Pay to Play – Google Plans Local Search Change

Google local listing changes

Last August, Google shook up their “local pack” results by reducing them from 7 down to 3. The “local pack” is what the search marketing industry calls the three local results that appear above the ordinary Google search rankings. These appear when you perform a search for businesses or services in a particular area. You can see an example below.


Sometimes you will also see ads above the local pack if the search term is competitive. ‘Plumbers in Bromley’ actually has four ads before you even get to the local results.

Well, Google have announced that one of those three local listings will now be a paid ad. Details are not 100% confirmed, so the exact mixture of paid and organic ads is not certain. But, it could well be the case that only two companies will appear in the local listings, meaning that organic search, search marketing or SEO, may get that little bit tougher.

Why Does This Matter for Local Businesses

It matters because increasingly, Google, like fellow digital giant Facebook, wants you to ‘pay to play’. Meaning, you have to pay them directly to get your website in front of people using their services. It makes SEO more of a challenge and for businesses that rely on local customers coming through their website, it means you have to work even harder to get noticed.


You can see in this expanded example of someone searching for ‘plumbers in Bromley’ that the entire visible screen (what might be called ‘above the fold’) is almost all ads with only two results visible. This might be an extreme example, because not every page will have four adverts on it, but, if ‘Simply Plumbing Solutions’ was replaced with an ad – then you are left with only one organic result visible.

If you are a plumber competing with others in your local area, then suddenly if you’re not number one, you may be at a big disadvantage.

What Can I do?

Focus your local search marketing efforts on three things:

  • Good quality content, that is informative and well-written.
  • Links from trustworthy local sites that are not paid for or link swaps.
  • Ensuring that your citations (i.e. listings of your address, phone number and company name) are correct and up to date across the internet.

SEO is a long term strategy and often businesses who want to see an immediate return on their marketing investment may overlook the benefits of consistent long-term work in building your brand and online presence. If you have any questions about local search or the other topics mentioned in this post, then please feel free to get in touch.

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