Google’s New Possum Update and Its Impact on Local SEO

Google’s New Possum Update and Its Impact on Local SEO

If you’re running a local brick-and-mortar business such as a print shop, pizza delivery, furniture store, dentist, plumbing business or even a local web design or events organisation business, then you should take an interest in Google’s latest update, Possum.

The Possum update is a merging of both local SEO and organic SEO ranking signals. With local SEO, Google has been rewarding businesses that are simply “near me” or “near you”. However, with Possum, proximity is no longer just the overriding ranking signal that will take your business to the top of the local search engine results pages (SERPs). Your local business must also take the extra step of optimising its location data as well as the content for the local search better than your rivals in order to attain that top spot. It will no longer be granted on a silver platter simply because you added your physical address, website address, business hours and telephone number.

Life Before The Possum Update

Before the Possum update, a user would likely find a business that lists its location information without necessarily doing things that are considered “traditional” SEO such as a having a dedicated content strategy targeted at the local market.

After the Possum update, your business will have to do those things considered quintessential local SEO e.g. ensuring location data accuracy, along with implementing strategies that businesses generally do when marketing their products and services within the framework of traditional SEO. Those “strategies” include content optimisation for the local market, quality link building and other traditional ranking signals. This means you’ll have to go the extra mile in order to outperform local rivals under the new ranking regime.

For several years, Google has been giving various small businesses an opportunity to dominate their local niche market without their space being invaded by the larger and more prominent brands. Those larger brands could only dominate the local market if their local search signals outperformed those of local business. But now even those small businesses have to put in a little extra in order to earn that coveted top spot in the local SERPs.  

Here are some highlights of the Possum update:

Physical Proximity is no longer just the overriding factor in local SEO

Since the advent of local SEO, it has been almost a fool’s errand trying to rank business for a location’s keywords in the Local Finder if it falls outside the geographical limits of that particular location be it a particular city, town or neighbourhood. For example, if your plumbing business is based in Melbourne but also offers plumbing services in Sydney, you were going to have a hard time ranking it for the Sydney keywords so that it can be found easily by your Sydney clients. With the Possum update which now equally places an emphasis on the ranking signals such as optimised content, businesses are going to see better rankings on keywords targeting cities or locales where they are not actually physically situated. So that Melbourne business still has a shot at getting good rankings in the Sydney Local Finder if it does a good a job at optimising its content and working at other ranking signals.

Filtering is no longer just based on business address but also on the affiliation!

To give users diverse choices and prevent one business from dominating the search results by submitting multiple profiles, Google has been filtering results based on domain name and phone number. If you submitted multiple listings with the same phone number and/or pointing to the same domain name, Google would filter these and only display one listing that it considered the most relevant.

To beat Google at its game, businesses have been submitting profiles with different phone numbers, addresses and linking to different websites. But even this doesn’t cut it anymore, especially if the business is located in the same building or even the same street. It seems Google has gotten even more sophisticated and is able to filter business listings based on affiliation even if they don’t share a Google account, phone number, address or website.

Keyword variations are affecting search results

Your rankings or whether your business appears at all in the Local Finder is now affected by the variations in the search query. For example, you will not get the same result and the same spot if you type the keywords “Sydney plumbing”, “Plumbing Sydney” “plumbing Sydney NS”, “plumbing Sydney NSW”.

Local Filter has been decoupled from the Organic Filter, to some extent

Before the Possum update, your business could be seeing negative local rankings if it has been filtered out organically. But that is no longer the case. Now your business can still enjoy top rankings for some of the competitive terms even if it has been filtered out organically. This is especially good news for those businesses that have multiple websites marketing the same business.

What To Do After the Possum Update

For brick-and-mortar business, the most important thing to do now is determine if your rankings have been affected by the Possum update. Results will be mixed. Some businesses are going to see improved rankings and others a drop in rankings. If you’ve gone backwards you’ll need to revise your strategy and current setup to figure out what needs to be adjusted based on the above factors. If you’re not familiar with basic SEO yourself, it could be worth seeking professional assistance.

Regardless of your current local search ranking position after the Possum update, now is the time to get more serious with the both your local data and content so as to stay relevant in the local search otherwise your brand is going to lose its online visibility, and with it, customers.