Baby possum sitting by a computer keyboard

Has your business dropped in local search results recently? If so, it may have been filtered differently by Google’s latest algorithm change, nicknamed Possum. It has caused many local businesses to “play dead” in search results, hence the nickname, while other businesses have gotten a boost. What’s going on with this update and how does it affect your business?

Getting to Know Possum

The Possum update, which was implemented on September 1, 2016, is said to be the biggest algorithm change affecting local search since 2014’s Pigeon update. Since Possum only impacts local search results, it won’t have an effect on your website’s SEO if you’re just trying to rank for your target keywords regardless of location. However, if you’re a local business trying to rise to the top of the search results for your region, you may have noticed that something was up.

Here are a few of the biggest Possum-related changes that SEO experts have observed:

  • Good news for businesses outside city limits: One of the most frustrating tasks in local SEO has been trying to rank for a particular city when your business falls just outside city limits. Even if the business has the city in its name, it was still tough to rank well. Possum appears to have addressed this problem, switching to a proximity test to figure out where businesses should rank in results. Not surprisingly, these just-outside-the-limits businesses have seen massive boosts in rankings.
  • Bad news for businesses with multiple listings: It’s not uncommon for some businesses, like law firms, to have several different practice areas and separate Google My Business listings for each. Alternatively, medical offices where each doctor has their own personal practice in the same building might have a similar multiple-listing setup. Google has always filtered out duplicate listings based on phone number, but Possum has kicked things up a notch and now filters those with the same address. So, to follow up on one of our examples, a local searcher would only see one doctor’s listing from our hypothetical medical office.
  • A searcher’s location matters more than ever: Before Possum, local searches were weighted heavily in favor of search terms. Since the update, the physical location of the searcher has the biggest impact on results, even if a location name is included in the query. What’s this sudden emphasis on location all about? In a word: mobile.
  • Minor keyword variations produce different results: In the past, you’d get fairly similar results whether you searched for “San Francisco dentist,” “dentist San Francisco” or “dentist San Francisco CA.” Today, these searches would produce fairly different results. SEO experts aren’t sure why the algorithm is being so picky about search terms that seem nearly identical, but it’s a good reminder that you need to test a wide range of keyword variations when you work on your local SEO.

Google has been pretty tight-lipped about the Possum update and there’s speculation that more changes may be in the works. In the meantime, there’s never been a better time to review your Google My Business listing and make sure that it’s fully optimized. Test out a variety of keywords and keep an eye on the results. Google’s latest update may have benefited some listings more than others, but it doesn’t need to leave your business “playing possum” in the search results.