Google’s Possum Update
At the start of September, many SEOs started to notice not one, but two large algorithmic updates.
For those of us that we’re keeping an eye on the rumblings in the SEO community, we started to suspect that it was the result of Penguin 4.0 rolling out. Others starting to think that because of the effects this update was having, it couldn’t possibly be Penguin and had to be something else, something more separate. They were right and thus, Possum was born.
It’s now been nearly two months, and we still haven’t heard anything from Google – outside of Gary Illyes cryptic tweets confirming that they’re still “tinkering” with it.
What is Possum?
Possum is the nickname given to this as-of-yet not officially named update by the SEO community. Similarly to the 2014 update Pigeon, Possum only affects local results. So, if you’re working on a client that doesn’t have a physical location – you probably won’t be too fussed about the Possum update.
Possum has shifted the location boundaries
One of the biggest changes that Possum has made is the location settings for a business. Historically, many businesses would have a hard time ranking for local terms, which makes sense, but it also excluded those businesses that fell only slightly outside the location boundaries.
For example, if a coffee shop was located very close to the boundaries of Soho – but still technically outside Soho – they would have a hard time ranking in the local 3-pack for a search term like “soho coffee shop.”
Naturally, this didn’t seem fair to a lot of small business owners (e.g. the types of people to own coffee shops) but Google wouldn’t change. As far as they were concerned, if you weren’t within the city limits you couldn’t rank.
However, Possum has now shaken this up. Now businesses are able to rank even if they aren’t technically within that area. Possum allows for Google to use a proximity test to determine whether the site should rank.
The location of the searcher is much more important now
Possum has also added more weight behind the location of the searcher, making it more of a deciding factor behind what ranks and what does not.
Prior to Possum, the location emphasis was placed on the search terms, whereas it is now dependent on the searcher’s location. Google uses the searcher’s IP address to provide a more accurate local 3-pack.
This brings local search more in-line with Google’s overarching goal of providing an outstanding mobile experience – something that has been emphasised time and time again and continues to be emphasised with their announcement of having 2 indexes, one for desktop and one for mobile.
Possum is very sensitive to slight keyword changes
We’re not sure if this is intentional or whether this is one of the “tinkerings” that Gary Ilyes was talking about, but local search is incredibly sensitive to slight variations in keywords.
If we’re using the same example as earlier, “coffee shop Soho” would give different results to “Soho coffee shop.” We’re not sure what Google is trying to achieve by causing a difference between the two search terms, but it all comes down to testing.
Possum filters based on address
Pre-Possum, many searches had local filters applied – so that they could filter out Google My Business profiles that shared phone numbers or domains.
Google’s idea was to filter out similar businesses so that users could find more diverse choices in the search listings, instead of just duplicated content over and over.
Possum has taken this idea one step further, and now filters out businesses based on the physical address of the listing. But, it does not completely remove the listings – it just pushes them much further down.
There will be more changes to come
It’s now been nearly two months since the Possum update started to happen, and Google still hasn’t confessed that there was even a change made – despite the fact that they left an annotation denoting an update in some Search Consoles.
It was quickly removed, however. But we can expect some more changes to be made to this local search update over the coming months – so this makes it imperative for any local SEO to ensure that they are up to date with how Possum can affect their campaigns.
Worried about how Possum could be affecting your business? Give us a call.