The local 3-pack is a highly sought-after group of positions “above the fold” of a local search. Drawing from factors established by Google’s local search algorithm, the search engine populates the three most relevant, helpful, or significant businesses in your geographic area above the typical results. Alongside your business name will be mobile-friendly buttons for directions, a website, (and if viewed on a smartphone), and option to call.
Getting your business into one of these three positions can give you tons of visibility and traffic, so when you get there, you’ll probably be ecstatic. Unfortunately, all that can change dramatically and without warning, leaving you right back where you started despite no clear motivation for the trend. So what could have happened? What caused you to drop from the local 3-pack?
You probably didn’t mean to, but you did. It happens to the best of us. You might have been moving quickly between sources, or you might have made an error in judging the quality of a specific source. Someone else on your team might have built the link, or the webmaster of the domain might have built it him/herself for any number of reasons. The point is, there’s a new link pointing to your domain that’s hosted on a low-authority, spammy, or otherwise irrelevant source for your brand, and it’s bringing your domain authority down. The unfortunate reality is that even one of these links can play a role in ranking volatility, so be sure to scrub your backlink sources thoroughly.
Just like one bad link can sabotage your domain authority, the sudden absence of an exceptionally good one holding your authority up can do a similar amount of damage. Let’s say you earned a link on the homepage of a prestigious university site. It’s reasonable to expect an almost sudden boost in rank—possibly one that took you all the way to the local 3-pack. If that link disappears, the foundation for that authority boost crumbles, leaving you right back where you started. Try to see if you’ve lost any high-profile links lately, and if there’s a chance you can earn them back.
Reviews play a major role in your local ranks—the more you have, and the more positive they are, the higher you’re going to rank. If there’s a sudden influx of bad reviews that brings your aggregated ratings down, it could drive you from the top three positions. This could result from a singular incident that affected multiple customers, or could be the result of random chance. Either way, see what you can do to resolve the inciting factors and encourage more positive reviews to make up for them. The more reviews you get, the harder it will be for a random influx of negative reviews to bring you down.
Much like how the disappearance of a major anchoring link can bring down your authority, the disappearance of your brand from a major local citation source like Yelp could also serve as a negative trigger. This is extremely rare, and usually only happens if you’ve deliberately and repeatedly infringed on the source’s terms of service, but it’s worth checking out on multiple sources in case someone removed it by mistake (on your team or theirs).
This one’s pretty simple, and arguably the easiest to catch. New businesses emerge all the time, and many of them will be competing for the same positions you currently hold. If one of them comes out guns blazing, they could easily overtake your position, even if you’ve been there a while. It just means you have to fight harder to win it back.
Take a look at your content strategy over the past few weeks and months. Has it changed significantly? Are you posting only one type of content now? Have you stopped posting altogether? A big change in the quality or frequency of your content could signal a drop in your domain authority, so run a content audit to see if anything might be wrong.
User behavior isn’t the most important consideration for a 3-pack ranking, but it can have an effect on your search positions. For example, if the majority of users who click through to your site end up bouncing after having zero interactions with your content, it could signal that your site isn’t useful or isn’t relevant. After all, Google wants to make users happy. If your site isn’t doing the job, it will cycle in a site that might.
It’s a bit of an oversimplification to say a fluke kicked you out of the 3-pack, but that’s pretty close to the truth here. Google constantly refines the factors it uses to rank websites, sometimes subtly, and sometimes in a major way. Even a small, hardly noticeable update could reevaluate the authoritativeness of your site overnight and drop you from the 3-pack—especially if you and a competitor were pretty close to begin with.
The local 3-pack is important, but temporarily dropping off the radar isn’t going to kill you. In the same way you worked to earn your position in the first place, you can work to overcome whatever obstacle brought you back down. In the SEO world, there are very few setbacks that can’t be overcome in the span of a few weeks or months (and they’re usually the result of a deliberate and egregious offense), so try not to get too worked up over volatility or unexplained changes.