2016 was a big year for local search. Many companies started approaching SEO on a local and neighborhood level as a way to capitalize on Google’s 3-Pack of local search results. Local search was one of the hottest trends to hit the SEO industry since the mobile revolution. Of course, no major Google trend is complete with an algorithm update, and late in 2016 the search engine provided just that.
The update, which SEO teams have nicknamed Possum, turned local results upside down. To give you can idea of the magnitude, almost 65 percent of local SERPs were affected by the update, compared to Google’s Penguin update that only affected three percent of websites.
Unlike Penguin, Possum isn’t a punishment for companies trying to slip shady practices past Google’s algorithm. Instead, this change is a fundamental shakeup in how local listings are presented. This is the main reason so many companies are affected — and almost guarantees yours will be as well. Here are 4 things you need to know about Possum to determine whether this will help or hurt your traffic.
1. The Physical Location of the User is More Important
When you’re searching for a dentist in your area, what is more important to you:
● The best dentists in town, with the highest rankings and a top location
● The closest dentists to your home and work
While you certainly want to take ratings and professionalism into consideration, most people who search locally want to find the best option for their lifestyle. They’re more likely to choose a dentist that’s a few minutes from their office so they can go over lunch instead of one that’s an hour out of their way.
The same concept can be applied to food: sure you might want the best Pho in town for a Saturday date night, but if it’s late on a Tuesday you probably want the closest Vietnamese place to your couch.
Google’s Possum update places an emphasis on the user’s location more than ever. This is good news for many businesses because it increases the diversity of the 3-Pack, but it’s bad news for brands that may not have unique content for distinct geo-locations.
2. Businesses Outside of City Limits Will Benefit
Google’s algorithm previously favored businesses that had addresses within city limits for queries. Despite the fact that many people and businesses are in the suburbs, and many cities have neighborhoods attached to their addresses instead of the main city name, Google would show results only within the city.
This narrowed the window of potential listings while failing to take the user’s location into effect. The results would show the top bookstores all across town instead of the ones that are closest and best for the customer.
Some businesses say a dramatic jump in their rankings because of this change — many of whom gave up hope on making a dent in their local search results. If your address is outside of city limits, this update might make you reconsider your SEO strategy.
3. Offices With Multiple Listings Will See Lower Results
There are few things that Google hates more than duplicate content, and Possum looks to find offices with multiple listings at the same address and reduce their presence in the local results. Unfortunately, these companies that have multiple listings at the same address aren’t typically trying to pull the wool over Google’s eyes, but rather comprise multiple contractors and businesses that have one physical location.
A doctor’s office is a perfect example. Within one office, there might be four or five doctors with multiple specialties. They each could have their own website, blog, and SEO strategy, and could all point to the same physical location where they work. Instead of listing all of these doctors in the 3-Pack, Google is limiting the listings to one.
This might seem like a punishment to doctors, realtors, and even similar companies within coworking spaces, but it makes sense when you consider the users’ motives. If a potential customer doesn’t want to visit one office space, why should the results get clogged by multiple professionals from the building? This update provides multiple options for searchers to choose from.
4. Rankings by Keyword Are Even More Varied
While the customer might not put too thought into whether they type “Tulsa Dentist” or “Dentist in Tulsa,” Google is. Many SEO experts have reported that this update has increased the variation of rankings by keyword. This is the option that is frustrating SEO agencies and their customers the most.
It’s possible that Google wants to increase the number the options that customers encounter so it can keep determining what results should be shown. Of course, this also keeps businesses hungry to keep chasing keywords and improve their SEO.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
As most companies were affected by Possum, the first step for your business is to run an SEO review to determine the extent of the damage (or benefits) to your brand. Many experts suspect that Google is still working out how it wants Possum to work because their seeing fluctuations and changes in results. If your local SEO strategy is stable enough, it might be in your best interest to wait a few months (or until your business reaches a natural slow season) to evaluate how much you were affected.
If you were hurt by the change, then now is the time to regroup and change your strategy. If you were helped by it, then this is your opportunity to capitalize on the results and continue growing your presence.
Like all for Google’s algorithm updates, Possum was launched with the goal of improving the user’s experience and providing better results for their needs. Google wants customers to send quality traffic to your website that stands a high chance of converting, so give this update a chance and see if it affects your brand for the better.