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Google has released another update to its ranking algorithm.

This is nothing new of course.

Every year, Google makes hundreds of changes to its algorithm. Occasionally the company launches major updates that affect the search results in significant ways. The most recent was the mobile update dubbed “Mobilegeddon” which favors mobile-friendly sites for users on mobile devices.

Most updates primarily focus on ranking factors (e.g. link spam, social signals, mobile-friendliness, etc.) to deliver more relevant results. But the latest update differs in that it affects the way local search results are displayed. Here is a more comprehensive look at the new changes and what it means for your business.

Fewer Local Search Results Now

Fewer Local Search Results

Fewer Local Search Results

Local rankings are now more valuable and competitive than ever. The most significant change is the number of results that are displayed. Searches now display only three listings in the local search pack.

Prior to the update, results from seven local businesses were shown for local searches. Visitors can click on the “More” to expand the lists and get more results. But the change is likely to have a negative impact for lower ranked local businesses simply due to less exposure.

Searching on mobile also displays results from three local businesses.

Another notable change is the absence of certain types of information. If you look at the image above again, you’ll notice that the local search results look more bare. That’s because the URL and address of the business are no longer displayed.

Here is what the results looked like a year prior.

Local Search Results-Year Ago

Local Search Results-Year Ago

Notice the difference?

Clicking one of the three local search results displays additional listings and more information about the business. Here is what it currently looks like:

New Local Search Information

New Local Search Information

The way it works on mobile is similar. Visitors are able to get more information about the business and even read customer reviews.

More Ads Above the Fold

Advertising accounted for approximately 89.5 percent of the company’s revenues in 2014.

So it should come as no surprise that the latest update puts even more emphasis on ads. Local searches now display several ads on the top and even more along the right hand side. This change was obviously intentional to put more attention on the ads.

The effect is even more pronounced on mobile devices. Here is what a local search looks like on a smartphone:

Local Search Results-Mobile

Local Search Results-Mobile

The latest local search update reduces visibility particularly for businesses with lower rankings.

Home Service Ads

Google is currently beta testing a new feature that will take local search even further.

Qualifying home service professionals (e.g. locksmiths, plumbers, cleaners, etc.) can have their listings prominently displayed at the top of the search results. Getting listed requires a series of screening procedures including license and insurance checks.

Here is what it looks like:

Local Search Results-Google Beta Test

Local Search Results-Google Beta Test

Home service ads are currently limited to the San Francisco Bay Area. But it may not be very long until it extends to other states.

The Bottom Line

If your business relies on local search traffic, you need to know how the new changes affect you.

Here is a quick summary of the latest update:

  • Three listings are displayed in the local search pack instead of seven
  • Visitors need to click on the link to view certain business information
  • More ads above the fold push local and organic listings further down
  • Customer reviews from Google+ are even more pronounced
  • Local searches on desktop and mobile devices follow the same format
  • Home service ads could potentially be a game changer for local search

The changes seem overwhelming but it all comes down to one thing: Visibility. The good news is you can use this information to gain a competitive advantage online.

Here’s how:

1. Create a Google+ Profile: Google Plus may not have as strong of a user base as Facebook. But it’s still a massively popular network with over 300 million monthly active users. Without question your business should be on Google+ and now even more so with the way local search rankings are displayed.

2. Get Reviews: If you see one business that is highly rated online and another that barely has any reviews, you would likely be more inclined to go with the first. That’s because reviews add credibility. Once you create a Google+ profile and verify your business, reach out to customers and ask them to leave a review. This will display ratings (out of five stars) in the local search pack and even help improve organic rankings.

3. Improve Local Search Rankings: No rankings, no traffic. That’s the reality your business faces if it is not at least on the front page. Take steps to improve your local search presence by optimizing existing pages, adding links to local business listings, and focusing on a quality user experience.

4. Invest in Ads: Ads are now even more prominent in the local search results. If you want to get even more visibility for your site, it’s time to consider advertising your business on AdWords. This platform lets you easily bid on target keywords and set a daily budget.


Google recently updated its algorithm which changes how local search results are displayed. Some of these changes include fewer listings in the local search pack and more ads above the fold. The update extends to both desktop and mobile devices.

Businesses must learn about these changes and adapt accordingly to remain competitive online.

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