3-Pack and A-J Variance – Why Does Google Do This?

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo,

I’m sure you’ve seen this for your own local business or with your client’s listings. I’d like to provide an example of shifting results between the 3-pack and internal Google Maps results.

We launched a website for our client a couple of months ago who offers licensed elder care services. As you can see below, the site is already doing immensely well with an indented listing at positions 1-2 in organic for the search term ‘elder care home napa ca’, though it is not yet appearing in the 3-pack.

image example of organic search engine listings

Because, like so many business owners, my client is incredibly busy, it took a couple of months for us to coordinate registering with Google’s Local Business Center. I completed this task last night, and am amazed to see that he’s already made it into the A-J rank inside Maps at the C position, as shown below:

image example of google maps listing

That’s the fastest induction into Maps we’ve ever seen, but what I want to point out here is that, while my client is doing well within Maps, he is not in the 3-pack, despite his authoritative indented organic listing. You’ll note from the example that the rankings between the 2 interfaces have been switched about in several ways for the other businesses, too.

Why does this happen?

Greg Sterling had some great data on his site a couple of weeks ago regarding the way in which Yahoo! local values local listings, but what is Google doing?

To my way of thinking, doing well in either the 3-pack or 10-pack has most value simply because of the percentage of organic to Maps users. That’s obvious.

I hope folks will share their theories about this and I thought this was a useful example because:

1) If organic is influencing the 3&10-packs, why wouldn’t a top ranked site with an indented listing be the natural choice for inclusion in the pack?

2) If Google reorders things once a user clicks the ‘more’ link in the pack, are they doing this because they figure the user didn’t see what he wanted in the 3 or 10 sites shown and is attempting to get more information or refine his query?

Because the local listing just got validated, in this case, I’ll need to keep checking to see if it will, in fact, pop into the 3-pack soon. It seems very random, if you look closely at the first image, that the 3 pack is pulling only 2 sites from Napa and the 3rd from miles away in a little town called Glen Ellen. My client offers Google a more local result for this search phrase, and I hope Google will take note of that shortly.

I’d value any and all thoughts on this.

9 Responses to “3-Pack and A-J Variance – Why Does Google Do This?”

  1. on 14 Mar 2008 at 9:57 pm Matt McGee

    Hi Miriam — I believe your premise #1 to be not the case. The regular organic listings come from a pure (standard) web crawl, while the 3-pack and 10-pack listings come from entirely separate data, only one part of which is a web crawl. I don’t believe the traditional SERPs have any bearing on the 3- and 10-packs.

    As for #2, that’s one of the all-time unanswered mysteries. :)

  2. on 14 Mar 2008 at 10:57 pm admin

    Hi Matt,
    It’s really good to have your opinion on this. So, in your opinion, you feel that organic has no influence on local.

    That leads me to a second question, though. If organic has no impact on local results, then do websites have no influence on local, either?

    I can’t feel sure about that yet.

    It’s good to know I’m not the only one who is wondering about mystery #2.

    Thank you so much for stopping by Matt. It’s so nice to see you here.

  3. on 17 Mar 2008 at 4:47 pm dan schulman

    I agree with Matt. I think the two use different crawls, but I do think they use some of the factors. I would guess that since regular organic listings update more frequently success with them might be an *indicator* of future success with local.

  4. on 17 Mar 2008 at 6:10 pm admin

    I agree with you about the different crawls, Dan. That makes sense to me.

    I guess I’m struggling with forming a picture in my mind of what influence, if any, websites have on Maps. How authoritative does Google consider them, in comparison to data they might scrape from, say, Yelp?

    And, do website have much more of an effect on a one box, 3 or 10 Pack than they do within Maps?

    Thanks for stopping by, Dan. I appreciate you chiming in.

  5. on 17 Mar 2008 at 6:17 pm Mike Blumenthal

    I think that there are several things going on:

    1)There is a time gap between the appearance in Maps and the organic reindex that is required for it to appear in the main search results. This delay may be also due to aging being an issue to make it to the front page.

    2)Sometimes you see differences between the 3 listings ranking and the Maps listing because the two queries are using a different center point to the map that is being displayed.

    Mike B

  6. on 18 Mar 2008 at 12:40 am admin

    Hi Mike!

    1) Okay, that makes sense to me. And, it’s important to understand that age may have something to do with this…a sort of sandbox thing, just to use a word.

    2) Why do they do that? Why would the center point be different? Is this something you’ve written about, Mike? If so, please scatter links freely :)

  7. on 18 Mar 2008 at 4:19 am Mike Blumenthal

    Bill Slawski, Matt McGee and I had an interesting look at this in Feb 2007. I remember the month because I was stuck at home in a snow storm.You have to dig to get to the answers in the comments on mine.

    Here is my post.

    Here is Matt’s post.

    I think though that Bill captured the technical issues best in his post on Location prominence.

    The simple answer is that the two queries (the one in Orgainic and the one in Maps) use different map scales, and possibly a slightly different centroid based on the scale and possibly the mechanism for defining the centroid based on that area.


  8. on 18 Mar 2008 at 10:40 am earlpearl


    First of all, congrats on the high organic rankings. I ran a query a couple of different ways with slight variations and your client was turning up first organically, in some cases with a map and some cases where there was no map.

    Are you monitoring traffic and search phrases for the client? That would be very telling as to the impact of maps, whether a 3 pac or ten pac.

    As to why you aren’t among the top three when a map appears for an organic search, I’d look hard at geography, ie, the distance between your client’s location and a napa, ca, designated center point.

    I suppose if there were any clue on this situation, I’d go back to what I believe Will Scott pointed to with regard to the denver florist question, and how the other site commanded an authoritative onebox for a phrase that on face value, without seo work would seem to fall to the florist with the title, Denver florist.


  9. on 18 Mar 2008 at 2:26 pm admin

    Thank you Mike,
    Okay, so this is making sense now. Because the scale of the map is different, the centroid may be different and this may be influencing the results.

    It’s so odd – since I wrote this post, things that were bringing up a map now aren’t and one of the things that was a 3-pack is now a 10-pack. Major changes.

    Unfortunately, we’re not getting to do as much work for the client as I’d like to (a perpetual issue with small businesses, eh?). The organic rank is good, but getting to do more keyword expansion, testing and studying probably won’t be possible.

    Thanks for your comments, gentlemen.

Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply