I had a unique experience a couple months ago that confirmed that Google weights local ranking factors differently for branded search terms than they do for non-branded ones.
Before I explain what happened, I need to first clarify that there are currently two different kinds of local 3-packs (branded vs. non-branded), and my conclusion is that the ranking factors for these are not the same.
The branded 3-pack is generally what you get when you search things like “sears dallas” or “starbucks seattle” or “state farm chicago.” (However, I frequently see Google showing branded 3-packs for non-branded queries. I’ve always concluded this means that Google somehow “thinks” the query is a branded search when it’s really not.)
You’ll get a non-branded 3-pack when you search generic categories like “shopping mall chicago” or “auto insurance baltimore.”
There are some notable differences between the branded and non-branded 3-packs, which are as follows:
I honestly have no idea why Google decided to remove reviews for branded queries. I think it’s kind of dumb, but it happened when they rolled out the 3-pack in August of 2015.
I came to this conclusion when, one day, a client of mine popped into the 3-pack suddenly. He had previously not even been in the top seven for this query due to his physical address not being within the city limits. So when the ranking tracker suddenly showed that he was now second in the 3-pack, it was something I definitely had to investigate.
Imprezzio Marketing (my company) has a subscription to BrightLocal‘s tools, which frankly is the only reason why I was able to catch this. We have a ranking tracker that scans daily for each client and also takes screen shots of the SERPs. I went and looked at the screen shot for that day and compared it to the screen shot for the previous day, and here is what I found.
Previously, “Handyman Tampa” had always returned a branded 3-pack (even though this isn’t a branded search). My client, The Handyman Company, was nowhere in this 3-pack. However, the day he started ranking, Google changed the search results to show a non-branded 3-pack for this search term. Suddenly, he was in the second position.
I double-checked the organic results. Nothing had changed in that section that could have impacted the local ranking change.
The businesses that ranked in the new non-branded local 3-pack were very different from the businesses that had previously been ranking. About a week later, the 3-pack flipped back to being branded, so this period of several days allowed me to collect information about the new businesses that were ranking, which I stored in a spreadsheet you can download here.
Based on the differences, these were the main things I noticed:
In summary, I realize this is a small sample size but wanted to report the findings based on the accuracy of the data. Other than this example, I’ve never seen Google do this before where every other factor remained exactly the same. I have also never seen them flip from a branded to non-branded 3-pack for a given query.
See any patterns I missed? I’d love to hear about it!
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