Possum Update : Has It Affected Your Local SEO?
August 1, 2017 Updated : August 8, 2017
SEO specialists know that things can change instantly, and dominant ranking today can mean nothing tomorrow. It’s becoming hard to control organic search ranking with all the Google updates: Pandas, Penguin, Pigeon, and Hummingbird.
Another massive local algorithm change was made in 2016 to the Google animal kingdom known as Possum update.
What is Possum update?
Many business owners thought their “My business listings” have disappeared, but, it hasn’t. A filter named Possum was added by Google which impacted local search results. The primary reason behind this update was to diversify the local results and to put an end to spammy practices.
Why was Possum update introduced?
In a nutshell, the update appears to
- Provide importance to the physical location of the searcher
- Give accurate variations between keywords to display different results on SERPs
- Amplify gap between local and organic filters
- Filter local results that have the same address
Unlike the other updates, Possum only affects the local search results. If you’re trying to rank number #1 and not worried about location, you won’t get affected. On the other hand, if you want to get to the top of the local 3-pack, you need to know that the Possum update is harshly filtering irrelevant or duplicate listings from results.
Some of the commentators in the industry mention that Possum is the biggest update to local search since Pigeon in 2014.
Before we talk about the implication, let us understand what a Google 3-pack is.
What is Google ‘3-pack’?
Google 3-pack is a list of businesses you see in a query (service + location) that has local intent. Google wanted to serve mobile users better by opting to show three results instead of seven. The local pack is showing fewer business listings because it was motivated by mobile.
For instance, typing in “WordPress Web Design Company India” in Google.com shows the following.
For several years, Google has been giving small businesses an opportunity to shine in their niche without being overshadowed by prominent brands. Large brands could only dominate the local market if the local search signals outperformed those of the local businesses.
But now, even small businesses have to put in extra efforts to earn a top spot in the local SERP.
How severe is the Possum attack?
Google is yet to confirm that a local search update actually happened. But, the effects have been widely observed and recognized by the search community.
Here is a screenshot on what Moz said about the Possum update.
To know the impact of the update, Search Engine Land reached out to Bright Local to track the rankings of their clients.
In the study, Bright Local “looked at the ranking factors of 1,307 different businesses, which were tracking 14,242 keywords. Then we compared the difference between September 7 and August 31 (the date before Possum).”
They found that
- 9% of the keywords had the business pop into the Local Finder when they weren’t there previously.
- 11% of the keywords showed the business had increased in position by three or more positions.
- 15% of the keywords showed the business had increased in position by one to two positions.
- 35% of the keywords showed no change in position for the business.
- 15% of the keywords showed the business had decreased by one to two positions.
- 14% of the keywords showed the business had decreased by more than three positions.
Totally, 64% of keywords saw some type of change.
What are the effects of Possum update on Local Search?
After a few months of research, the SEO experts at ColorWhistle noticed the below behavioral changes in the local search result.
- Better ranking for businesses outside the city limit
In the past, SEO professionals found it difficult to rank clients whose business address was outside the city limits.
It did not seem right as businesses inside the city limit can easily appear in the search than the ones situated in close proximity to the city.
After the Possum update, all of this has changed.
The Possum algorithm does a proximity test to know if the business qualifies to be ranked in that city. So if a business is close to the city, it can easily rank with that city name.
Geographical proximity is no longer a factor that affects a business ranking in the local search results.
- Address based filtering
Google does not like to show the same listing in local search results.
Some of the businesses had multiple listings for the same site. For instance, a doctor’s office would hire multiple physicians with their own practices who had a unique Google My Business page (GMB).
In the past, Google filtered such type of duplicate entries based on phone number or domain name.
After the Possum update, it filters based on the physical address. Elaborating the above example, the local search will display the name of only one doctor in that office.
Keep in mind that the other listings haven’t been removed; they are simply given a lower ranking.
- Importance of Location
The Possum update has made the local search results more dependent on the user’s location. Earlier, search results relied a lot on search terms.
Now Google uses the IP address of the user performing the search to display results accurately in the local 3-pack.
Location is given so much of importance because Google wants to optimize for mobile users and give them an outstanding experience.
- Sensitivity to keyword alterations
Even slight variations in keywords are having significant effects on search results. This can majorly affect how you test your local SEO. So it is important to test a variety of word variations, even if they are similar.
Below is the result variations in Google 3-pack for Web Design India and India Web Design
Web Design India
India Web Design
- Separation between Local and organic search
We know that Google tries to remove duplicates from search results. This rule was followed for both local and organic search results.
Before the update, if the URL you are linking in your local listing was filtered organically, it would have a negative impact. And, some of the local listings would link to a site that was organically filtered. Because of this, Google filtered that listing from the local search.
Post the update, local and organic search filters operate independently.
The Possum update has significantly shaped how 3-pack and maps are generated.
Plus, it is important to remember that Google is constantly testing and tweaking algorithms all the time. If you want to comprehend what Google has released, you need to continuously follow SEO factors and keep track of industry changes.
The Possum update is still work in progress. There have been quite a bit of variations even after the update which indicates that Google is still testing the algorithm.
The important thing to do now is to find out if your ranking has been affected by the Possum update.
Everywhere, results are mixed. Some observe a change in positioning; others see a drop in positioning. If you have gone backward, you’ll need to revise your strategy to figure out what has to be adjusted.
Regardless of your local search ranking after the update, revise your local data and content to stay relevant. Otherwise, you will lose online visibility, and with it, customers.
The above effects are the well-known changes in the Possum update. The SEO community is still analysing to know how it has influenced local SEO.
We will definitely keep you posted if anything new is discovered.
Contact our SEO experts today to know more about Possum and how Google’s major algorithm updates influence your website.
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