On September 1, 2016, Google rolled out Possum, one of its biggest ranking algorithm updates in years and, as always, it has shaken things up in the world of online businesses. This time, it targeted local businesses in particular and the way they appear in search results, especially the Local 3-Pack. 

It’s the biggest change since Pigeon in 2014 and, as it is often the case with an algorithm update of this scale, it lead to massive ranking fluctuations (some for the better, some for the worse) and a bit of confusion as to how local businesses can gain more exposure.

Over the years, it has become clear that Google places more emphasis on local searches and a number of small and major updates have been rolled out with this in mind. What makes Possum different and why is it a game changer? Here are the five major changes brought by Google Possum:

1. Businesses Outside City Limits Saw An Increase In Rankings

One of the most frustrating things for businesses that had offices right outside city borders was that they couldn’t rank for that city. After Google Possum, however, many SEOs working with such businesses saw a huge ranking increase. Now, those who have offices outside city limits are no longer filtered out by Google. For example, a dentist office outside London can now appear in the local 3-Pack for searches that include the keyword “London” and can thus compete with offices in the central area.

2. Address & Affiliation Filters

The update brings a challenge for businesses that share the same address. Google wanted to improve the user experience and eliminate duplicate results, so now, if you practice in the same location as other companies, you will have to give Google a business license. Keep in mind that the company you are sharing an address with could have a negative impact on your local rankings.

3. Focus On The Searcher’s Physical Address

After Google Possum, the searcher’s physical address is more important than ever. For example, if someone in Liverpool searches for a “coffee shop in Liverpool”, they will see the shops situated closest to them. Results will appear in a different order for someone who uses the same search query, but from a different city.

4. Small Keyword Variations Matter

London gym, gym in London, London gyms, it’s all the same thing, right? As of September 1st, not anymore. The Local 3-Pack can change depending on the smallest variations in search queries, so SEO experts like Calcius Tech Group recommend revising optimisation strategies for high search volume landing pages.

5. Local Versus Organic Searches

Before Possum, there wasn’t a clear distinction between local and organic searches, so if a company dropped in organic searches, its local searches would have tanked too. But now, the two seem to function independently, which does raise the bar (and the competition) for companies that don’t have a specific local market.

How To Take Advantage Of The Latest Update

Business owners usually dread Google algorithm updates because they associate them with a drop in rankings, but this isn’t always the case. With the right strategies and practices, and also with help from professional SEOs, not only can you counteract the potential negative impact of Possum, but also make it work to your advantage:

  • Make sure your GML listings are accurate and up to date. There should be no discrepancies between the contact and company details on your website and the ones in Google My Business.
  • If your website is listed in business directories and on social media, you should make sure the details posted there are the same as on your website. Otherwise, Google can flag your company as unreliable and this will affect your rankings.
  • Develop a local strategy that includes a wider range of location keywords to make sure your rankings don’t drop after Possum.

Because the update rolled up relatively recently, more changes are to be expected, so it’ normal for local business rankings to fluctuate. If rankings do not stabilise and you only notice a negative change, make sure you discuss your options with a content marketing company to determine what can be improved.