October 7

Google’s “Possum” Update Ain’t Playin’

Local search has always been a bit of a struggle for many businesses to grasp. In most cases, businesses want to show up to all searchers, no matter where they happen to be searching. But that just wasn’t the case. Until now… sort of. Let me explain.

What’s happening?

The latest algorithm update to roll out from Google, nicknamed “Possum,” is based around local search and takes the proximity of the searcher to the business much more seriously. It also applies more filters to local searches to block out businesses at the same address, spam, and disreputable businesses that don’t actually exist at a real location. The goal behind this should be to prop up quality local businesses, and make Google the go-to (even more) when it comes to finding directions and contact info for your new-favorite local business. So if your business had previously been showing up when you conducted searches, and now it isn’t, your listing hasn’t been removed from the results; it’s just playing possum.
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So why is this important?

Previous to this update, local search results were almost solely contained within the city that the search took place. If your business was outside of those city limits, the chances that it was going to show up was very small (unless there were also very few businesses like yours). It was also commonplace to find businesses that didn’t actually exist (many locksmiths and plumbers fall into this category and Google is actually beginning a crackdown on them) taking valuable real estate away from real businesses that relied on Local search for much of their foot traffic or phone calls.

The filter also affects businesses that are at the same address. This is true of many attorneys, and I’m sure they won’t be happy about it. But it makes sense. Since Google has regularly filtered out what they consider to be duplicate content, it is no surprise that if there are multiple businesses that list the same address, phone number, and category (as is the case with many attorneys and shared office situations), Google will now only show the most relevant one. But again, the other attorney listings are there, they are just being filtered from users because Google is looking at a lot of different information, and telling the searcher “This is the best one for your needs.”

So what can you do?

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Aside from scream at own a**, businesses need to focus on the basics, and just a bit more.

Make sure that your Google My Business listing is, of course, claimed and optimized.

This means images (interior, exterior, things you buy, sell or produce), the correct name, address, phone number, hours of operation and website. Also check to make sure that your map marker is correctly situated on the map, and that the street view looks good.

Make sure your website is well optimized for your location and your business practice.

Google’s local algorithm already takes into account the content on your website, so now, making that as locally relevant as possible is going to be even more key. Including local landmarks, history and even vernacular can help Google determine that your business is THE local business people want. In the case of attorneys specifically, it is useful to make sure that the language used on the site, and in your firm’s reviews or testimonials, is as specific as possible to your practice niche. For instance, if you and three other personal injury attorneys share an office, but you’re the only maritime injury lawyer in there, your website better be well optimized for those types of terms. This is because the closest category to that in GMB is “Personal Injury Lawyer”, and only one of you is going to show up for that, while the rest are filtered.

Do a local citation search to see where bad info is and fix it.

While having a great citation profile isn’t going to make your rankings shoot up drastically overnight, those concrete signals will show Google that your brick and mortar business has all its ducks in a row, and that can lead to Google showing your business for those searchers who might be right on the edge of your area of influence. Plus, if you do this and your competition doesn’t, your business will be more likely to show up.

Continue to get more reviews.

This has been stated over and over again, but now that a business might be showing up where it hadn’t before, that means a whole new set of eyes. If you have great onsite SEO signals, a great GMB profile, and clean citations, but the business lacks reviews, Google may filter your business out because it doesn’t have the relevancy or the appeal of the other listings that have the reviews on them.

So what’s the TL;DR of this whole thing?

Basically, searcher location is now more important to local search than it ever has been, and Google is applying more robust filtering of business listings to produce higher quality results. If your business is relevant, well reviewed, and near where someone is searching for your product or business, you have a much greater chance of showing up than your competition.