In the world of search engine marketing, there’s so much talk about Penguin updates that it would be all too easy to overlook the Possum – but it’s vital that you don’t. And here’s why…

The aptly titled ‘Possum’ update is a local Google algorithm update which occurred on 1 September 2016. It was named so due to the fact that many business owners were concerned that their Google My Business listings had been removed, when in fact they had simply been ‘playing possum’.

The Possum update has been dubbed the biggest local update since Google released Pigeon in 2014 aiming to improve distance and location ranking parameters, whereas Possum seems to be aimed at further diversifying local results, and stopping spam listings from ranking.

What did Possum change?

The Possum update has brought about some major changes to the way Google now ranks local listings, for example, the 7-pack has been scaled down to a 3-pack (local listings shown in a pack of three on the first page of search results) and it now filters search results based on three factors:

  • Domain age of the listing – historically the oldest listings carried the most ranking power, and whilst this was a positive thing it also resulted in these listings being a natural target for spammers.
  • Organic ranking of each listing – spammers have been known to create fake listings without a strong organic ranking to back this up.
  • Duplicate listings – Google is filtering out duplicate listings, so if your business shares the same office address with several other similar businesses, Google is likely to only include one of these businesses in the 3-pack and filter out the rest .

How could these changes affect your website?

So far, there appears to be three main ways in which these latest changes to Google’s ranking algorithm can affect the way that sites appear in search results.

 

  • You no longer need to be based inside a city centre to rank well for that location

 

The Possum update has now relaxed its filters for business listings based outside of city centres. This means that businesses not inside a city’s limits can now rank just as well as those inside, for search phrases which contain location modifiers. This had previously been a bone of contention for businesses that, despite adhering to SEO best practices, felt they were being pushed down the  rankings in favour of more centrally-located businesses.

 

  • SERPs are more affected by small variations than ever before

 

Google’s 3-pack is now much more sensitive to keyword variations For example ‘Liverpool Design Agency’ and ‘Liverpool Agency Design’ may now show two completely different sets of results, whereas pre-Possum they would have likely returned the same sites.

 

  • Google is now cracking down on business owners sharing the same office space

 

If you’ve listed your business as being in a location that it isn’t, Google now knows – and Possum is only going to make it harder than ever for you to rank. The aim of Possum is to filter out similar businesses that come back in the SERPs, so if your insurance company is one of twenty other insurance companies registered to the same address, Google will now only show one of these insurance companies in the search results to give the user a more diverse range of choices.   The update has also shone a light on the fact that Google is a lot more sophisticated than we initially might have assumed when it comes to knowing who is using virtual office spaces and it is no longer willing to turn a blind eye to this.

So far the Possum update appears to have only impacted rankings in the 3-pack and Local Finder (when you click ‘More Places’) sections of SERP rankings. However, another unrelated update seems to have happened shortly after the Possum update that affected only organic rankings, and so some sites’ rankings may have been influenced by both algorithm changes.

Has your local listing disappeared? Get in touch and we can help you find your way back.