The Local Pack Gets an AdWords Ad

Google AdWords Entering the Local Pack

The local snack pack that displays organic listings underneath a map will now be accompanied by a Google AdWords ad. Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio Marketing leaked the news yesterday after hearing about it at SMX Advanced in Seattle, Washington. With a paid listing in the local pack, SEOs will now have to compete with five Google AdWords ads above the fold.

This Google AdWords change isn’t to be confused with the local search ads in Google Maps. That feature has been available to advertisers since 2013. As you can see below, ads in Google Maps Local Finder are displayed above the organic listings with a green ad label accompanied with a purple pin on the map. You can reach Local Finder by clicking on “More places” at the bottom of the local pack card in web results.

Google Local Finder

Below is a screenshot of the new Google AdWords ad in the local pack.

Photo from

What is Google snack pack?

The Google snack pack, also simply referred to as local pack, is the group of organic listings beneath a map at the top of the SERPs. When a user types in a location-related query, such as “dentist near me,” the local pack is displayed with the three most relevant and local brick-and-mortar dentists.

Although the local pack can show up for branded queries as well. For example, if you search a specific cookie shop in your area, the local pack may show up with the first organic listing being the cookie shop you searched for along with two other relevant businesses.

Google made a change to its snack pack last August, switching from a 7-pack to a 3-pack. Before, the 7-pack was a list of seven local businesses that were easily distinguished from regular organic results by its indentation. The design of the new 3-pack includes a map above the listings in a card format.

It’s assumed the change was a result of the upward trend of mobile usage as well as the lack of clicks on listings 4-7 given their below the fold positioning. While the local pack shake-up did involve the removal of Google+ links and physical addresses, the 3-pack still displays star ratings and street names.

What Google ads in local packs mean for SEOs

Focusing on your local SEO strategy was important back then, but it’s even more crucial now that Google is going to be displaying a paid listing in what was considered an organic space. As Google revealed, 84% of consumers conduct local searches and this type of search has been outpacing mobile searches by 50% in the past year. Google AdWords ads in the local pack may mean more competition and fewer impressions for SEO listings.

More competition

It’ll be interesting to see if Google will allow any advertiser in the local pack. Currently, the local pack displays businesses with physical addresses near the user’s location. You usually won’t see service-area businesses (SABs) in the 3-pack.

Given Google AdWords and its many features, I wonder if Google will allow business owners without physical locations in the city to advertise. This could lead to national and international brands crowding the local pack. However, I don’t see this very helpful for users, which may not result in clicks.

Fewer impressions

An ad in the local pack means there’s an additional ad in the SERPs. Google’s already showing four PPC text ads for 23% of all search topics. By placing a paid listing in the 3-pack, users are essentially seeing 5 ads before organic results. This is a huge blow for business owners relying on their local pack listings to organically show up, especially in mobile searches.

Local SEO strategies you can implement today

Local and small business owners need to optimize both their website and online presence to make it in the 3-pack. This means going beyond making sure your citations are accurate, but also reaching out to your community.

  • Optimize your Google Maps listing:

    Fill out all the fields with accurate information, including your address, phone number, and store hours. Once those are filled out, ask customers to leave you a review on your Google+ page since those are still shown in the local pack.

    Another strategy is to hire a Google Trusted Photographer to snap photos of your business. These photographers take professional, high-quality photos of the interior and exterior building. Having images with your Google Maps listing helps users get a visualization of your business and give you an advantage over competitors who don’t have images.

  • Claim your listings:
  • Review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are major right now. Your profile on these types of sites can be the determining factor on whether or not a person visits your place of business, unfortunately.

    When claiming or creating your listings, make sure you’re consistent with your name, address, and phone number (NAP). This way, Google has a solid idea of your brand and location. Since these are review sites, ask your customers to rate you.

  • Optimize your website: Increase the chances of your website organically showing up in SERPs for location-related queries by placing your address in a prominent place on your website (think header or footer). If you serve a major city, consider weaving the city name throughout your content.
  • For SABs, you may want to create mini landing pages for individual cities you do business in. One note about this is to make sure you write original copy for each page. Near duplicate content won’t fare well in Google.

  • Participate in your community: Partnering up with local businesses or organizations can give your brand exposure both online and offline. Donating to a non-profit organization or holding a fundraising event may lead to a local publisher writing an article and possibly linking to your website. Getting involved with your community may not only improve your online presence, but also your overall reputation.

The SERPs is becoming more and more of a play-to-pay environment. Last week, Google officially confirmed green ad labels for paid listings and expanded text ads a month ago. SEOs shouldn’t become discouraged, but rather motivated to refine and execute smarter SEO strategies. Google processes 500 million new queries per day, and ads won’t be the answer for all of them.