A significant local algorithm update occurred on September 1, 2016, that had local business listings disappearing—or, more surprisingly, reappearing—from the Local Finder and the local three pack. Dubbed “Possum” by the local search community (because the listings weren’t missing, just filtered, AKA, “dead”), the update is shaking things up for local businesses.
Joy Hawkins from Search Engine Land believes the update was to “diversify the local results and prevent spam from rankings as well.” Sprinkle in a little “improve the user experience” and maybe a little “A/B testing,” and we are inclined to agree that’s exactly what’s going on with this update.
Here’s what your local business needs to know about the update—and what to do if your rankings are playing dead. As specialists in local business SEO services, we at SEO Inc. would be more than happy to help you figure out what’s going on with Possum.
Huge spikes for businesses previously considered “outside city limits.”
If your local business fell just outside the limits of your city, you probably had trouble ranking for keywords that contain the city’s name. However, in the post-Possum world, you may have seen huge rankings increases. Like, “20 positions or higher” huge.
In her article, Hawkins shares an example of a client of hers that had ranked #31 for their business + the city name, then jumped to #10 after Possum.
Businesses are being filtered out based on address and category.
Google filtering out similar results is nothing new. Except for the new Possum, a local filter is cutting down on the number of results a user will see that not only share the same address but are in the same category, i.e., the same type of business.
Before Possum, you could sometimes see a business with multiple websites get filtered down to maybe one or two listings. Say, a medical practice with various office locations that point to a central website. So although Google sometimes filtered sites that shared similar domains, now Google is starting to filter sites with different names, different phone numbers, various websites, and separate addresses.
More importance is being placed on the searcher’s physical location.
With Possum, Google is putting even more emphasis on the searcher’s location than ever before. When someone makes a Google search, they’ll find results more tailored to their location—even if they’re searching for a specific location. This can impact businesses that are headquartered elsewhere from their storefront, etc.
We suspect this is Google acting under the guise of helping users in those “micro-moments” they’re always talking about. A micro-moment usually comes up when someone thinks to look something up at the moment and wants to find the nearest source of that thing, like “fast food.”
Slight variations on keywords are bringing up different varying results.
Deciding between variations on keywords can often seem pointless. Adding an ‘s’ onto a ranking keyword may not yield much search volume. However, there’s been some fluctuation in what shows up in the local 3-pack. Switching up keywords by either changing around the order, making it plural, or adding a state abbreviation for keywords with locations in them seems to be bringing up different results. Before, varying the keywords would bring up similar results.
The local filter may run more independently from the organic filter.
It is getting filtered organically used to be a bad thing. However, that might not be the case after Possum. Some pages that have been getting filtered from organic results are still getting ranked highly for what Hawkins says are “very competitive terms.”
All these ranking fluctuations, spikes, disappearances, and reappearances are all because of Google’s Possum update. Google is most likely still testing things, as many of the results have been surprising, and none of them is uniform.
If you’ve seen a drastic change in rankings for your local business site, it’s critical you understand why they’ve changed. Contact us at SEO Inc., and we can perform a free technical audit of your website to identify any changes to your local rankings.