If you’re like most business owners, the majority of inbound inquiries come from customers searching Google…
…and that means understanding how Google ranks your page is of major importance.
As you’re probably aware, Google’s search algorithm (what Google uses to rank pages in its search engine) has undergone several updates in the past few years.
Some were major. Others were minor. But all have played an important part in how websites rank (and, in turn, how many in-bound inquires they’re likely to generate).
On September 1, 2016, Google rolled out its newest update.
With a stronger emphasis on local SEO, the Google Possum update has the potential to positively affect local business owners and improve rankings for their listings…
…if it’s understood correctly.
In this article, we’ll look what Google Possum is, why it’s important and how to “revive” your business’ Local SEO listing if it’s playing dead.
What Is Google Possum?
In the beginning of September 2016, many SEOs observed a major fluctuation in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), most noticeably, between September 1-3, 2016.
Here’s what they looked like on Algoroo…
While fluctuations throughout the day are common, these changes correlated with worldwide reports that local business owners’ page listings were plummeting in the SERPs—if not, disappearing entirely.
As one business owner tweeted:
This massive local algorithm update—coined “Possum” by Phil Rozek after commenting local business owners’ listings hadn’t vanished; they were simply “playing dead”—has shaken the local SEO community with many calling it the biggest update since Pigeon.
Google Possum: What You Need to Know
There have been five noticeable changes to local SEO since the Possum update, each affecting business owner’ profile listings in several different ways.
Let’s discuss each in detail.
1. Location of business
Previously, in order to rank for any keywords that included a particular city’s name, your business address needed to be listed near the city center.
If it wasn’t, Google would ignore it (even if you listed your nearest city on your business’s mailing address or your customers thought you were based in that city).
Since the update, many local businesses that once fell just outside a particular city’s limits have noticed a huge spike in ranking.
One Tech Wyse client, a dentist, located just outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), was able to rank for the keyword “Toronto” after the change.
So, if you run, say, a plumbing company and your head office is based in a particular city’s suburbs (but you serve customers in the city itself), don’t be surprised if the update improves your ranking in the SERPs.
While issues like this were once frustrating for business owners, they now seem to be a thing of the past, thanks by and large to the new update.
2. Filtering based on address and affiliation
Imagine, for a moment, you’re a personal injury lawyer.
If you have a growing practice, you might have three separate Google My Business (GMB) listings for yourself and two other lawyers (and maybe even an addition listing for the firm itself).
Before the Possum update, these separate listings would all link to the same website and use the same phone number, with only one or two displaying in the 3-Pack.
Make sense, right?
Google wants to provide the best possible experience for its users and enforces a similar policy for filtering duplicate content, organically. Why would local SEO be any different?
If you’re searching for a local chiropractor, lawyer, podiatrist … you probably don’t want to see the same address listed multiple times (even if other businesses are registered there).
With the arrival of Google Possum, business listings are now getting filtered based on address and affiliation.
In other words, businesses with identical listings in the same category are likely to be filtered out—even if they don’t share an address.
One of Joy Hawking’s clients—a dentist who owns two different practices—noticed a shift in his listings after the update.
[Both practices are] on the same road but have completely different addresses and are not in the same building. They have different NAPs [name, address, phone number profiles], different doctors, the sites aren’t hosted together, and they are not claimed in the same Google account. The only connection is that he owns both, and technically, the parent company that owns both is what would be listed on their business license. [bold added by me]
While his two practices used to both rank in the 3-pack for various keywords, they’re no longer triggering together. Based on the keyword a user types in, they either get one or the other.
If your business is listed at an address with other businesses, make sure you provide a business license to Google (especially if a profile you’re sharing an address with is negatively affecting your website ranking).
3. Location of searcher
If you’re running a brick and mortar business and rely heavily on “foot traffic”, you might notice a change in your ranking.
Because the new algorithm update is now using IP address locations to tailor local results to searchers.
Put another way, a prospect searching for “plumbers near me” in Brisbane, Australia will get a very different search result than someone searching for that same keyword query in Melbourne, Australia.
According to Adam Dorfman, businesses that are physically closest to searchers and are optimizing their directory listing and content for search inquires, are getting rewarded with higher rankings in the SERPs.
With that in mind, it’s now become more important than ever to set searcher location to the right city when tracking ranking and focusing on strategic content marketing.
4. Variation in Keywords Matter
Previously, you could type in “Sydney Electrician” or “Electrician Sydney” or “Electrician Sydney Australia,” and see fairly similar results in the SERPs because Google would recognized your search intent.
The query is obvious: you’re looking for an electrician in Sydney.
Since the update, however, the order of a searcher’s keywords has become more important than ever.
So much so, that even a slight variation in keyword order (including pluralizing search terms or using abbreviations) can shift your position in the 3-pack.
Choosing a page on your site with a high search volume and optimizing that page around different iterations of keywords could be the answer to avoiding planting in site rankings.
5. Disconnection between local and organic traffic
In the past, if your site tanked in the SERPs, organically, (or Google filtered out a page you linked to in your GMB listing) that would affect your local ranking.
But this no longer seems to be the case.
In one report, a cleaning company with multiple sites saw a spike in their ranking, even though the URL the owner was using on his GMB listing was a page that was filtered organically.
With local filters now running more independently from the organic filter, businesses without a local market may now face some competition for rankings.
Possum is arguably the biggest update to Google’s algorithm since Penguin.
And while many local business owners have been affected by the change, not all have suffered for the worst.
By following the best SEO practices (like targeting long-tail keywords), you can minimize the impact of Possum, and take full advantage of the benefits some business owners are now enjoying (like better rankings)
If, however, your business is playing possum and you’re worried it’s affected your business—it’s time to do something about it.
Have you been affected by the Google Possum update? If so, I want to hear about it. Leave a comment below.