Local Pack Versus Organic Rankings

One of our clients, a local law firm in Columbus, did a search on Google for one of their core keywords. They mentioned to me that they weren’t happy that one of their competitors was ranking the top three organic results and they weren’t. I asked for a screenshot so I could do some more investigating.  What they sent over was the local pack ranking, which often gets confused with organic results.

I’m going to explain the difference between local pack versus organic rankings, just like I did for this client.

What’s the local pack? 

The local pack is a section on Google, often towards the top of the page above the organic listings, that shows local businesses based on your query. 

The reason the local pack is so coveted is because it’s towards the top of the results (AKA prime real estate). Additionally, it’s extremely visual as there’s review ratings associated with the local pack along with the address, hours, phone number,  a link to the website and the option to seek directions. The local pack is tied to your Google My Business page.

It’s not easy ranking in the local pack as there’s only three businesses that get displayed on the first page results. Below is a visual representation, so you know what I’m referring to with the local pack. 


What are organic rankings and organic search results?

An organic search result is an unpaid result, which is the webpage that populates on Google. Of course, everyone is vying for page one organic search results as well.

Similar to local pack results, organic search results are coveted since you don’t have to pay per click, making it profitable for businesses who can achieve strong organic rank. Each time someone clicks on your organic listing, it doesn’t cost you a penny (unless you take the fee of your agency or in-house associate into consideration with marketing costs). 

Below is a visual representation of an organic search result. I’ve also highlighted the local pack rank above. As you can see, the local pack is ahead of the organic results in many instances for local business related searches. If you were to do a non-local search on Google, like, “Tom Brady Rookie Card,” Google is going to omit the local pack results as this would be a non localized search. 

What’s the difference in strategy between local pack and organic? 

The local pack and organic results are treated as two separate entities. If you are doing great at your local SEO and your organic SEO, you could own two different placements on the first page of Google. There’s also Google Ads (which is paid and not earned). There’s also YouTube videos that could populate on the first page of Google along with featured snippets, rich answers, knowledge graphs and carousels. It can be confusing for someone who isn’t an SEO expert to understand that there are  7 different ways to rank on the first page of Google.

People tend to think “SEO” is an all encompassing term for ranking on the first page of Google. It’s much more complex as there are different niches within the SEO industry. I wrote a blog on the 40 Best SEO Experts to Follow on Twitter. I recommend reading this as it showcases how there are experts for all these different niches.

Local Pack Ranking Factors 

The client was confused that the strategy was different for local pack versus organic. I had to explain that the following is taken into consideration with local pack rankings:

  • Proximity 
    • Where the search is taking place and where your business is located
  • Categories 
    • There’s primary and secondary categories – Choosing the right one is important!
  • Keywords in Business Title 
    • If you have keywords in your Google My Business title, that’s a competitive advantage. Don’t get me started on this!
  • Overall Authority of Website 
    • This takes into consideration the number of backlinks pointing to the site and the quality of those links
  • Review Signals 
    • Reviews on your Google My Business page
  • And Much More! I recommend reading the top local ranking factors from Moz [view here].  

Our client was somewhat perplexed. “You’re telling me if we just stuffed a keyword into our Google My Business name we could rank in the local pack?” I told him I definitely don’t recommend doing this, but that’s a strong ranking signal.

PS – Don’t get me started on Google My Businesses ranking factors. You can read THIS TWEET where I talk about how I believe patience will win in the long run for those who follow Google My Business best practices. Don’t forget, if you stuff a keyword into your Google My Business title and that’s not the name of your business, you can get reported by a competitor and your page could get suspended. There is a redressal complaint form that anyone could fill out, which is why I always recommend following best practices. 

Why strategy is so important

Our attorney client had a lot of different practice areas (real estate, business, personal injury and probate and estate). The local pack search they originally brought to my attention was for “Columbus Real Estate Lawyers” . I informed them that they likely weren’t ranking in the local pack result because their primary category wasn’t real estate law. Since they had so many practice areas, we picked a more generalized, “law firm” primary category.

This brought up the conversation with the client of picking the best Google My Business Category. I also referenced the importance of location when it comes to your Google My Business page.

We ended up discussing the revenue of their different practice areas and whether or not it made sense to change the primary category of their Google My Business from “law firm” to “Real Estate Lawyer.” I can’t emphasis the importance of high-level strategy when it comes to your SEO. This can be the different between ranking in the local pack and not ranking in the local pack. 

The client was still confused as to our overall SEO strategy. “So what about all of the pages you’re optimizing on our site? Does that help with SEO?” This brings us to the organic strategy.

Organic Strategy

On the organic side, our strategy was to bulk up the content on all of the practice area pages on their website. Prior to us taking over, many pages had 300 words or less per page, which can be deemed as thin content

We also recommended strategically selecting blog topics that would help answer prospective client questions and serve as a resource they could email to prospective clients after they contacted their firm. We knew these long tail blog queries would also rank well on Google, since they were niche topics, and could help generate more backlinks as people would link to them as a resource. [Podcast: Perfecting Your Blog Strategy].

Our client was still curious, “Is the organic strategy you’re working on helping out the local strategy?”

This is a tough question to answer but yes, there is synergy between local and organic. When you are writing quality content, you are more likely to get quality backlinks. Link signals are a big factor for Google My Business (as mentioned previously). When you optimize practice area pages, you are also including information about locality on those pages, which helps. When you optimize the about page and the attorney pages on the site, you are building authority and trust, which is helpful.  

In Closing

SEO is complex. There are a lot of layers to ranking on the first page of Google, which was clear to the client after our explanation of organic versus local pack rankings.

The purpose of this article is for you to realize that  different strategies are involved with SEO. There’s more than one way to rank on the first page of Google. Organic and the local pack happen to both be very important ones for local businesses.