How Local SEO Is Changing Due to Google’s Possum Update

The Google community has always been inclined to name its search algorithms after animals; Pigeon, Hummingbird, Panda, and Penguin are extremely familiar to SEO practitioners and online marketers. The latest addition to the zoo is the Possum, which was launched on September 1, 2016, to refine the way in which the world’s most popular search engine looks at local SEO. As usual, Google has not been forthcoming with the technical details, but there are strong indicators that the latest update affects significantly the results in the 3-pack and Google Maps. Possibly the biggest local results update since Pigeon, it seems that the main intention is to diversify the local search results and to prevent spam from being ranked. Some specifics:

Huge Ranking Boost for Businesses Falling Outside City Limits

Owners of businesses falling technically outside the defined city limits so far had a harrowing time getting a good ranking with any keyword that included the location name. This was mostly because Google Maps drew a very sharp line as to what was included in the city limits without allowing for the grey areas in the proximity of the city, and which were popularly included in the definition of the city by its residents. The Possum update now takes this into account and this means a world of difference to local businesses in the city fringes because their rankings have shot through the roof.

Address and Affiliation Being Used By Google to Filter Results

Earlier, local results would not contain results that shared a common domain or a phone number because of the filters applied by Google. This technique was quite sensible because Google filters content that is identical so that users are not flooded with repetitive results of the same company. Normally, one or two results would be included in the search results while the others would be sieved out. The Possum update goes one step further by filtering out different businesses if the address is the same as that used by another listed company in the same category. However, zooming into the map will reveal all the results, including the ones that had been filtered out, observes the CEO of a prominent agency focusing on social media marketing in Mumbai.

The Possum update has a level of sophistication that allows it to filter out businesses in the same category owned by the same owner even if they had different websites, phone numbers, and even different addresses. It does this by figuring out that the address is in the same building, even if the physical street address is different. It is not as if only one business shows up in the results every day; the other businesses also appear on a random basis. Where it may get counterproductive is when the filter kicks into action even when all business information is different with the sole exception of the parent company. In this case, some companies in the same business category will get knocked off the search page just because of the ownership being identical despite the fact that the businesses are distinct. The use of different search terms often changes the displayed local results.

Searcher’s Physical Location Now More Important

location

The local search results that Google displays changes with the location of the searcher. The increased sophistication of the Possum update drives up businesses that are in the proximity of the searcher and conversely the businesses that are far away get dropped down in the rankings. This arrangement makes eminent sense from the point of view of the user and that is what Google wants to cater to at the end of the day.

More Variation in Search Results Due To Slight Differences of the Search Term

Whereas earlier the sequence of words in the search string did not have a material effect on the results, now even shuffling the words can significantly affect the search results. The reasons for this are not clear at the moment and playing around with the search terms has not really produced results that can be regarded as consistent.

Conclusion

Even though many of the apparent changes being brought about by the Possum update will benefit both users and businesses, the search results as of now are subject to a lot of fluctuation. This is most likely because Google is still testing out the google algorithm using various parameters and ranking signals. It may require a little more time before the algorithm behavior becomes more stable and predictable.

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Andre Bourque (SocialMarketingFella) is Editor Emeritus of Technorati.

He covers emerging trends and news in social, mobile, cloud, and related technologies.

Based in San Francisco, he can be contacted via his social channels and at: andrefbourque@gmail.com

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