September 21, 2016

Everything you need to know about Google’s ‘Possum’ algorithm update

Wondering what’s up with local search rankings lately? Columnist Joy Hawkins has the scoop on a recent local algorithm update that local SEO experts are calling ‘Possum.’

For those of you wondering what “Possum” is, it’s the name we in the local search community decided to give the massive Local algorithm update that happened September 1, 2016.

Phil Rozek suggested the name, pointing out that it is fitting since many business owners think their Google My Business listings are gone, when in fact they are not. They have just been filtered — they’re playing possum.

What was the update?

All the evidence seems to indicate this particular update only impacted ranking in the 3-pack and Local Finder (AKA the local results or Google Maps results). There is talk of another update that happened right after, which impacted organic results.

I believe the main purpose of the update was to diversify the local results and also prevent spam from ranking as well.

Based on the dozens of ranking reports I’ve analyzed, I would say this is the biggest update we have seen in Local since Pigeon in 2014. One of the main things that updated was Google’s filter that applies to the local results.

The specifics

1. Businesses that fall outside of the physical city limits saw a huge spike in ranking.

I wrote earlier this year about a problem we face in Local SEO where, if a business falls right outside the physical city limits for a particular city, they have a seriously hard time ranking for any keywords that include that city name. These businesses often don’t even fall into a city “technically,” according to Google Maps.

After this update, many businesses like this saw massive increases in their local ranking. Here is an example.

Direct Inspections was a business in Sarasota that I did a consultation for recently. They really wanted to rank for keywords like “home inspector sarasota.” They fell outside of the physical borders of Sarasota and were technically in a census-designated place (CDP) called Gulf Gate Estates. Like most of these cases, their mailing address is in Sarasota.

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