Google has a long history of making big updates to local and organic search algorithms without much warning. Affectionately referred to by SEOs as Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, and Hummingbird, the latest round of updates is going by the moniker “Possum.”
So, what’s the scoop on Possum, implemented September 1st, 2016, and what does it mean for your business? Maybe more than you think.
What the Possum Update Affects
Possum has, so far, appeared to mainly impact Local Listings. Extremely important for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, Local Listing algorithms have continued to deviate further and further from Google’s organic ranking structure.
It makes sense that Google would spend more time fine-tuning the local results served to users; estimates show that by 2019, over 140 billion local searches will take place in the U.S. For business owners that are able to improve local data by as little as 20%, conversions increase over 216%. Those aren’t insignificant numbers.
How Possum Changed Things for Business Owners
At Clickready Marketing, we’re noticing what we’ll call four distinct shifts in the way local listings are being presented after Possum.
- Businesses located outside the city limits are ranking higher, no longer “penalized” for their non-city address.With basically no changes on the backend, businesses located outside a major town or city saw an immediate spike in rankings. That means, for example, that a car repair shop located in Bogart, GA (just outside of Athens) now ranks significantly higher for, say, “Athens car shop” than it did just a few months ago.
- More filtering of “duplicate” local listings that share a name, location, or even owner.Showing users several listings with the same information is sub-optimal. Google is now ‘filtering’ (NOT penalizing) multiple listings for what essentially amounts to the same business. If you’re a doctor’s office, for example, with separate local listings for each doctor in the practice, only one will show. The other listings aren’t gone, they’re just filtered – or, as the name suggests, playing “possum.”
- Where the searcher is physically located matters more than it did before.Let’s say you’re searching for “best diner San Francisco” for an upcoming business trip. The results you see are now going to be ranked and organized differently when you search from your home in Dallas than they are once you get to San Francisco.
- Keyword variations are coming into play more than they were previously.Before Possum, Google treated keywords like “hair stylist in Atlanta” and “Atlanta hair stylist” and “hair stylist Atlanta, GA” pretty much exactly the same way. After Possum, each of these keywords will pull up different results based on the content in the sites making on-page keyword usage more important than ever.
How Can Your Business Respond to Possum?
Great question. The dust hasn’t yet cleared on the update and it appears Google is still doing some A/B testing in certain areas and on certain features, so it’s not time to reevaluate your entire SEO plan quite yet. But when the update is fully implemented, a few things should be considered.
- Physical location is now highly important. Over 72% of people who perform a local search visit a store within 5 miles of them, and survey after survey proves people will leave a site if it’s not fully optimized for mobile. Mobile optimization is key for catching these hyper-local searchers while they’re out and about.
- Keywords are crucial. On-site content optimization is key at this stage in the game, particularly for businesses that might have multiple sites. Where one site may be filtered out for a specific keyword, another can rank, if those two sites have been optimized independently for keywords relevant to local searchers.
- Businesses outside the city-center are now in the game. That’s great news for those businesses who previously had no chance to rank against competitors with better locations; conversely, this now means centrally-located businesses have to pay more attention to their own local keyword optimization to compete with an expanded field of entrants.
Confused about what Possum has done to your local listings? Noticing a downturn in your number of customers or site visitors? Clickready Marketing can help. We stay on top of trends and tech in search so you don’t have to. Give us a call today to start working on your own customized SEO plan.