Back in September we saw a Google Possum Update which has shaken up how Google’s local search results appear. For reference, if you are sat wondering what ‘possum’ is, it is the name that has been given to massive Google local algorithm update on 1st September 2016, by the local search community. The name possum came from the fact that many business owners think their Google My Business listing has gone when actually it has just been filtered, they think they are playing a game of possum.

Anyway the new Google Possum update means that businesses that aren’t geographically located in the area they are ranking for will now appear lower. This has been done to improve local search results and give users the information that they are searching for, preventing spam. Also, another big focus from this update is on the user’s physical location and businesses that share the same address are now being filtered.

The Specifics

1. Businesses that fall outside of the physical city saw a huge spike in the search ranking

google map pack

 

Before the update businesses who fell just outside the physical limits for a particular city were facing many obstacles in getting their keywords with the city term ranked. This was because according to Google maps they are not in the area they are trying to rank for, however technically they very close.

However, this has now been changed with the limits now becoming more relaxed many businesses having a better chance of appearing in the map pack.

 

2. The physical location of the user is now becoming more important

This has always been important to Google but since the Google Possum update there has been a greater importance placed on the user’s physical location when they are searching in Google.

Businesses who have multiple branches all over the country are seeing fluctuating results depending on the location in which they are being searched in.

Due to this update it has become increasingly important that searcher location is set specifically to the town/city/region that you want to target. A tool that helps you to do this is Bright Local.

google user location

3. Google is now filtering based on address and affiliation

Before the Google Possum update we would usually see a local filter applied to local search results which filtered out company profiles that shared similar information, such as phone number or domain.

For example, an accountants may have 3 separate listings for individual accountants and then one listing for the branch itself. These separate profiles would all link to the same website and use the same contact phone number. These results would then be filtered to show 1 or 2 in local search results. This made sense as Google regularly detects and filters out duplicate content as they see that duplicate content as not what the users want to see. However, we are now seeing several businesses being filtered out due to the address being the same as another business in the same category.

virtual office

Most businesses are very honest in declaring offices in London, Manchester, Leeds etc, however some pay for a ‘virtual office’ where they can get their Google My Business postcard sent to and have the code passed on their real business elsewhere. However, Google is always a step ahead and is very sophisticated in looking at more than your Google My Business Listing. So since the Google Possum update it has become harder than ever before to deceive the search engine in order to get your business ranked in areas that you are not.

One thing to note is that this filter is not classed as a Google penalty. It is not removing it or preventing it from being accessed it is just organically filtering it out, picking the best and most relevant listings for the user.

 

4. Search results vary more than ever before on small variations of keywords

Since the Google Possum update it appears that the Map Pack is a lot more sensitive to keyword variations than before, reflecting in the initial organic results.

For example, before you would have been given the same results for typing in ‘marketing agency Newcastle’ and ‘Newcastle marketing agency’. However, many businesses have now seen a fluctuation in search results for similar keywords. You can see this in the images below.

marketing agency newcastle

‘marketing agency Newcastle’

newcastle marketing agency

‘Newcastle marketing agency’

 

5. The local filter seems to be running more independently than the organic filter

In the past, it was suggested that if Google filtered out your website organically, your search engine ranking had a negative effect. However, since the Google Possum update many businesses have seen a spike in the ranking for competitive terms that are linking to pages that Google has filtered organically.

For example, before, an ironing company had multiple websites and one of their websites was getting organically filtered due to being very similar to another one of the business’ sites. This was happening because their local listing was being linked to the site that was being filtered, effectively tanking their ranking. However, now the ironing company would see a massive spike in their ranking even though the URL on their Google My Business listing was one that was being filtered organically.

Also, a business that has 2 listings on google for the same business using www.example.com and example.com can now be ranked twice in the 3-pack. Even though Google is smart enough to realise that this is the same site they have not indexed both versions, just showing how the local filter and organic filter are now more completely separate than ever before.

Summary

To summarise, we are still seeing fluctuations in search results which makes us think that Google are still doing some A/B testing. This will probably continue over the next couple of weeks/months until Google are happy that the results that they are serving are what the user wants to see. For advice on you search ranking check out our Search Marketing Packages or contact us for a free consultation.