Did Local Packs really grow in 2019?



Updated on December 3, 2020
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5 min well spent

Intuitively, our perception is that local packs are growing. At the beginning of 2020, I asked my Twitter followers and 2/3 said that Google has been showing more local packs. Is that true, though? I dug into the data of 2019 and found that it’s true… and not true. Let me explain.

Before I had the data, my intuition agreed with that sentiment because Google started showing Local Packs for many shorthead keywords. The query “SEO” still shows a local pack today, which is counterintuitive in my mind. But, it turns out that we were all wrong.

This is part 3 in the SERP Feature impact series. The first part shows the volatility of Featured Snippets (and describes the methodology behind the data here), the second about Image Boxes and Packs.

Local Packs in the US, UK, and Germany

Over 40% SERPs in the US had a local pack at the end of 2019 on Desktop and over 19% on mobile. However, comparing January with November, we see an increase from 38% to 43% on desktop, but a decrease from 36% to 19% on mobile. It’s almost as if Local Packs had jumped from mobile to desktop. It is also counterintuitive because you would assume more people having a local intent on mobile because they might search for a location when they’re on the move. That assumption seems to be wrong, at least in the US.

Comparing SERPs in the US, UK, and Germany across Mobile and Desktop in January and November
Comparing SERPs in the US, UK, and Germany across Mobile and Desktop in January and November

I didn’t see big fluctuations in the UK, but in Germany, I found the reverse situation to the US. Mobile Local Packs increased on mobile from 3.5% to over 9% of SERPs. Desktop decreased from 9% to almost 6%.

This observation reminds me of the pattern I noticed on Featured Snippets and Image Boxes: Google adjusts SERP Features on queries, languages, and devices based on some feedback mechanism. Its understanding of user intent is that good.

Germany

Not all markets show a decline. In the German SERPs, for example, Local Packs increased across the whole year. Notice how mobile SERPs with Local Packs jumped at the end of March and August, while the same trend on Desktop is much more linear. If I had to guess, I would say Google collects enough information to understand that they need to turn Local Packs up, decides to do so overnight, measures the results, and then re-calibrates.

SERPs with Local Packs in German (2019)
SERPs with Local Packs in German (2019)

Lastly, note how close the amount of SERPs with a Local Pack is on mobile and desktop. In Germany, you find them on about 10% at the end of the year on both devices. That’s not the case for other languages.

United Kingdom

The UK is interesting because it’s the only market of the three I looked at with opposing trends. Mobile SERPS with Local Packs first increase at the beginning of the year, then stagnated, then decreased around June. Desktop SERPs with Local Packs increase throughout the year, even if not significantly. Both devices show similar trends, such as the short bump at the end of April, but continue to diverge as the year progresses.

SERPs with Local Packs in the UK (2019)
SERPs with Local Packs in the UK (2019)

United States

In the US, Local Packs decreased across the board. On Mobile, they decrease continuously throughout the year. On Desktop they were stagnant, dropped sharply in September, and then stayed flat again. Against my anecdotal observation, Google actually showed fewer Local Packs at the end of 2019!

SERPs with Local Packs in the US (2019)
SERPs with Local Packs in the US (2019)

Conclusion: do Local Packs signal a stronger intent?

I didn’t find a relationship between traffic and Local Packs, which is surprising because you would expect Local Packs to draw a lot of attention and drain clicks from organic results. But no. It seems that users still click on organic results if a Local Pack is present, and I have two theories for that. Either, they didn’t have a local intent in the first place – and that’s why Google decided to tone them down in the US – or they click on both, the local pack and organic results.

We need more data to understand the impact of Local Packs on traffic and what keywords trigger them. However, in 2019, Google didn’t show more Local Packs, at least in the UK and US.

Discuss!

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