How to Get Into Google’s Local 3-Pack

Improving your local SEO can dramatically increase foot traffic and sales.
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Open up your business to opportunities like Google’s 3-pack by starting a Google My Business page. (Photo: IB Photography/Shutterstock)

Last year Google updated its approach to local search results. Instead of seven businesses popping up when users type in something like “thai food new york city,” “gas station near me” or “vape shop austin,” now only three appear. This trio of results is known as the “three pack” or “local pack.”

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The Google 3-pack gives potential customers easy access to information about your business online, says Craig Smith, founder and CEO of Trinity Insight. (Photo: Craig Smith)

“For businesses with local retail locations, getting a spot in the three pack can help dramatically increase your foot traffic,” said Craig Smith, founder and CEO of ecommerce consulting and optimization company Trinity Insight in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He noted a ComSore study found 78 percent of local searches resulted in an offline purchase.

“If someone searches on their phone for services or products offered by your business, the three pack is the only organic results that appear ‘above the fold.’ More importantly, these results give customers easy access to GPS directions, hours of availability, customer reviews and additional information they will find useful when deciding where to go, particularly if they’re unfamiliar with the area.”

Not surprisingly, the search giant doesn’t randomly decide which companies end up in these coveted spots. “The most important thing to remember with the local pack is Google will only show a business listing if it is absolutely confident in it,” said George Freitag, local search evangelist at marketing software company Moz in Seattle, Washington.

Check out these tactics small business owners can employ to demonstrate their worthiness to Google.

Create a Google My Business page

First, create a Google My Business page, said Smith. “Without this step, you have no chance of showing up in the three pack. If your SEO campaign is successful, this is what your potential customers will see, so make it count.”

The Google My Business listing is what shows up on the right side of the search engine results page when a user searches for a business. It can include a map, photos, address, phone number, hours and even reviews.

Have a website

This point may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating, said Freitag. Having a web presence begins with a site full of content relevant to your business, including your services, products and contact information.

Add any special events, said Smith. “For example, if you offer a quiz night, be sure to mention this. ‘Quiz nights near me’ and similar searches will increasingly return a three pack that a business will want to be on.”

Be consistent

Double check that your business name, address and phone number (NAP) is consistent across all your platforms — Google My Business, social media and your own website, stressed Smith. “If you put ‘Rd.’ instead of ‘Road,’ use Rd. everywhere.”

Build citations

To ensure the accuracy of information displayed in map and local results, Google looks at countless other sources online, said Freitag. These include directories, apps, review sites and even news publications. Building citations helps to strengthen Google’s trust in your business.

Earn links and reviews

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“The best technique for obtaining both great links and reviews is to simply provide excellent customer service.” -George Frietag (Photo: George Frietag)

Take steps to encourage relevant websites to point links back to yours. Backlinks have been one of the primary methods Google has used to determine trust since before local search existed, said Freitag.

“Having vendors and partners link back to you or sponsoring events are great ways for local businesses to easily obtain links.”

Don’t go overboard when building links, however. Backlinks should be natural and earned. Paid or manipulative link schemes could result in a penalty from Google. Earn links by becoming a local resource, creating shareable content, generating news, getting involved in the community and building relationships with bloggers and influencers.

“The best technique for obtaining both great links and reviews is to simply provide excellent customer service,” said Freitag.

Eschew short cuts

As with the SEO of your website, avoid quick fixes. Trying to sneak into the local pack puts your business at risk for a penalty, said Smith. Don’t look to buy local-targeted links or try to set up multiple “local” business pages to falsely capture multiple terms. So, don’t create a “North Philly coffee shop” page and a “West Philly coffee shop” page when you have only one location.

Forgo keyword stuffing

Don’t try to “keyword stuff” or over-optimize your Google My Business page (or website) for every variation of local terms, products or services, said Smith. “This could appear as low quality to Google, and they may not trust your listing as much as a result.”

Distribute only one phone number

If you use more than one number, like a tracking number or 800 number, be sure the phone number you push out there is always the local number, said Freitag. “Most call tracking companies have solutions to be sure Google only sees the local number when they crawl your website. The best thing to do is just ask them about it. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, find another provider as soon as you can.”

Be prepared — there’s more competition coming

There’s talk the three pack will eventually shrink to a two pack, with the third slot going to a paid listing. The best strategy? Prepare for an even smaller local pack by building your SEO strategy today and assuming only two spots are available, said Smith. “This means continuing your outreach and your site optimization until you’re consistently within the top two spots.”

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