What is Google Possum? – Google Possum Explained

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In our latest instalment looking at the Google algorithms, we take a look at Google Possum and how this has an impact on local search results. This algorithm update was never officially confirmed by Google but initially launched in September 2016. When it launched it changed the way local results were shown in SERPs which caused joy for some business owners and distress for others. We take a look at why Google Possum caused such a stir.

What is Google Possum?

Google Possum is an algorithm update launched in 2016 to improve local search results. The main objective of the Possum algorithm was to diversify the local search results and filter out spam results that may have been previously ranking.

The Possum update was the biggest update to the Google algorithm since the Pigeon update in 2014. While the Possum update did diversify local SERPs it also had a side effect that caused some local business citations to be filtered out of the local pack and local finder. Organisations that shared the same address, such as a shared office space, were being filtered out of the local results as Google began to only show one or two results from a single location. A study conducted at the time of the update revealed that 64% of businesses, from a sample of just over 1,300, were affected by the Possum algorithm update.

Impacts of the Google Possum Algorithm Update

There are different types of businesses that were affected by the Possum algorithm update and various elements that are now crucial.

Businesses Outside Cities

Since the update organisations that are outside the outer town/city centre, or the area Google classes as the city border, have begun to show up in local results for that town/city. This helped out many firms who have been struggling to rank for local terms, such as ‘Used Car Dealership Birmingham’ because their physical location was presumed to be outside the city limits Google had drawn.

Businesses in the Same Location Being Filtered

Before this algorithm update, Google would apply a local filter to search results that would filter out results with the same domain or phone number for example. Previously, if there were three separate lawyers operating in the same office with an additional listing for the practice they all worked in then only one or two of these would show up in SERPs. This was done to remove duplicate content from listings.

After the Possum update, similar businesses listed with the same address were being filtered out. For instance, if multiple law firms were operating in the same building (even if they had different websites) only one or two of them would be listed in local search results. There is an option to remove this filter from the listings in order to see everything, but as this isn’t something the average user would know the update did have a negative impact on many businesses. A similar thing occurs when businesses listed on the same street that is owned by the same people. Both will rank but they will rarely show up together in SERPs because of the Possum update even if they have different addresses, domains and NAPs. However, this is not a penalty from Google it is simply how local search results are filtered through Possum.

Searcher Location Vital

Since the Possum update, the physical location of the user is even more vital. If the physical location of the searcher is in Birmingham, for example, and they were to search ‘SEO agency Birmingham’ their results would be different to that of someone searching in London whose location settings were not set to Birmingham. This makes the location settings a crucial element to consider when analysing local search results.

How to Recover From Google Possum

As ranking changes and being filtered out of local results is not a penalty by Google, there is no simple solution to ensure that your business is shown. However, there are some steps you can take to encourage Google to show your site above competitors.

  1. Google aims to show users the best and more relevant results for their query so making sure your local SEO is superior to others is key if you want to be listed. Focus on improving your sites domain authority through increased links, optimised content and accurate citations to convince Google to list your site above competitors. Conduct a competitor analysis on sites rankings above you or not being filtered out to identify opportunities for your own site.
  2. As Google has been filtering out similar businesses in the same location it might be worth considering changing your business category in Google My Business. By changing to something different to competitors you may see your visibility improve. However, you need to be careful when doing this as if you change your category to something less relevant or commonly searched for you will likely see massive changes in impressions and rankings.

In summary, Google’s Possum algorithm update had a big impact on local search c results by filtering out many firms who were sharing the same address and/or owned by the same parent company. While some businesses saw an improvement in their rankings and impressions on search others became almost invisible in local search thanks to increased filtering by Possum. Improving your site’s overall local SEO and tweaking your Google My Business profile are the two suggested ways to dealing with issues caused by Possum. Check out Slick Plan’s blog on the importance of local SEO for your business!

If you want help with your local SEO our team of experts who live and breath it will be happy to sit and discuss how we can help you improve. If you want to find out more about Google’s algorithms such as Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and RankBrain head over to our blog or sign up to our newsletter for SEO updates straight to your inbox. Get in touch today and see where we can take your business.