Try this sometime: Conduct a search for a local business type—say, plumbers or used car dealerships. What Google will provide you with is a trio of search results, a 3-pack of listings for businesses in close proximity to your current location. This 3-pack arrangement of local search listings has been around for a while now—though it used to be a full 7-pack—and companies that invest heavily in local SEO have long been assured of placement within this 3-pack.

But now, things are changing, with Google planning to whittle its local search listings to a mere 2-pack in the near future. A third listing will still be offered in the traditional 3-pack formulation, but rather than an organic listing it will now be a paid one. In other words, the chances to organically arrive within the 3-pack have been cut by a third.

A New Paradigm for Google Map Listings

It’s difficult to overstate what a significant change this is. For years, these three pieces of the prime online real estate have been the province solely of companies that work hard, earning positive reviews, winning backlinks, and deploying solid SEO strategies over the span of years. Now, one of those three coveted spaces—the top one, no less!—will simply be offered to whatever business is willing to pay for it.

Google has touted this as the future of search. If that’s the case, then what it tells us about search is grim: From here on out, it will be more and more about paying to play, rather than winning rankings through compelling and well-optimized content.

This could be trouble not only for businesses—especially smaller ones that simply cannot compete on such costly terms—but also for consumers. Those looking for the most popular local businesses won’t necessarily be able to trust the 3-pack listings. Instead, they’ll have to take the time to dig a little deeper, consulting reviews on Facebook and Yelp to ensure the business is worthy of their time and money.

Local SEO Recommendations Moving Forward

As for small businesses, it remains to be seen exactly how this change-up will impact SEO. For now, there are a few immediate recommendations we can make here at Sefati Consulting Group.

  • Shift focus away from Google Maps.
  • Place more focus on strong content creation, especially taking advantage of long-tail search terms.
  • Diversify content, creating more video and taking advantage of YouTube search traffic (YouTube, after all, has become the world’s second largest search engine).
  • Ensure that your SEO and PPC teams are working closely together, united around the same goals.

The change to a 2-pack structure hasn’t happened just yet, but it’s definitely coming—and now is the time to prepare for it. Be proactive. Enlist the help of an SEO consultant today, and develop a strategy to weather this shake-up at Google. Start the process by reaching out to our team at Sefati Consulting Group now.