Most local search folks have long-anticipated the arrival of paid ads in Google's local pack results. At SMX Advanced (#SMXLocal), Google finally announced that the local pack will be getting AdWords ads. Imprezzio Marketing's illustrious Joy Hawkins spread the news on Twitter:
Early buzz seems to indicate that the new 3 Pack will include 1 Ad & Only 2 Listings. In other words, as Powered By Search's Colan Nielsen puts it:
Google Local 3-Pack is turning into a… 2Pac
If true, this could have a cataclysmic impact on some local businesses that previously owned the number one local pack spot.
To get a sense of what this might look like in a legal SERP, I mocked-up this example (this is not an actual SERP):
First, it's worth noting that if Google goes in this direction, the first five spots will be paid results. If you're competing for keywords for which Google is showing ads, you had better take this into consideration in your online marketing strategy. Organic clicks for these types of queries is likely to decline.
Second, if you've been relying on the top local pack spot for fees, you should seriously consider what the cost / benefit looks like to pay to remain in that spot. Hopefully you've been using URL parameters to track clicks, calls and fees originating from the local pack. However, as Conrad notes over at Mockingbird, we may be looking at exceptionally high cost per clicks for legal clicks in this spot. Additionally, assuming you were in the third spot, you might find yourself out of the local pack results altogether. Yikes!
Another interesting question posed at Search Engine Roundtable is whether a business that has an organic number one spot will maintain the second organic spot if they pay for placement in the first spot. Historically, Google has treated ads and organic as church & state. For example, you could take the number one spot in AdWords, number one in the local pack and number one in traditional organic, which I call the trifecta. If Google changes its policy on this, it would stand as some pretty concrete evidence that ads and organic at least talk to each other.
Third, assuming this paid spot reflects your Google My Business listing, you're going to want to make sure that it's putting your best foot forward. One of the biggest mistakes firms make here is spending a great deal of time and money to achieve that first spot but spend little time providing remarkable service that leads to client reviews. If you pay for the number one spot and have negative reviews, you're paying to promote your poor reputation among at least some clients. Don't do that.
Finally, even if you have no interest in competing on general legal keywords, you ought to consider a modest budget to appear prominently for searches related to your name and firm name. You might also consider using remarketing and custom (email) audiences here. By using remarketing and custom audiences, you may be able to appear prominently in pack results with a significantly reduced cost-per-click.
At this stage it's really too early to draw too many conclusions until we see these listings roll-out. Smart search folks should be keeping a close eye on Search Console, Analytics and ranking tracking data. If you haven't done so already, it's also a good time to make sure you're using those tracking parameters in Google My Business listings. Stay tuned.
Have any prognostications? Feel free to comment below.