UPDATE: Our discovery was picked up on 09-15 by Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable with comments from others in the industry.
Many are already familiar with Google’s Local Map Pack. Originally known as the ‘Local 7 Pack’, where 7 local businesses were featured, we saw it cut down to just 3 being featured in August 2015. Landing a spot in the Map Pack, whether it’s been 7 or 3 listings, has provided local businesses many benefits, including:
1. Enhanced visibility in search results
2. On occasion, 2 organic listings – one in the map pack and another in the traditional organic results
3. Reviews, phone numbers, and other items featured that encourage / make it easier for customers to each you
Google Pushes Map Pack DOWN with Organic Results
Originally, the Map Pack came directly after paid ads which appeared at the top of the page. But this morning, Daniel Thomason, one of our senior SEO specialists, noticed multiple organic listing appearing ABOVE the map pack, in addition to paid ads:
As you can see in the image above, 4 paid ads are still featured at the top, but directly under those paid ads and BEFORE the 3 Pack are 4 organic results.
This means the local map results are HALF WAY DOWN THE PAGE!
How Did We Find This?
In this case, a search for ‘air duct mold removal’ triggered the results. It appears Google might have interpreted this as a do-it-yourself query, as the first 4 results have info on how to tell if you have mold in your air ducts, steps to remove it, etc.
This was the first time anyone on our team had seen this and we hadn’t seen chatter of it online either. We’ve got a discussion started at the Local Search Forum if you’ve got any input or can replicate these results.
How Might This Affect Local Businesses?
Clearly, this is not good for local businesses trying to achieve high organic visibility in Google.
From a mobile perspective, we’ve already seen the local map get pushed off the screen just due to paid ads appearing above it, but now it could potentially be even further down with these organic results included above.
For desktop searchers, it likely prevents a certain amount of results from ever being seen by them.
We know through use of user-tracking tools that people are very unlikely to scroll through pages to find what they’re looking for. Similar to what’s happened with mobile, this pushing down of the map pack makes it more likely searchers end up going to a paid ad to solve their problem, regardless if that company’s actually the closest service provider to them, the best reviewed, etc.
We don’t think this is something to freak out over – everybody in our industry knows Google’s always testing things in their search results. In fact, when searching ‘air duct mold removal’ later in the day, we saw results without any local map, results without any paid ads, and results with an answer box at the top.
But we do think it’s something to watch and be concerned with – local SEO is filled with enough challenges already, and if this becomes a standard feature in Google’s search results, it’ll be another challenge we face.