For the last few years, local businesses that excel in their crafts have enjoyed a prime spot on the Google 3-pack listing of hits close to the user’s location. However, Google announced a change that will bring the 3-pack configuration down to just a 2-pack – turning the third spot into a paid advertisement.
Paid-For Inclusions: Is this the End of Good Business?
Traditionally, the only businesses included in Google’s 3-pack of local hits were those that earned their spots by genuinely doing good business. These businesses won their prominent placements through years of hard work, search engine optimization strategy, and positive consumer reviews. Now, Google is giving one of the spots (the top spot, no less) to any business that will pay for it.
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Google advertised the system at this year’s SMX Advanced with the tagline: “Fully unlock the potential of local internet on mobile.” It appears the key will cost more than a little elbow grease. The 3-pack was difficult enough for businesses to get into. Now, with a 33% smaller chance, many local businesses feel put out. This change could cause problems for local business owners as well as consumers.
Consumers will lose the guarantee that the top local hit is actually a popular business. They will have to dig further for this information, looking businesses up on Yelp and reading reviews. For many business owners, Google seems to be shutting out old-fashioned, high-quality businesses in favor of businesses that pay for fame; many entrepreneurs who pride themselves on their earned status think this a poor practice.
Some consumers worry that this will be a crushing blow for local businesses, which already spend a good chunk of their budgets on optimizing advertisements for Google. Google’s need to boost revenue is quickly smothering its incentives for good businesses. The apprehension the public feels about this is worse than when Google announced it was cutting the glorious 7-pack down to just 3 back in August 2015.
The Skinny on the Slimmer 3-Pack
The new 3-pack structure – or 2-pack plus 1 ad – will be available as part of Adwords Extensions to local business advertisers. These ads may make Adwords Express a viable marketing channel for local businesses that want to jump to the top of their local 3-pack listings, if it also becomes available on Express.
Google is testing the new 2-pack, meaning we may see something different once it officially debuts. This could even mean more ads and fewer organic results. There is also the question of whether Google will keep the four advertisements at the top of the search results, hitting users with five ads in a row. We won’t find out until Google releases the change, which could be at any time.
Organic traffic appears to be getting lost in the shuffle of a pay-to-play business model with Google’s newest update. It’s too soon to tell what the new 2-pack system will mean to local businesses, but one thing is clear: It’s Google’s world and we’re all just living in it.