few years, Google has dramatically increased its capabilities for local search. Among other things, they’ve added location-based searches, modified their mobile search algorithms to prefer local results, and given significant SEO boost to local sites that are mobile friendly. Though the trend has clearly been for more local results, a new change from Google may seem like a step back at first. Google has reduced the number of local links that show with extra information when users do a search that suggests local intent.
When users do a search that Google recognizes as being about local information, they will show several links to local businesses with extra information like review scores. In the past, Google would show seven of these results before showing the traditional search results. Google has now reduced the number of listings down to three.
The space that was used for the other four listings is now being used for a small landscape Google Map that shows where the locations are. Each listing also gets a bit more space than they had in the previous layout. The listings now include additional information like hours of operation and pricing when available.
The biggest change, other than the reduced number of listings, is the fact that all of the links to Google+ have been removed. In the past, the Local Pack area included links to the business’s Google+ page, Google Reviews, and let people add their own reviews with a click. The aggregated review score remains, but it’s no longer clearly associated with Google Reviews.
This change may be related to Google’s overall roll back of their more aggressive efforts to push Google+. A similar move came just a few weeks ago when YouTube removed the Google+ requirement for people to leave comments on YouTube videos.
Clearly every link to G+ has been removed,” wrote SEO expert Mike Blumenthal in a blog post about the change. “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.”
In a statement to Search Engine Land, a Google spokesperson explained that the change was made to put more information in the reduced number of listings.
“We are constantly exploring the best way to bring a better search experience to our users,” wrote the Google representative in an email reply to a request for information. “This update provides people with more relevant information, including photos, reviews and prices, for searches that have multiple results for a given location.”
This change is currently being rolled out worldwide so many users will see the modified results in their searches. Businesses that were listed in the Local Pack before can now be found by clicking the map for more information. This means business owners may seem a decline in web-based referrals due to their information being less easy to see than before. A good way to make up for this change is to use PPC ads on Google to get top billing before the the Local Pack even starts.
For more information about recent changes and updates to Google, read this article on Google’s test of Home Service Ads in certain markets.