How Google’s Possum Update is Affecting Local SEO – 3 Key Points

Google Possum is here – continuing the trend for animal-oriented naming of algorithm updates.

The latter half of 2016 has been an interesting time for SEO specialists and marketers with an eye on search. The stream of updates that have been rolling out from Google has been pretty steady, and we’re only a couple of weeks on from the news that Penguin 4.0 will now update in real time.

For businesses and SEO strategists who depend on traffic generated from local searches, Possum is important.

While Penguin 4.0 seeks to reward sites that have been historically penalised but are now conducting ‘white hat’ SEO (and punish those who continue to offend), Google Possum relates to the crucial area of local SEO.

Commentators are citing Google Possum as being the biggest update to Local search since Pigeon in 2014, and we’re inclined to agree. Google Possum affects the ‘3-pack’ and Google Maps results, harshly filtering irrelevant or duplicate listings from results amongst other things.

Before we talk about the implications, let’s back up a little.

What is the Google ‘3-pack’?

The Google 3-pack is the list of three businesses that you see below a local map, usually generated in response to a ‘service + location’ type query. For example, typing in ‘SEO Leeds’ shows the following –

google-possum-seo-leeds-blueclaw-blog

What are Google Map results important?

The extra contextual information Google provides for location-based queries is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, adding a location to a search query is a pretty good buying signal – it indicates that the searcher is interested in learning about a company near them, not about a topic or product because of general interest.

Google Possum will significantly shape how the 3-pack and Maps view will be generated.

Effect of Google Possum on Local Search

Google are yet to confirm that a local search update actually happened, but its effects have already been widely acknowledged and observed by the search community. Almost 2 months after the first signs of its roll-out, here are the three crucial takeaway points based on what we know so far:

1. Distance from target location isn’t as harshly evaluated as before

Pre-Possum, if the physical location of the business fell outside of the designated radius of the city you wanted to rank in (no matter how close to the city it actually was) it could prove tremendously difficult.

Now however, evidence shows that after the new update these problems have been relaxed and the “catchment” areas have been expanded, in effect opening the playing field to new businesses in the local search engine results pages.

This has implications for companies who have been a number one local name who may find they have more competition, as well as those will find new opportunities opening up.

If you’re one of the companies who has previously had a pretty clear run at dominating your local SEO results, now is the time to make sure you don’t fall behind.

For those looking to expand their reach, consider where you might be competitive and start proactively creating content that emphasises your credibility in different towns and regions.

2. The location of the searcher is more important than ever

Possum has ramped up the importance of a searchers location on local search engine results pages (SERPs). Simply put, your actual location in a city or region when conducting a search changes the results you get more than ever.

This is further incentive (if any was needed) to make sure you have a mobile-first marketing strategy that has answers for people on the move.

This is especially true for businesses that people who are out and about may take a chance on, like an entertainment venue, restaurant, bar or coffee shop but increasingly searchers will be actively researching other types of business – showing up on mobile search is vital, even if what you sell is unlikely to be bought over mobile.

If you don’t have a multi-channel marketing strategy – it’s time to think clearly about your visibility on mobile and more.

3. Businesses that share the same physical address as other organisations may face challenges

The Possum update has seen more widespread filtering and decreases in SEO rankings as a result of Google trying to become more accurate, than as an actual penalty for bad behaviour.

With increasing efforts at accuracy and refining search results, the risk is that some businesses may be clipped undeservingly.

This has been experienced by businesses that share the same phone numbers and domains. This is not a huge shock as we know that Google does already filter out duplicate content in organic search, but ‘punishing’ business who operate in share offices and so on is pretty unsophisticated.

For example, if a user searches “consultant Manchester England” and multiple consultants are operating from the same shared building with the same street address, there’s a real risk that only one of the businesses may show up in local results due to filtering of ‘duplicate content’.

The advice for companies in this position is to ensure that your address is listed correctly and in full wherever it is listed – ensure your company name is mentioned along with key contacts and services where possible. Make sure you have Google MyBusiness set up and do everything you can to distinguish from your local peers.

What next from Google?

Google Possum along with Penguin 4.0 has thrown up some significant changes. In a lot of ways these Google algorithm updates have levelled the playing field for many businesses and SEO specialists.

That said, not all change is good change – and it’ll take time to fully understand the impact of these amendments to the algorithm.

At Blueclaw we’re constantly monitoring the search engine landscape, and can advise if you have been affected by the above issues, or want to plan proactively plan your strategy.

Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

In the meantime….we’ll keep an eye out for the next Penguin, Panda or Possum and write about it here on the Blueclaw blog.

about the author: "George H M Webb is a SEO Account Executive at Blueclaw. He works as part of the strategy team and takes a keen interest in Local Search."
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