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Play Dead! Google Possum Algorithm Update Shakes Up Local Listings

Play Dead! Google Possum Algorithm Update Shakes Up Local Listings

Ok, so “Possum” isn’t the official name of September’s Local algorithm update, but it’s certainly fitting. This update has caused many business owners to believe that their Google My Business listings are gone, when in fact they’ve just been filtered. They’ve been “playing possum,” aka feigning sleep or death.

Though Google did not officially announce this update, it’s proving to be one of the most significant changes to local search results since Pigeon in 2014. Here are a few of the most important changes, courtesy of our friends at Search Engine Land.

Businesses that fall outside city limits are receiving a boost in visibility

Previously, if a business was located outside of the physical city limits of a particular city, it would be practically impossible for them to rank for keywords that included the city name, even if they had a mailing address within city limits.

For instance, let’s say you run a wildlife control company in Florida that specializes in humanely capturing rabid possum, snakes, and raccoons. While your mailing address is in Sarasota, you’re technically in a census-designated area called “Gulf Gate Estates.” After this update, your business got a massive increase in local visibility for Sarasota related wildlife control searches. That’s a serious win for you, but increased competition for wildlife control businesses that are actually located within Sarasota city limits.

The searcher’s physical location just got WAY more important

Whether you include a local modifier in your Google search (pete’s possum emporium + city) or not, Google cares where you’re geographically located when you type in a search. Search for “pete’s possum emporium in Orlando” from a parking lot in Nashville and you’ll see different results than someone who’s searching for the same thing from deep within Orlando.

With Possum, you can expect the searcher’s geographic location to play an even greater role than before. While “pete’s possum emporium in Orlando” may show up in the first spot in the local 3-pack when searching from Winter Park, FL, the location will drop in visibility the further away from Orlando you get.

Along those same lines, Possum has also “made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches unless the searcher is conducting the search close to the actual location of those businesses,” reports Search Engine Land.

As an example, prior to Possum a search for “chinese restaurants in chicago” would likely turn up a handful of Chinese places located near one another in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood on the south side of the city. Those are helpful results if you’re already near Chinatown, but what if you want something closer to your current location in north Chicago? Now, you’re less likely to be presented with similar businesses that are clustered near one another.

Slight variations in keywords are producing different search results

Google search results for wildlife control orlandoTogether, RankBrain and Possum are making it less and less important to fill your website with the same target keyphrase. While it was once essential to maintain a certain level of keyword density in order to rank for a specific keyphrase, those days are long gone. You can now expect to see slightly different local 3-pack results and organic listings given subtle shifts in your search. Check out this example search for: “wildlife control orlando,” (right), “wildlife control orlando fl” (bottom right), and “orlando fl wildlife control” (bottom left).

Google search results for orlando fl wildlife control and wildlife control orlando fl

So what? There are two takeaways to keep in mind here:

  1. Google is getting smarter with every update, both minor and major. They know where you are when you complete a search and the type of searches you’ve found helpful in the past (yes, it’s all very “Big Brother”). They also know where almost any business is located, down to the side of the street the business faces. Check your physical location settings and clear your search history before assuming that your local listing is playing possum. Or, ask your Client Partner to dig a little deeper if you’re truly worried about a rogue listing.
  2. While being aware of your approximate keyword usage when writing content is an important aspect of creating optimized content, remember that search engines have shifted their focus more towards providing a positive user experience (quality and authority of the content over its use of keywords). Individual location pages with unique, helpful on-page content is your go-to solution for giving Google the ingredients it needs to serve up your listing at the perfect moment, for the perfect prospective customer. You want to be “Nuisance Wildlife Removal,” the only Orlando wildlife control business to show up in all three of our example searches.

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