Ecommerce SEO in 2019: The Rise of Local Map Packs

Scott Merilatt / 12th March 2019 / Comments: 2

Google’s encroachment on traditional blue link organic results has been well-documented over the past several years. It’s a reality SEOs are quickly adjusting to, and that’s a good thing because it’s not slowing down.
As RankBrain improves at interpreting the granular search intent behind queries, we’ll continue to see shifts in SERPs–some sites will benefit and others will feel the pain. Localization is a great example of this, and its expansion in ecommerce SEO over the past several months is a trend to keep an eye on in 2019.

Map Packs Spiked for Ecommerce Sites in November 2018

There’s been a surge in map packs for keywords that have historically been considered to have non-localized transactional search intent. We’re seeing a huge spike in map pack features across multiple ecommerce clients on product queries, starting in November 2018. Almost every single one of our ecommerce clients has been impacted – I’ve pulled a few examples below, taken from SEM Rush’s local map pack filter (in other words, the total number of map-pack-triggering keywords for which a site ranks):

Depending on how you squint, map packs have been on the rise since October, but there is a clear lift in November and subsequent gains every month after.

Digging into a specific site’s first-page keywords, we saw a 281% increase in map packs from September 2018 to March 2019. As one might expect, they saw a corresponding drop in organic CTR on these terms. One primary keyword’s CTR dropped from a 8.1% average during the previous 6 months to 4.7% since this SERP shift – a 42% decrease despite a relatively stable average position over the same period.

Why is Google showing more map packs?

The reality: search queries for certain product verticals will have stronger local shopping intent than others. For example, one could argue that a non-trivial percentage of furniture shoppers searching in Google are looking for local businesses – and this update acknowledges and responds to that. For well-optimized and well-regarded local businesses, this shift is a boon. The greater Seattle area sees about 1,500 searches a month for non-brand “modern sofas” keywords – an audience for which small local businesses had very little chance of appearing for in previous years. Now, those businesses are showing up front and center, above the fold. Those who have paid attention to their GMB listings and nurtured positive reviews are reaping the rewards.

One of our clients falls into that category. It’s an audio-visual rental business with about 20 locations throughout the U.S. We’ve been primarily focused on growing leads through more traditional SEO, but long ago noticed the growing opportunity for optimizing around location pages and GMB listings. Here’s their map-pack-triggering keyword count over the past 3 years:

Back in 2016, you’d be hard pressed to find an above-the-fold map pack result for a product query like “projector rentals”. In 2019, it’s the first result. It should come as no surprise that organic leads to location pages for this site are up 65% year over year!

Okay, but why is Google REALLY showing more map packs?

Yes, more map packs on product queries would seem to correspond with search intent. At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine a secondary motive: Google attempting to cut into Amazon’s organic dominance on product searches. A large map pack above the fold in SERPs pushes top organic blue-link results (read: a lot of Amazon results) down while also creating more ad impressions for… Google. Local pack ads are on the rise, and I imagine a sharp increase in the presence of map packs in SERPs is quite good for Google’s bottom line.

What should you do about it?

If your business has brick-and-mortar presence, now would be a good time to fully optimize your GMB listings. Google has been rolling out all kinds of features for GMB that can help increase engagement and provide helpful context for potential customers. Ensure each of your listings displays high-quality photos, service menus, a business description, appointment CTAs, and regular GMB posts. Respond to both positive and negative reviews, and think of ways to cultivate more Google reviews from your customers.

If you’re an online ecommerce business, it’ll be a bit more of a challenge. You have little control over where Google decides to place a map pack on a given query, but you do have control over how your organic result presents itself in a mixed SERP. It’s helpful to think about SERP “real estate” as a SERP intent pie chart:

Side note: Kane Jamison over at Content Harmony has a great write up on search intent, and is doing some interesting work on the tool front to make this type of analysis more feasible.

If you’re an online retailer ranking on the first page for this keyword, your “real estate” to work in is limited to about half the search results. You’re not a relevant result for the other search intents – only for online shopping. So lean into online shopping — ensure your site is fast, mobile-friendly and delivers an exceptional user experience. Be the best, most relevant result for online shopping intent.

In certain verticals, it might make sense to optimize your metadata to showcase yourself as online retailer. One of our clients added “shop online” modifier to their metadata and have actually seen a strong rise in organic traffic (driven by a 120% increase in clicks for “online” modifiers) despite an 827% increase of the presence of local packs on their primary keywords from April 2018 to March 2019.

It might be a somewhat obvious answer, and one that Google has been harping on for quite some time, but at the end of the day: providing users with an exceptional, fast, task-accomplishing user experience will pay off in search. In many ways, it’s becoming the barrier of entry. As SERPs become more and more fine-tuned to real-time user behavior and intent, the best you can do is be the best version of you. 

What trends have you been noticing in ecommerce SERPs in 2019? Comment below! 


By Scott Merilatt