Google Algorithm Update: “Possum” and Local Search Results

Google PossumUnlike Google Penguin and Panda, Google Possum isn’t an official name for an update by the search engine giant. Instead, local search professionals coined this particular animal name to reflect what they believed had happened to the search results of some local businesses. In particular, some companies believed that their own listings in Google’s My Business had vanished — however, they were still there and simply playing possum. They just appear to have gained or lost visibility because of changes to the way that Google ranks local businesses.

Understanding Google Possum

Search Engine Land reported that local website owners and SEOs first noticed this update early in September of 2016. Since then, rankings have still fluctuated a lot for local results and Google Maps. At this time, it’s fair to conclude that Google is still performing tests on this local update, so it’s not possible to know the final outcome.

However, it’s already possible to analyze some results and make some judgments about final results.

This describes some notable impacts of Google Possum so far:

Companies just outside of a specific location: Businesses that had a location just outside of city limits enjoyed ranking spikes for that city. For example, a suburban business may serve a nearby city, and this ranking seems to better associate those companies with the cities they serve. This seems like a fair update for companies that serve metro areas but might have a physical location just outside of the city limits.

Similar address or phone numbers: Multiple, similar services that appear to share an address or phone number may get filtered out. For example, several medical or legal service providers might all work in the same office, and Google seems to only want to display one listing for these. For example, a dental office may have several dentists, but they are now more likely to be grouped together.

Searcher’s location: Results also depend more upon the searcher’s physical location. For example, a person in Houston may see different local results for a local business in Dallas than a searcher who actually searched from Dallas. It’s important to set the search location to the actual city to see what searchers who reside in that city see.

Keyword variations: Even small variations in search terms seemed to make a greater impact upon the displayed results. For example, “dentists in Cleveland” and “Cleveland dentists” might yield different results for local searches.

Local vs. organic search results: In the past, local search professionals found a stronger correlation between local search results and overall search results. With this update, some local businesses may have high ranks in local search even if they have been filtered out of overall, organic search results. The local and organic rankings appear more independent of each other.

Are These Google Possum Updates Permanent?

Again, local search engine professionals coined the term Possum, and it is not an officially announced update to the Google algorithm. It’s also tough for individual business owners to understand these updates because they typically only track their own site’s performance, and they often don’t have information about changes to other sites in their local community or in their industry.

It’s impossible to say if these changes are permanent since they still appear to fluctuate frequently. However, it’s fair to conclude that these recent changes should provide some guideposts to the direction that Google local search appears to be heading in the future.

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