Playing with Possum: Intel on the New Google Update

Google Possum Update

Google has added Possum to Panda to transform local business search results. If your business has a local dimension, you need to know how to play Possum. Understanding how this critter works could boost your Google rankings.

Many of us are becoming used to Google updates. All are important to a greater or lesser degree but the so-called ‘Possum’ update is particularly vital if you are looking to rank in Google’s local search results. Local SEO expert, Phil Rozek, coined the name ‘Possum,’ after reassuring local business owners that their My Business listings on Google hadn’t disappeared. They were just hiding, having been filtered by Google. In other words: playing Possum.

Possum plus Panda = local plus quality

It is important to stress that Possum is not a replacement for the Panda algorithm. Instead, it works within Panda to fine-tune Google’s local and Google Maps results. Panda came along in 2011, promising to promote good quality content over spammy sales pages and thin, low value content. It has since undergone many iterations but that quality focus is still the key element. It is worth remembering here what Google means by quality. Common themes are that content should be:

  • Unique
  • Well-edited
  • Focused
  • Trustworthy
  • Substantial

In other words, make sure you are respected and trusted source in your industry. Always ensure that your content is written to a professional standard and never, ever use duplicate content. Write the sort of informed, meaningful content that you would like to read in a good magazine.

So how has local search changed?

For a start, this Possum is a big critter. In fact, it’s way bigger than anything seen in Local Search since Pigeon came home to roost in 2014. One of the first things that SEO consultants and local businesses noticed after September 1st was a huge boost in rankings for businesses located just outside the city limits of the location being searched. For many businesses, this is a good thing. A huge number of businesses serving any city are located outside the actual city limits, in business parks or industrial estates. Because of the way Google’s local algorithm worked, it has always been hugely tricky to rank these businesses for that city, which is frustrating both for the business owners and the local customers trying to find them. Possum appears to have gnawed through that problem.

Possum cares about where you are

The physical location of the searcher, and the business, seems to matter much more to Possum. Even searchers separated by just a few miles will see different results in the 3-pack (the top three local businesses highlighted by Google). Possum will also attempt to filter out duplicate listings by removing businesses in the same industry at the same address. It also seems to be smart enough to realise that slightly different addresses are actually pointing to the same business. So you can no longer game the system and get multiple listings just by adding different office suite addresses to the same business. In cases like this, one or other of the business listings will be filtered out.

Possum is picky about keywords and is all grown up and independent

SEO consultants are reporting that only slight variations in keyword strings now display different results. For example, just reordering ‘Plumber North London’ to North London Plumber’ can fetch a different set of results. Be careful, also, with abbreviations, which seem to matter now a lot more. Under Possum, local search also now seems to be far more independent of the organic Google search results, with sites that are filtered out of organic search for certain key word now showing up on the local search 3-pack. You will need, therefore, to always test local search results along with organic searches.

Is Possum here to stay?

It’s pretty certain that Possum is going to stick around but we might see some changes. At the moment, there seems still to be a lot of movement in the local results, so it looks as if Google is still looking at the changes brought about by Possum and doing a little tinkering. It’s quite possible, then, that you may see some movement of your site up and down the rankings, without actually changing anything. So, there’s probably no need to panic unduly in the very short-term but it’s certainly worth reviewing your local search rankings soon.

What can I do to cuddle up to Possum?

The first thing to remember is that you still need to have quality content on your site, as per the Panda quality themes in the bullet list above. Possum is not, therefore, going to be a shortcut to better ranking results. Also remember that the local search results are now much more closely linked to the location of the searcher. So if you have a business in Manchester you would like to check up on, you are going to see different results when you search from different locations, even within the city. That said, it looks like the Possum update means that it is time for some basic housekeeping.

How can I clean up?

One step would be to make sure that you are not trying to promote several businesses in the same industry from the same address. It seem now that Possum is wise to this and will filter out all but one result. Also, don’t try to scam the system by listing the same business with lots of slightly different addresses; they, too, will be filtered. Google now appears to know a lot about the physical locations of businesses and also seems to have intelligence on the parent corporations of different group companies in the same business area. In short, Google is, as always, all about doing it right. If you have really good, unique content logically presented and focused in a distinct area, you won’t go far wrong.


Written by Derek McKenzie


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