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The Ultimate Guide to Local Pack (3-Pack) Ads

Over the last few years, I’ve been a bit obsessed with these ads in the local pack and have spent a lot of time testing and researching how they work.

The 3-pack: That coveted spot desired by businesses everywhere, positioned at, or very near the top of the SERP sitting under or beside the map result. The name is a bit of a misnomer as a 3-pack actually tends to be a 4-pack or even 5-pack if you include the ad spot or spots that sit right at the very top. I have written previously on how to get ads to show up in the 3-pack.

These ads can be a powerful tool for your business because of their highly visible positioning. They are set up through the traditional Google Ads dashboard as opposed to the LSA Ads dashboard that has been growing in popularity over the last year. The ads are triggered by location extensions added within the Google Ads dashboard.

What do you need to do to get ads in the 3-pack?

The ads that you see in the 3-pack are triggered by Location Extensions in Google Ads.  Service Area Businesses (SABs) cannot have map pack ads.

Do the ads only rank in the city the business is located in?

Nope! We’ve seen lots of cases where the ads show up in surrounding cities that the business is targeting with keywords.  For example, if you are in Minneapolis and you are targeting “home insurance St Paul” you can have your ad show up in the 3-pack in St Paul even though you aren’t located there.

Can I change the way it appears?

No. The name on the listing is the name of your business in Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business). If you are ABC Law Firm, you cannot make your ad in the 3-pack show as “Best Fricken Law Firm Ever”.

Does having keywords in your business name help the ads show up more?

This question is part 9 of 9 from my LocalU presentation from March 2020. If you missed the event, the videos are available for purchase here.  We had a business that rebranded several months ago.  The new business name was more keyword-rich than the old name so we assumed that this would increase the relevance score on the ad and cause it to show up more.  After looking at their calls from the Location Extension, we saw no measurable increase after the rebrand.  We also didn’t see any spikes in impressions on the Location Extension.

Do the ads need to be updated?

Sort of.  Location Extensions do not update in real-time.  For example, this restaurant had their GBP listing marked as temporarily closed.  Their ad, however, was still running and listed the business as open.  The easiest way to fix something like this is to delete the Location Extension and re-add it.  I would suggest double-checking the location extension any time you make any major updates to core information on the Google Business Profile listing to make sure it’s displaying the current, most accurate information.

Do these ads show up along with regular ads?

Yes.  The “unfair advantage” (previously called “double-serving”) policy that Google has for ads apparently doesn’t apply to the local pack ads.  You can have an ad at the top of the page and then also again in the local pack, like in this example here:

Does the location of the searcher impact where they show?

Yes.  It appears to trigger more for users who are close to your location.  For example, if your business is located just outside of Houston, someone in Houston searching “realtor Houston” would be likely to see your ad in the 3-pack.  A person searching “realtor Houston” who is located in Dallas would not see it.

How do you track these?

One of the biggest hiccups with these ads however is how to effectively track the calls that come in from them. We’ve discovered a process that will allow you to use these ads and the data that comes from them. Below are the steps you need to follow.

The Wrong (Old) Way to Track 3-Pack Ads

Most people think the best way to track these ads is to go into your Google Business Profile dashboard and click on the info tab. There is a little spot that says “Google Ads location extensions phone” on the right-hand side under the Advanced Information heading. You can enter a unique call tracking number in this spot.

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It would seem like just sticking the phone number on then setting it and forgetting it should work, but there’s a little more to it than that. There are 2 problems with this method.

Problem 1

On desktop, if a person clicks on the ad they will be taken to the local finder. Once inside it, the ad will still show the correct tracking number but the finder will show your business’s organic phone number instead of the unique call tracking number you applied inside your GBP dashboard. Depending on which one the client uses, you’ll miss out on attribution, capturing this call as being from your ad, if they end up using the organic phone number.

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Problem 2

This is the bigger issue. With this implementation, the data from these calls isn’t imported back into the Google Ads dashboard at all. If you do get a call using the tracking number, you’ll see it listed in your call tracking dashboard, but they don’t show up anywhere in the Google Ads dashboard as a conversion. This skews all the metrics in Google Ads. Your cost per conversion will be wrong and how much each keyword converts is wrong. All the data is missing an important piece since it isn’t tracking these calls as conversions and there’s nowhere to import them in Google Analytics.

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The Right Way to Track 3-Pack Ads

Go into your Google Business Profile and activate ‘Preview call history’ (look for the little box inside your home tab). This is a new feature Google has come out with, and is currently only available in the USA and Canada. If you don’t have it yet, be patient and keep checking.

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When you have this activated, Google uses a different call tracking number for the ad than it does for the regular listing.


Why it’s different from other call tracking systems is because the tracking number is going through Google so the calls actually show up in Google Ads as conversions.

To see these calls inside Google Ads, pull up the predefined reports. Next, click on Extensions within that dropdown and it will take you to yet another drop down that has a heading ‘Call details.’ Inside this report, you’ll see a number of calls that say Google Business Profile. These calls are actually the ones coming from your ad’s tracking number. Lots of advertising agencies are using dynamic call insertion with companies like CallRail or Call Tracking Metrics (who I use).

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This is huge because it fixes the discrepancies in your Google Ads data. This feature also records the calls for 45 days if you are looking for the ability to go back and listen to past calls.

Why Is It Important To Be Able To Track Calls From Google 3-Pack Ads?

Having accurate data is so important if you are a small business owner trying to decide if investing in Google Ads is worth it and whether the cost per conversion warrants the spend. When we looked at the numbers comparing the cost of conversion for a client both including and excluding this data the difference was huge, almost $28 cheaper per conversion.

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Cost per conversion before and after adding in ads call tracking data


Tip: If you’re reporting GBP calls to clients make sure you remember that these calls are already included in the number of calls in GBP Insights so don’t add them in as additional calls.  Instead, segment them so they can see how many GBP calls were actually from ads.

Contact Our Google Business Profile SEO Experts At Sterling Sky Inc.

Hopefully, this Ultimate Guide to Local Pack (3-Pack) Ads will be helpful for you. And if you’re a local business that needs help ranking on Google in either the 3-pack or organically, at Sterling Sky we can help. We offer SEO audits, Google Ads services, consulting, or monthly local SEO services. Contact our office today for more information.

Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Thanks Joy, this is incredibly helpful to know.

    Do you know of any way to track the conversions of clicks to the website?

  2. Seems there’s always something new or spin to learn about Google products. Sometimes it is mind blowing to try to decipher all this stuff. But, thanks for the explanations and the nicely written article Joy.

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