In August 2015, Google switched from their classic SEO 7-pack to a 3-pack, optimised for mobile. It was one of the biggest SEO shifts in years and should’ve sent shockwaves around the community, but it mostly went unnoticed. What is it, and what can you do about it?
What it is
The 3-pack-aka the local pack, aka the Snack Pack—is the special box of top results a user gets back when they search Google. You’ve seen it before. It looks like this:
Up until 2015 it was the 7-pack, but Google’s push for mobile optimization has shrunk it down to the 3 we see today. It appears in Google search only: Google Maps will display a scroll down 20-pack that looks like this:
But the top 3 from the Snack Pack are still the top 3 in GMaps as well, and data has shown that clickthroughs drop off sharply after the first three. Getting on the 3-pack is a huge boost to the number of customers coming through your door, and should be a high priority for any brick-and-mortar business. So how does it work?
Notice how two of those waffle places in the top 3 are in a different order? There’s a reason for that: the Snack Pack uses a slightly different algorithm than the organic search results. Notably, the Snack Pack puts a huge emphasis on your Google My Business signals. These are the settings you can tweak through your Google Business Listing dashboard and they include things like categories and keywords. Their importance skyrocketed in the 3-pack rankings in 2018—they went from a fairly minor factor to the single most-important. This also includes location which is absolutely paramount: without knowing where you are, a local search won’t pick you up at all. It also gauges where you appear in search rankings based on the user’s proximity to you and how often they visit your part of town.
Good news, though, SEO marketers! Though they’ve been overtaken by My Business signals, backlinks and link traffic in general still remain critically important in getting one of those coveted top 3 slots. They’re your second stop, and you should continue with whatever linkbuilding strategy you were previously working on-it’s still equally as effective in organic results, and it still matters a whole lot in the 3-pack.
Next up is reviews. Lots of high reviews are obviously good but an often-underappreciated ranking factor is review diversity: that your reviews are coming from a broad variety of places. Yelp is a high-authority review site that Google tends to take seriously, but if 100% of your reviews are on Yelp then you might not be as well-ranked as you could be. It can be good to give shoppers a reminder: get the business to put a poster or card somewhere near the shop counter that they’re on Yelp or TripAdvisor; push review sites in your social media and social bookmarking copy so customers get that extra nudge in the right direction.
Then you get onto on-page signals, which I’m sure you’ve already been working on. For those new to SEO, that means the content on your own site and how well it points towards what you do. This means keywords, content, header tags—if you optimise your site so crawlers can navigate it better, it’s going to help you crack the Snack Pack.
Getting down into the lesser factors now (but every little bit counts!) you have local citations: that’s mentions of your business and your keywords outside of reviews. This can include directories, but also means, for example, whether or not people are talking about you on Facebook, or blogs, or generally on other channels that aren’t formal reviews.
Down below that, the factors become harder for you to control as a from an SEO perspective, but thankfully they don’t swing the needle as much: click-through rates, social media engagement, the particular user’s search history. Of course there are ways to get these things up, but they’re a little more in the hands of the market. Like with reviews, a lot of this falls back on regular marketing. They’re small factors, but—like I said—every little bit counts. If you find yourself hovering around the 4-5 slots in the organic rankings and not appearing in the 3-pack, maybe this is what you want to push.
That’s the long and short of it: if you want to appear in the Google 3-pack: configure your business listing, have a link strategy, set up your on-page SEO correctly, and engage in some good old-fashioned classic marketing. If you need help with that side of things, CodeClouds offers a wide range of services, including branding, design, and development to help you get the most out of your site by making it more SEO friendly. We’ve got offices in the US, India, Australia and New Zealand—wherever you are, we’ve got a team ready to help you.