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Google Local Pack Placement Change Causes Steep Decline in Organic Brand CTR

As you may have heard, Google recently changed the placement of the local pack, which typically shows up for brick-and-mortar retailers and service providers, to appear above the organic text listings, pushing those links below the fold. The local pack shows above the organic text results regardless of whether or not an ad is present:

local pack serp change screenshot

This appears to be significantly impacting mobile performance. Taking a look at organic click-through rate (CTR) according to Google Search Console data for the brand names of a sample of Merkle|RKG clients, we found a 34% drop in CTR on mobile devices from early June to last week. Meanwhile, desktop CTR has stayed within 6 percentage points of where it was in early June.

While mobile CTR began to drop in mid-July, the largest week-to-week dip occurred from 8/2 to 8/9 when we observed a 12 percentage point decline. This aligns with other reports on the timing of the impact from the change.

To better understand what was going on, we broke out brick-and-mortar sites from the online-only sites and found that the CTR decline occurred primarily for brand names with a brick-and-mortar presence.

While the sample of online-only brands saw a 14% increase in brand CTR since late July, brand CTR for brick-and-mortar brands declined 24%. Thus, this CTR decline appears to be tied directly to the changes made in the placement of the local pack at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

It doesn’t appear that this is going away either. While we only have a small sample of data from the current ongoing week, it appears that CTR has dropped an additional seven percentage points from last week for brick-and-mortar brands.

Huge Shake Ups in the Mobile Search Landscape

The local pack update isn’t the only recent change to significantly impact the mobile search landscape.

Google recently confirmed a change to begin showing three text ads at the top of the page on mobile, and advertisers have seen a corresponding increase in ad clicks and impressions as the real estate has greatly increased on mobile.

While the new real estate was great for advertisers, a quick test search shows that organic listings are now below the fold for mobile searches.

Mobile ad screenshot

This will likely impact mobile organic visits growth in Q3, although, as many brand searches only show a single ad, the move to three text ads has not impacted brand organic CTR nearly as much as the local pack update.


Don’t panic! If you’re seeing your organic traffic dip, check your rankings, your backlinks, and everything else you would typically check, but it may very well be a SERP-driven problem.

Additionally, this may not even be a problem at all. It may impact your ability to hit your organic traffic and revenue goals, but, if people are using the map to buy in-store or clicking on your brand ad and converting online, your bottom line will still see those sales. Be sure to check with your paid team and in-store team to see if there has been a lift in either.

However, if you aren’t already, it may be time to start bidding on brand. By bidding on your brand term on exact match, you’ll make sure that you have a listing for your site above the fold, control the copy, and let your existing customers and prospects know of any online promotions that might lead them to convert.

This is particularly true for brands that have resellers, as you may be hit by the impact of the three text ads as well as the map.