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Google’s Local 3-Pack Changes Are Here

July 21, 2016 Kathy Bryan

Back in May, at the annual Google Performance Summit, Google announced that advertisers using location extensions would soon be able to show local ads on Google Maps. This capability is now rolling out. But it comes with a bit of a catch… a 33% reduction in organic ads within the local 3-pack.

Paid inclusion within local results provides the possibility for any business willing to pay the price to secure a prominent placement at the top of the local results and Google Maps. For advertisers with sizable budgets, this enables the leap-frogging of other businesses.

(Note: Google is not yet providing the opportunity to bid specifically to show just in Google Maps. To the best of our knowledge, it is up to Google to determine when it makes sense to have an ad show within the map results.)

But is this good? And is it a strong opportunity for you? It depends how you look at it.

The DMS SEO and paid search experts have been discussing these changes in detail for weeks. Here are two of their perspectives.

Thoughts from Stephen Galgocy – The Organic Search Perspective

This change from Google will undoubtedly make life harder for local SEOs and business owners. Securing placement within the local 3-pack was already a challenge, but with one of the three ads now transitioned to a pay model, the job is even tougher.

The upshot for Google is clear: more revenue to satisfy their bottom-line growth.

But this change appears to have two significant downsides that equate to an overall reduction in experience quality for searchers:

  1. Good businesses are being penalized as 33% of organic local results get axed
  2. The two remaining organic placements within the local 3-pack may draw lower-quality results as more businesses and SEOs employ grey tactics to get a foot up on rivals


Searchers have become accustomed to seeing an increased number of ads at the top of Google search listings. But not within the local results. Despite the “ad” label, it may take consumers a while to recognize the top local result as an ad, drawing additional traffic from organic results during this transition.


Thoughts from Chelsea Hicken – The Paid Search Perspective

Paid ads are only eligible to show on Google Maps if location extensions are enabled within your Adwords campaign. But ensure that all the information within your Google My Business listing is updated and accurate before linking to Adwords. (Location extensions show your business address, phone number and other information like business hours and ratings about your location. These extensions help your ad stand out against the competition and provide location details, encouraging searchers to visit your location in person.)

Once location extensions are enabled, your ad can show as a standard text ad on the Google Search Network, with your business address and phone number and now also on Google Maps ― both within the search results list beneath the search box (the local 3-pack) and on the map itself, with a purple icon.

Note: Google Maps was previously considered part of Google Search Partners, but was recently re-categorized as a core Google search site. This means that advertisers who previously opted out of Search Partners but have location extensions enabled may now see an increase in impressions, clicks and cost from Google Map placements.

Because the local 3-pack and map ads are focused on increasing foot traffic, the ability to advertise in these locations is going to be most beneficial for exclusively local businesses, such as retail establishments and restaurants. If that’s you, advertising with local extensions (which may place your ads on Google Maps) is a great new way to attract nearby customers, making it easy for people to contact, find and visit your business location in person. With location extensions enabled in your campaign, you can set bid adjustments for specific radii around the location extensions, allowing for more aggressive bids for searches located closest to your business location.

However, location extensions are not recommended for every business, particularly those with online divisions. If you are targeting a broad geography, searchers will typically not be close in proximity to your actual business location. Nor is it the goal to have prospective customers visit your brick & mortar facility. If, like many Sparkroom paid search clients, your goal is to get a click through to your landing page, leading to an inquiry submission or phone call, this form of local advertising is not the best use of your media dollars. That’s because, when an ad shows with local extensions on the main Google search results page, the user may click on one of those extensions. And the local extensions can lead directly to the Google Maps page. Clicking on that part of the ad may take the user away from your defined conversion path and does not deliver a user experience that correlates with your campaign objectives. For this reason, we do not enable location extensions for the majority of our clients.


The new local 3-packs that include paid ads are still far from ubiquitous. In fact, few searchers have yet to see them. But word is out among search professionals that they are live. So be on the lookout, and be prepared.

As always, if you’d like to talk to a search expert about your campaign and how you can best position yourself for success, we’re here for you. Just shoot a note to

About the Author

Kathy Bryan

Kathy Bryan is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. In this role, Kathy is responsible for all aspects of marketing and communications for DMS and its subsidiary brands. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into an award-winning, full-service performance marketing company demonstrating incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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