So what’s a marketer to do?  Paid search is taking over more real estate on Google.  Google eliminated the right rail paid search ads and cut the map pack from 7 listings down to 3.  But that still means often the organic search results often fall below the fold, meaning not on the first browser window.

Here’s an example.  Search for dentists in Huntsville, Alabama.  Four paid ads show up at the top of the page, followed by Google’s three-pack with map.  That means not one organic search shows up on your first browser window without scrolling.

huntsville dentist search

The first organic listing outside of the map pack is in the number 10 position on the page after paid search, the local map pack, and a couple of directories.  The prominence of the paid search results and the map pack has had a dramatic impact on organic search.  In the first quarter of 2016, organic search produced just 28% of site visits, down from 31% a year ago, according to a study by Merkle, which bills itself as the largest independent agency in the US for CRM, digital, and search.


An even bigger drop for organic search occurred in mobile in 2016, dropping 5 points to just 25% of visits.

So getting in the local map pack is important.  What determines whether you get the coveted space?  The major elements appear to be:

  1. Location
  2. Quality Scores
  3. Positive Reviews

Map pack results are first and foremost based on location, either the city you typed in or proximity to your location.  So make sure your website has physical locations.  Make sure you’re using schema markups that contain the right information, including name, phone number, location, etc.  One way to improve your chances is to create separate pages for each location or each community your business serves.

The elusive quality score metric is the secret ingredient the search engines use to decide who gets listed ahead of others.  That means strong SEO and deadly consistent list optimization.  Is your name, address, and phone number the same in every directory?  You’d be surprised how many times it’s not.  Here’s a recent reputation management report we pulled for a client.  Not one listing had the complete, correct address, name and phone number.

reputation mgmtIt’s not that unusual to find 50% or more of the listings with incorrect, outdated, or incomplete information.  Something as simple as “Limited” on one listing versus “Ltd” on another listing can send mixed messages to search engines.

Did you notice the reviews highlighted in the map pack?  Here’s a search for restaurants in Fresno, CA.  Every restaurant listed had significant numbers of reviews, mostly favorable.

Fresno restaurants

Make sure you have good reviews.  Consider asking customers to post good reviews.  Sometimes all you have to do is ask.  If they say no thanks, it may be a “learning opportunity” for you to find out why they aren’t satisfied.

Clicking on the “More places” link takes you to the expanded map listings… and even more paid search results.  In this search for patio furniture in Bloomington, Indiana, Sears and Lowe’s top the list – because they paid to be there.

patio furniture bloomington in

While people will click through multiple organic search results when comparison shopping, research shows that conversions come more frequently from paid search.  When your toilet breaks, you’re not comparison shopping, you’re trying to find a plumber right now.  They’re likely not going to click multiple plumbers; they’ll click the ones at the top.

“Higher click-through rates come from organic search,” said Candy Ballenger of AudiencePop, a digital services agency.  “But higher conversion rates come from paid search.”

One of the mistakes digital-only marketers make, however, is assuming if you’re high on the page, you’ll automatically get the click.  Online and offline branding can be the differentiator.  Let’s say a homeowner notices a crack in their home’s foundation.  They’ve never once thought about needing a foundation repair company, but now they do.  So, they go online to search and maybe find your company along with all of your competitors.  Who do they call first?  The company they’ve heard of before.

In this regard, it’s no different than the old yellow pages.  When they look up your listing, you better be a name they know – and trust – or they’re likely to call someone else.