Did Google Just Put Local Results on a Diet?

The 7-pack just became a 3-pack. What does this mean for law firms?

Over the last several months, my colleagues and I have watched Google Local and Google Maps undergo several consistent, minor changes. None of these changes has been earth shattering for law firms, but each one seems to be a small step toward a much larger and possibly drastic change in how local search is conducted.

Indeed some of the larger updates this summer have probably gone unnoticed by anyone outside of the tech industry. Did your firm see a change in traffic when maps.google.com transitioned to google.com/maps? Probably not.

But the latest change, on August 7th, was a big one for local search and it probably won’t be the last.

Behold! The new 3-pack and local results interface!

Blog_082115_GoogleDiet_screengrabs
The previously known “7-Pack” has now been condensed down to just three results which is now conveniently named the “3-Pack” or “Snack Pack”. This new interface, although it may seem small, will have a big impact to both legal consumers and local law firms competing to get into the 3-pack.

  • Local results just got even more competitive.
    The reduction in local result real estate means that if your firm is not in the top three results, you can probably expect a decrease in local visibility.
  • Key business information is now hidden.
    Phone numbers, complete addresses and URLs are not listed in the results – desktop users have to click multiple times for these to appear. Also missing is access to law firms’ Google+ My Business pages. This seems like a step back in user experience but Google may have something bigger in mind here that we just don’t know about yet.
  • Local traffic will be harder to track.
    Previously, referrals from Google+ and Google Maps were excellent indicators of local traffic. With this update, both of these tools are effectively removed from the user experience. (That map you see in the background still isn’t Google Maps as we know it.) For law firms watching their traffic sources, it means your local results are about to look a bit less local.

What does it all mean?

Experience tells us that predicting Google’s exact next moves is a fool’s errand. (Alphabet, anyone?) But based on these recent changes, it’s safe to assume a few things. On the big-picture scale, desktop results appear to be driving users to the website or driving directions while mobile results are predominantly pushing web users to make a phone call. Second, traditional factors like consistent online citations for your law firm are still very much relevant while user reviews will likely be even more important to local visibility and conversion than ever before. Finally, traditional organic search factors and general brand awareness are probably going to have a greater impact on local search results than they previously did.

What’s a law firm to do?

Start by getting your ducks in a row. If you aren’t familiar with local-mobile search optimization or the importance of branding for small law firms, download their relevant white papers, here. This change is interesting, and probably dismaying to at least four of the previous top seven law firms in your area, but panic and chasing rank rarely pan out in the long run.

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