Local search is simply too important to ignore. It’s a prime opportunity to appear front and centre exactly when (and where) your potential customers are looking for you. Not only can a map show where your business physically is, but it occupies a prime piece of real estate on Google’s search results page.
So when Google makes a significant change to the way these listings are ordered, it’s important to understand the nature of that change and to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.
In September 2016, just such an update occurred. The updated has been nicknamed Possum and is reckoned by searchengineland to be the most significant update in the last two years.
- Business on the edge of a physical location (e.g. on the outskirts of a city) have seen improvements in rankings for searches that include the name of that location
- Businesses with (legitimate) multiple listings are seeing only one of their results being shown at a time on a rotating basis
- Results vary much more than before based on the location of the searcher and the precise word order of the search query
- Greater divergence between local and organic results possible
Partial rollouts and A/B testing from Google’s are likely to result in a period of flux, but the Possum update seems to be aimed at making local search a bit more flexible and resilient – and thus hopefully more useful to users.
On the edge
This is of particular use to businesses who were just outside the city limits or whatever administrative boundary Google chose to use. By increasing their flexibility here, Google are getting around the problem of users being inexact when it comes to administrative boundaries. Someone searching for a toy shop doesn’t care that it’s slightly outside the edge of local council.
Listings playing possum
In an attempt to avoid multiple listings, Google are periodically hiding similar listings and helping to promote a more diverse set of results. There has even been example of different firms who share a building having their listings only visible on a rotating basis. Presumably these early issues will be ironed out as Google refines their algorithm.
Location and Word Order
Here we see Google trying to get a more precise fix on what the user is trying to get to. There isn’t a lot you can do if your potential customer is searching on mobile and finds a physically closer competitor offering an identical product. However, the precise optimisation of your website can now have a more significant influence on which listings are shown and in what order. Different word ordering may well not signify different intent, so the importance of thorough keyword research cannot be overstated.
A local shop for local people
This is, in many ways, the most fascinating development. Previously local and organic search results were virtually joined at the hip but Google appears to be using Possum to decouple them a little further. Organic results can be monopolised by the big boys, so an increase to the weighting of locality in local search has positive implications for small and medium sized businesses.
Possum settles down
Possum update was so called because some listings appeared to playing possum – or hiding. In its first few weeks of life, Possum is getting better at hiding the least useful (quasi-duplicate) listings and uncovering more (geographically distant) ones to show.
In its first few weeks the precision of the update is improving, alongside the user experience, which underpins Google’s actions in the first place.
What does this mean for your business?
The effects of the Possum update on the performance of your business’ website will depend very much on the nature of your existing local search presence.
Deliberately gaming the system is now that bit harder – but the rewards for a legitimate and well optimised listing are still all there. The waters of local search are frequently choppy, however taking notice of both the letter and the spirit of Google’s latest recommendations is usually the best strategy for long term success – and to avoid that sudden sinking feeling.