Due to the way that Google alters how it works behind the scenes, SEO practices must constantly change and evolve to keep up. Unlike most technological updates and innovations from other companies, Google doesn’t publicly announce the work that has been done or the way in which these changes will affect its ranking and results pages. Whilst there was no official confirmation, on September 1st 2016 SEO experts experienced a big change in the way local search works following a Google algorithm update. The change was so significant that up to 64% of local search engine result pages were altered following the update.
Within the local search community the algorithm change has been named Possum. In nature, a possum is infamously known to play dead only to be still alive and well and playing possum has become a popular term for when someone is laying low. The changes made by Google in the Possum update have caused many business owners’ Google Business pages to do the very same and no longer show in search results, which has caused a bit of confusion and panic. The pages themselves, however, have not actually disappeared and have still been effected by the new filtering changes.
The most noticeable impact for business owners is the way in which Google now filters local search results. In an attempt to only show the most relevant results, Google will now filter out profiles that are affiliates rather than a main profile. For example, searching for a dentist would previously have returned the main dentist pages as well as potentially the profiles of each dentist practicing at the surgery. The results are now likely to be filtered out to ensure that the results returned are more diverse and, in theory, useful in answering the search query posed. Whilst it’s not been confirmed, it has been suggested that the age of the listing as well as factors, such as the number and frequency of reviews, may play a part in Google deciding which sites to filter.
Another important change that the possum update has brought about is a higher chance of being ranked in the top local searches for companies who are situated a little further out on the outskirts of towns and cities. Previously, more central locations would be rank higher simply due to where they are. Now businesses further away on the edges of towns and cities are more likely to rank, providing they practice general good SEO and produce quality content. There is also now much greater importance placed on the location of the searcher. For example if you do a search without location services active on your phone for a ‘St Albans plumber’ you’ll retrieve different results to someone who has carried out the same search with their location services on.
Using similar but slightly different search terms would have previously brought up the same results. To take the previous example, if we were to search ‘St Albans plumber’ and ‘plumber St Albans’ we would have received similar search results prior to possum. Since the September update small keyword variations like this will now retrieve different search results in an attempt to offer more diversity.
As with all Google updates, changes are still likely to be made in the coming weeks and months. For the user carrying out the search, Possum can be seen as good news as more variety in local results should be displayed. For businesses, and especially those located centrally in towns or cities who have lost local search ground since the update, the focus must be on continuing good SEO practices and producing great content on their websites. Rather than any particular local SEO tricks or variants, it is by maintaining a comprehensive on site SEO strategy that will help to yield the best local results.