Blog post: Is Google’s local pack a survival kit for local businesses? 300,000+ SERPs analyzed
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The AccuRanker team and I analyzed more than 300,000 local SERPs in the largest US cities New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – to get a clear answer to the question:

Are Google local packs a survival kit for local businesses? What is the proportion of local and global businesses that  appear in Google local packs?

This research wouldn’t have been possible to conduct without the amazing AccuRanker API, which is able to process a massive amount of data less than an hour! The result of this analysis would be interesting both for search marketing experts who provide local SEO services and for business owners.

In addition to the results of my extensive research, I’ve also included expert opinions, as I distributed a questionnaire among the most respected local SEO pros.

 schema.local SEO research

Why is local SEO a big deal?

63.6 percent of experts confirmed that local search delivers a better ROI than all other online channels

For all businesses – SMEs and large companies – local SEO is a vital concern. If you are a business owner or a manager running SEO processes, you should put your effort into getting the maximum number of advantages out of the possibilities local search opens up for your business.

 

And what is the desired effect?

Depending on how relevant your business is to a particular search query, your domain should appear in local pack listings, and in the first lines of Google SERPs. On August 2015, Google opted to show three results instead of seven in local packs, so it is quite difficult to get into them.

 

But there’s plenty of bigger brands than mine. Can I compete with them in local packs?

It is evident that small businesses cannot afford to invest the same amount of resources as big companies do for local search optimization. And, as a result, small businesses can’t have the same number of links and other SEO signals that push their sites higher in local packs. Google local listings are partly solving this issue when it comes to local results that include concrete locations. But let’s imagine a situation where your local business has a bunch of global brands located near it. How will the local results be prioritized in this case? Will your business still be visible? Let’s go deeper to learn answers to all these questions, so that you can opt for the best local SEO strategy for your business!

How did we crunch the numbers?


Together with the AccuRanker team I conducted research to monitor the c
ompetition among global and small businesses in Google local packs.

Here’s the main steps that we took to get a list of final insights:

 

  1. We gathered more than 111,000 local keywords with the help of AccuRanker’s keyword suggestion feature and Google Keyword Planner  – those that included words like “near me,” “around me,” “nearby,” etc.
  2. Next, we grouped all keywords in categories like real estate, shopping, financial services, public catering, sports, healthcare, auto services and others; the clusterization was delivered partly with the help of Google Keyword Planner, but most of the work was done manually.
  3. After this, the AccuRanker team set up position tracking campaigns for those keywords for the three largest US cities – Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. It is worth mentioning that AccuRanker has outstanding capabilities – it can track more than 300,000 keywords via API in only 30 minutes! I have never come across such a capability in my experience.


The raw datasets that we received in the end were represented in the list of domains and the first
three results of company names or websites that appear in local packs in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. With the help of keyword categorization I was able to analyze not only general trends, but also dig deeper and see how local businesses are performing in various industries.

Here are my top 10 insights:

1. More than 60 percent of local packs are occupied with global domains

global vs local domains
I divided the list of domains that appear in local packs into two groups: global and local ones. In order to check the traffic of more than 36,000 domains, I used data provider traffic metric.

So, here is the bad news for small local businesses:

More than half of the domains that appear in local packs are not local at all

The overwhelming majority of local packs across the different niches I analyzed are occupied with big international businesses’ sites.

As we’ve already discovered that local businesses often don’t have websites, then it’s quite predictable that global domains can take advantage of this situation. Also, the experts we consulted stated that among the biggest issue that local businesses face is that big brands and giant domains are dominating local SERPs:

main difficulties sm

 

2. The shopping category shows the biggest presence of global domains in local packs – more than 53 percent

Global domains are powerful; they have impressive link profiles, and Google trusts them. That’s why global domains have a number of benefits compared to small businesses’ domains, even on local scale.   

3. The shopping, auto services, transportation and public catering categories have the highest number of SERPs with local packs

Here is the distribution of those four niches:

  1. Shopping is leading here. It occupies around 26 percent of local searches that include local packs
  2. Auto Services is the second leading niche, which occupies 20 percent of local searches that include local packs
  3. Transport occupies around 8 percent of local searches with local packs
  4. Public catering6 percent of local searches with local packs

 

4. Walmart and CVS are the top most visible domains

Despite the fact that the number of local searches related to the healthcare niche is way lower compared to the shopping or automotive niches, there is one strong leader. CVS appears in more than 15 percent of healthcare local searches more than 15 percent of healthcare searches.

Is cvs.com really such a powerful domain? I checked its rivals with the help of a competitive intelligence tool. Here they are, the most relevant competitors of cvs.com in organic search: walgreens.com, drugstore.com, riteaid.com,  and rxlist.com. Rxlist.com is an online medical resource that contains information mainly for patients’ own education, which is why it coincides with cvs.com in terms of shared keywords, but is not a real competitor for a drugstore chain, which CVS is. Drugstore.com is an online shop for vitamins and beauty products, so it is not one of CVS’ direct competitors. Walgreens and Rite Aid are drugstore chains like CVS, so they are direct rivals.

After checking that, I turned to AccuRanker, which allowed me to add competitors and see how they’re performing in a local results by selecting a set of keywords and a certain location. I decided to check how cvs.com and its competitors are appearing in SERPs for different medicine-related keyword in Los Angeles. The chart below shows the visibility of cvs.com as well as its main rivals:

visibility

As for the second leading domain in local search, Walmart has gained such a high visibility because of outstanding brand awareness – it has 90 percent of branded searches. For instance, one of Walmart’s direct competitors in both online and offline markets, the Target Corporation, has three times less branded searches. So, this only proves that having a strong brand is a winning strategy. However, when we were analyzing our data, we discovered a case that was the opposite of Walmart’s. The liquor store Warehouse Wines & Spirits shows up a lot in general searches and it has less than four percent of branded searches. So, even without a strong brand awareness you can become extremely visible!       

5. The presence of local packs for local search queries in Google SERPs doesn’t exceed 30 percent.

Yes, this is true. Only 30 percent of Google SERPs for local searches show local packs.  This means there are plenty of opportunities for local business to take advantage of this situation. No matter what niche your business belongs to, Google offers local listings, and being included in them is officially free.

6. A huge number of searches that don’t involve local packs are related to various topics that contain “24 hours”

I simply can’t believe that in giant cities like NY, LA, and Chicago, there’s no 24 hour cafés, groceries, gyms and supermarkets! The queries that include the words “twenty-four hours” are evidently local as well. So, there is room for SEO action for many local businesses that are open around the clock.

7. Accommodation-related search queries include local packs in more than 95 percent of analyzed SERPs

Despite the small presence of local packs across all analyzed SERPs, the accommodation category is covered fully. Looking at the results of my research, it seems, to me, to be among the most competitive niches. However, the expert survey revealed reveals that this is not the case.

SERPs for most accommodation search queries (for example, “cheap hotels near me,” “best places to stay near me,” “comfort inn near me”) show local packs. At the same time, among these local packs that appeared, only 36 percent of them included local businesses.

8. Legal and beauty services are among the most competitive niches, as legal and beauty local search queries have the lowest number of SERPs without local packs

Local SEO experts confirmed that both legal services and real estate are the two niches where competition is quite hard. Legal services has a high competition level simply because the number of searches is really small. That’s why it’s really hard to stand out in this niche. We asked AJ Ghergich, founder of Ghergich & Co., a consulting agency in Saint Louis, Missouri, to comment on situation with legal services niche:

AJ Ghergich
To me legal is the most competitive simply because of scarcity. For example, keywords like “personal injury attorney nyc” cost upwards of $70 to $80 per click in Adwords. The search volume is low but the ROI on the right client is sky-high.
So you have a ton of competition for a very small available search volume. Combine that with deep pocketed and sometimes ego driven lawyers and you have your work cut out for you.

9. A majority of local businesses still prefer to maintain a minimum web presence

I assume this is due to the complexity of proving a direct connection between online visits and actual purchases. That’s why business owners are trying to avoid going online. Also, not all businesses are aware of using Google Local listings if they do not have websites.

10. Only 41 percent of local packs that appear in Google SERPs have domains

local pack with and wth domains
Even those businesses that are aware of Google options for local businesses, very often choose not to create a website. Among all the local packs that appeared in SERPs for local search queries, only 41 percent include links to a business’s site. So, a huge number of local businesses just do not consider forgoing a website a real problem. They simply do not understand what kind of opportunities and profits digital marketing is capable of generating. This is sad, but, on the other hand, it’s left a huge gap open for digital agencies that are ready to work with local and hyper-local businesses. They can easily reach out to those businesses and recommend developing a website and running a local SEO campaign.

It’s obvious that there’re plenty of opportunities for local businesses to take advantage of this situation and become a bit more visible online. On top of this, the local SEO experts we consulted also claimed that ANY local business MUST have its own site!

shoudl have a website

 

So, if you run a local business and you still have insufficient knowledge about how your business can benefit from digital marketing, then it’s the perfect time to get a better understanding of it.

One of the most pressing issues for all businesses is budgeting. How much does local SEO campaign cost on average? How much should I invest in it? You’re probably asking yourself these questions now. Well, I can help you answer the first one. Here is a graph from our expert survey, which shows that it usually costs between $1,000 and $2,000 for a client to buy a local SEO campaign.   

costs per contract

 

As for the second question, it still for you to decide.

To sum everything up

  1. Small businesses have a 40 percent chance of becoming visible in Google local packs in the top three results! The goal of becoming visible in Google if you are a local business is reachable, but it can’t be solved solely by submitting your company to Google local listings. The reason is simple: local packs are flooded by global domains (around 60 percent).
  2. Among the most competitive local niches are accommodation, shopping, legal services, and beauty services. If your business belongs to one of these niches, you’d better hire a real professional with a solid expertise in local SEO. We recommend that you begin your research by consulting some of the same experts that participated in our survey
  3. Almost 60 percent of local business listings don’t have domains, which means there are plenty of opportunities for SEO agencies and freelancers. This also means that the majority of local businesses still do not even have websites! Moreover, around 70 percent of Google SERPs for local search queries do not show local packs at all.

So, if you run a local business, or you are a local SEO professional, you should pay close attention to the opportunities the local scene can provide for you.   

View the complete inforgraphic here.

Do you have any other comments, thoughts or ideas? Have you ever faced the same or other challenges as an SEO expert or local business? I’m really excited to hear from you, so please leave your comments right now!   

 

Special thanks to the local SEO experts who participated in our survey:

Andre Preukszat
Varun Kumar
Shawnah Sheehy
Michael Briggs
Chris Darling
Kurt Frankenberg
Timothy J Sweeney
Nick Rink
Ashley Faulkes
Mark Morrison
Annabel Candy
Casey Markee
Nyagoslav Zhekov
Darren Shaw
Chris Silver Smith
James Mckellar
Saijo George
Kunjal Panchal
Rohan Ayyar
Aleh Barysevich
Omi Sido
Luis Galarza
Mike Glover
Jerry Frear
Dat To
Adam Silveston
Justin Herring
James Munroe
Devin Harper
Brian Barwig
Julie Gallaher
Mary Bowling
Greg Gifford
Bill Slawski
Israel Soliz
Aaron Weiche
Luca Bove
Gianluca Fiorelli
Paddy Moogan
Henry Bendik
Dagmar Gatell
Peter Nikolow
Krystian Szastok
Matthew Hunt
Marty Twelves
Ryan Stewart
AJ Ghergich
Mike Ramsey
Nick Neels
Gerry Downey
Christa Morgante
Joy Hawkins

Thanks to our data partners:

Serpstat, Searchmetrics, SpyFu, SEMrush, AccuRanker

  • For point #8, I was wondering if you could clarify. The heading says legal + beauty are the most competitive but then the text under it says legal + real estate. Which is it?

    • Joy, thanks for your question. Actually, yes, maybe I didn’t make it clear. We used two sources of data for my survey.

      Local SEO experts’ opinion pointed out, from their experience, that the most competitive niches are legal services and real estate. At the same time, our quantitive analyses show that the most competitive niches are legal services and beauty niches. So I would not say these results are controversial but rather complementary.

  • What’s the chance the 3 mega-cities local packs showed such a large percentage of national brands because of their local reach?

  • Alexandra, how much influence do you think the businesses proximity to the location queried has? Here in St. Louis, MO. Google considers “St Louis” as St Louis city, not St Louis county. 90% of businesses are in the county, so they lack a map presence because of this, or they are handcuffed because Google defaults to the city. so when someone searches for a “ac repair st louis”, Google typically shows map results that are closest to the city of STL. I’d imagine other cities share the same “struggle” and I was curious if you’ve seen them overcome proximity

    • James, I think it has a much larger influence in smaller cities, compared to gigantic ones; so your case perfectly describes the fact that location sometimes plays a major role in being visible in Google local packs. However, there’s a way to overcome this issue by simply investing in other local SEO ranking factors: https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors

  • Paul Gonzalez

    In #1 the graphic points out that the business of fake reviews is growing fast. Are reviews having that much of an impact on small and large brands ranking in the 3 pack?
    And as for the pricing on local campaigns are those numbers the monthly cost? Sorry, I’m sure those don’t sound like the most intelligent questions but reading these articles every day is helping a lot.

    • Paul, yes reviews matter a lot and talking about an average contract I think that’s for the final cost. And if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask 🙂

  • Sunil Tripath

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

    Astrologer Sunil
    http://www.astrologyoncall.com

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