Google ‘Possum’ update – what is it and what does it mean for Local SEO

possum update

For anyone involved in local SEO, it has been a crazy few weeks. Back on 1 September Google seemed to shake up the local search results in what is now being called the Possum update by the local SEO community.

Why call it ‘Possum’? Because a lot of business owners think their Google My Business listings have disappeared when they haven’t, they’ve just been filtered – so they are effectively ‘playing possum’.

What is the Possum update?

The evidence so far indicates that the Possum update affected the rankings within the local ‘3-pack’ and the search results within Google Maps itself. There has also been a lot of talk about a bigger Google update recently impacting search in general, although nothing has been confirmed on that. However, tracking tools like Mozcast and Algoroo seem to suggest something big has happened/is currently happening.

Sticking with the Possum update though, and it looks like it was designed to diversify the local search results and stop any spam from sneaking in. Some are calling it the biggest update to local SEO since the Pigeon update back in 2014.

So what has the Possum update actually changed?

First of all, businesses that previously didn’t show up for city-based searches because they were slightly outside of the city limits have seen a boost in rankings.

This has long been a bug-bear for small local businesses, as Google has always been a bit too strict when it came to where the business could be located in order to appear in results. Some very good local businesses didn’t even fall into a city at all in the eyes of Google Maps, so this has come as a much welcome boost for them.

Also, the physical location of the searcher is now even more important.

Google have been working on improving this aspect of its local search results for a long time, and with the Possum update they are really focusing on it. It makes sense that the searchers physical location at the point of searching is one of the major factors when producing location-specific results, but the more Google can narrow down exactly where they are when they search the more diverse the results will be. For instance, in a big city like London or even Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds, you could get very different local results depending on whereabouts in the city you are.

Google continue to focus on Local

Along with this update, there has been further evidence recently that Google is pushing its local results.

The SEM Post have noticed that Google is testing showing the Local 3-Pack for some very high volume search terms that do not have a huge local search intent.

The example they picked out is the search results page for the keyword [shoes]:

Google local 3 pack search results
TheSEMPost.com

As you can see, the 3-pack is in a very prominent position in the search results, in position seven just above Toms.com.

Why are Google focusing so much on local at the minute? One word: mobile. With more and more searches happening on mobile devices, and a high proportion of mobile searches having a ‘local intent’, Google is trying to make sure the user experience of its search results appeals to mobile users.

If the above test is something they decide to roll-out across a wide range of search terms it could well lead to a lot of fluctuation in ranking positions – so keep your eyes peeled!