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All Hail the 3-Pack…Google’s, That Is

So it’s a 6-pack you might be striving for at the gym and, until recently, it was the 7-pack you longed for in the world of local search results. To be among the top 7 in a local search result previously garnered you a most valued position and treatment of your listing. Your name, URL, address and phone number were all prominent and a click on your name took people directly to your website. Those days are gone. In the blink of an eye, Google released a new update that pared down the 7-pack to a 3-pack—and then some.

The Good Ol’ Days

You can be as nostalgic as you like but you will nonetheless have to face the fact that local search is now governed by a very different reality. The changes with the new 3-pack update—also referred to as the snack pack update—can be summarized as follows:

  • Only the top three results to a search query will be featured instead of the top seven.
  • The business address is no longer listed.
  • Links to Google+ have been eliminated.
  • Business names now link to a Google map page instead of to the business website.

While I doubt anyone will bemoan—or even notice—the removal of the Google+ links, the combined magnitude of the other changes is a true game changer.

From Desktop to Mobile

One point to consider is the impact mobile is having on local search. Three results naturally display better on mobile devices so consolidating on a three-result standard simply brings the desktop experience in line with the mobile one. That said, Google has been promoting a logical experience on each platform for a while versus forcing people to have a lesser experience on one in order to consolidate so this answer seems to only highlight a potential hypocrisy on the part of Google.

Sadly, the hypocrisy does not stop there. While on the surface, the whole point of a search engine is—or should be—to direct people to sites applicable to their searches, Google is positioning itself to actually do the opposite. Instead, they want to be the conduit between businesses and customers.

Why, Oh Why?

Yes, the answer above only seems to beg the same question—why would Google do this? Why would they want to have this control? It’s all about the bottom line. By keeping people within a Google web instead of losing them to a company website, Google can make more money.

Google’s effort with the 3-pack is in line with other things we can see such as their acquisition of talent from the now-defunct Homejoy or their investment in Thumbtack. These two businesses focused on connecting customers with local services—exactly what Google wants to do. They are also positioning themselves for new variations of local ads—and let’s be honest, those are all about revenue for the search engine giant.

Forget Fair

Your parents probably told you many times over—and maybe you tell your kids now—that life’s not always fair. The 3-pack is a great example of that. While most Google updates have helped users or cracked down on spammy SEO practices, this one seems designed to directly and primarily benefit Google.

You don’t have to like the snack pack but you do have to take note of it. The businesses that respond despite their dislike of this change are the ones who will win.