On September 1, 2016, a massive Local algorithm update rolled out, which the local search community has named Possum. The name was originally suggested by Phil Rozek and is quite fitting because many business owners think their Google My Business listings are gone when they are actually being filtered. In other words, they are playing possum.
Specifics of the Possum Update
Businesses that are located just outside of the physical city limits saw a dramatic increase in rankings.
Prior to the update, businesses that fell right outside the physical city limits for a specific city had a very difficult time ranking for any keywords that included the city name. According to Google Maps, these businesses “technically” do not even fall into a city.
After the Possum update, many businesses in this situation described saw huge increases in their local ranking.
Google is now filtering based on address and phone number.
Originally, users would often see a local filter applied to the local results that would filter out profiles listing the same phone number or domain.
For example, a dental practice may have a separate listing for each individual dentist working at their office as well as one listing for the practice itself. Each profile would link to the same website and use the same phone number, so typically only one or two of these listings would appear, and the others would be filtered.
Since this update, many businesses are being filtered out because their address is the same as another listing in a similar category (similar type of business).
It is important to keep in mind that this filter is not the same as a penalty. Google is not removing the listings or preventing them for ranking at all. Alternatively, it works similar to an organic filter, which picks the “best” or most relevant listing and filters others that are too similar.
A searcher’s physical location is more important than before.
Since the update, where a person is physically located while completing a search has become more important. If two users, one in Houston, Texas and one in Boston, Massachusetts, complete a search for “chiropractors in Boston”, they will not see the same results. Because the user in Texas has their searcher location not set as Boston, their results are going to differ from the other person’s search results.
Search results fluctuate more based on slight variations of the keyword searched.
Prior to the update, similar keywords did not cause much variance in search results. If a user searched “Dentist Los Angeles” the results would not differ greatly from the results for “Los Angeles Dentist” or “Dentist Los Angeles CA”.
Now, there appears to be a much greater change when searches are conducted using similar keywords. Adding or dropping a state abbreviation, for example, can now cause listings that had previously been filtered appear, or listing that had first appeared in search results be filtered.
The local filter appears to be operating more freely from the organic filter.
Originally, it was believed that if Google filtered out your website or a page of your website organically, it had a negative impact on search rankings. However, since the update many businesses that rank highly for competitive terms that link to organically filtered pages. This evidence shows how the local filter and organic filter are different and actually less connected than before.
Ultimately, there is still a lot of fluctuation being seen, which could potentially mean Google is still testing ranking signals. However, until an official statement is released by Google there is no way to be sure.