Is your business optimized for online local search? Do your customers typically live or work closeby? For most of our small business clients, local search contributes heavily to their ability to get found and chosen online.

And when it comes to “near me” searches, the 800-lb. gorilla in the space is Google (specifically Google My Business for local business listings). Google changes how they display their top local search results pretty frequently, always optimizing for user experience.

At one point in time, when consumers searched for businesses online, Google served up a 7-pack of the top 7 results for a given local search, all populated at the top of the results page. Earning their way into that 7-pack was a big goal for many small businesses that generated leads and new business from online local search.

After some time and analysis of the 7-pack format, Google reduced the number of local results it highlighted. According to them, the last 4 results of the 7 weren’t getting much traffic compared to the top 3. Given that 7 results are awfully tough to fit on a mobile screen, that actually makes sense. And remember, Google loves mobile.

So in recent years, they’ve adjusted the local pack to show fewer, and different types of, results.

What is Google’s local pack?

Google’s local pack is just that – a “pack” of Google’s best local search recommendations. Instead of 7 results, the top 3 local results now rotate in and out of the local pack, depending on a searcher’s physical geographic location. And depending on the type of search conducted, the number of results shown varies slightly.

If your business was in positions 4-7 of the original local pack, your company may not make the cut for certain local searches. Ultimately, that could indicate a reduction in online traffic and leads you’re able to generate for your small business.

Google also altered the appearance of the local pack panel. Here’s the local pack I saw when I searched for “plumber near me” on my mobile smartphone.

Google's local pack example

You’ll notice that Google applied filters to my search based on the type of business I was looking for. Since I searched plumbers, they assumed I probably had an urgent need and only showed plumbers listed as “Open Now.” They also didn’t populate a business address in the actual listing, since it knows I want the plumber to come to me.

What that tells us is that Google varies the business listing information they show in Google’s local pack based on user search terms. Restaurants, for example, get snippets of customer reviews appended to their results, so searchers can see the latest consumer feedback before they click through. Typically, the local pack will show business hours and city name. Google also sometimes gives each local pack top result a button that will call the business, in place of the business’s the phone number.

Pro tip: Sometimes Google’s local 3-pack will denote its results with an A, B or C in front of the business names. That happens in a couple instances: 1) When consumers search for a business’s exact name instead of a business type or category and 2) When consumers search less brand-loyal business types like gas stations. Going back to our plumbing example, here’s what happened when I searched for “Roto-Rooter near me.”

ABC local pack example

Before we move on to optimizing for Google’s local pack, let’s touch on one more thing.

What is Google’s sponsored pack?

In select instances, you may see what’s called a sponsored pack before you see the local pack we just discussed. Similar in appearance to Google’s local pack, Google’s sponsored pack caters to certain business types like plumbers and locksmiths. Why? These small business types rely heavily on immediate, urgent leads to generate the majority of their business. Most consumers don’t plan in advance to deal with a busted pipe or lock their keys in their car, after all.

Google’s sponsored pack drops in above the local pack and includes a quick callout that these are sponsored listings (meaning they’re paid ads instead of organically optimized results). They also note that Google’s gone the extra mile to verify the quality of some of these businesses and give them a Google Guaranteed badge, since Google knows you may not necessarily trust the paid ads over its organic results.

Here’s the Google sponsored pack I saw when I searched for “plumber near me” earlier.

Google's sponsored pack example

Optimize for Local Search

What does all of this mean for you? If you’re not in the top 3 results for Google’s local pack, or you can’t afford to pay to appear in the sponsored pack, don’t fret.

Many users click “More Results,” or “More Locations” to dig deeper into the search results to find exactly what they want. And if they find you, they could end up being highly qualified leads.

Want to show up in Google’s local pack? Want to at least ensure you’re in the top local search results? It’s all about how you optimize your business listings, specifically with Google My Business in mind.

NAP – Name, Address, Phone Number

The basic information you should include in every, single place you show up online is your business name, address and phone number, or NAP. NAP is an oldy but goody when it comes to search engine optimization.

With only a button to help consumers reach you by phone (and sometimes not even that much), it’s crucial you get your information correct right from the start in your online listings and citations. This goes for your Google My Business listing as well as your listings across the other major business listings and citation sites. Keep your business details consistent too. If you spell out the word “Street” in your address, make sure you do so on every, single listings site.

Pro tip: NAP used to be all about consistency. Now, it’s also about ensuring this information appears in your web pages’ and listing pages’ titles and meta descriptions as well.

Ratings and Reviews

Depending on the type of business you have, reviews from your Google My Business page will most likely appear in your local pack snippet. Even more intense, the local pack snippet (sometimes referred to as a “business card”) will also show your overall star (1-5) rating and even the number of bad reviews you have.

I conducted several searches while pulling this blog together, and of all the searches, Google never recommended a business to me that had fewer than 4 stars. Since Google is popular based on its ability to deliver quality results, it makes sense they’d only want to share the most qualified local businesses with its users.

So if you don’t already, it’s time to start taking ratings and reviews seriously. Here’s how to counteract negative reviews and beef up your online listings all at once. Not sure if you have negative reviews out there? Tools like Thryv help you monitor and interact with your ratings and reviews online.

Your Website and Landing Page Elements

Your business listings aren’t the only thing that contribute to your local search optimization. Your website and landing pages also play into your online credibility and findability.

Just like we mentioned in the tip on NAP, it’s time to start paying attention to things like title tags and meta descriptions. Incorporate your city and region name into these page elements, as well as other headers, your URL and any ALT attributes on images. Not sure what these things mean? Your web developer can help. Or, if you use a DIY website tool, you can find and edit these elements with a little bit of digging.

Pro tip: Embed a Google map on your website’s home page and near the top of your landing page(s) to beef up your SEO even further.