It’s probably a short-lived test by Google–but earlier this fine Wednesday evening if you typed in just about any local search term, you’d see only 3 results displayed on the 1st page of Google Places.
Not 10 local businesses, not 7 businesses. 3.
We’ve seen “3-pack” local business results before, but only for less-competitive or slightly uncommon searches–like if you searched locally for “cobbler” or “taxidermist.” Or we’d see a 3-pack for local searches in less-populated towns, where there maybe are only 3 nearby car mechanics, not 7+.
But earlier today you’d only see 3 businesses when you’d type in a term as ultra-competitive as “New York pizza”—terms that would normally return 7 local search results on the first page (with a whole lot more behind them, trying to scratch their way onto the 1st page):
This picture shows what I mean:
It’s a test, and probably a very quick one. It may be on-again, off-again for a few days, for all I know.
But many times when Google tests something like this on a large scale–even if only a few hours–it’s only a few weeks or maybe a couple of months before it becomes the new standard everywhere. The standards for local businesses may just get tougher.