Has Google's Local Search Update Left Your Site Playing Possum? By Sigrid Tehrani on October 25, 2016

Google Possum Update Local Search

Google did it again with another update to its search algorithm. This time it's shaking up results in local search, which is always a concern for brick-and-mortar establishments such as medical and dental practices.  

The update — dubbed Possum — is characterized as the biggest shakeup in local search since the Pigeon update two years ago.

The name alludes to the fact that Possum filters out duplicate listings in the Local 3-Packs and Google Maps.

If you've noticed your listing is missing, it's not. It's simply "hiding" (playing possum).

It's technically not a penalty, but it sure feels like one if you've gone MIA in the Local Pack or on Google Maps. How can you be chosen if you aren't listed?  

Winners and Losers

As with every Google shakeup, there are winners and losers. The most relevant question for you: Is your website sending signals to Google that will give you the advantage in this digital game of musical chairs? 

Here are a few of the update highlights:  

  • Businesses that fall outside a city’s physical city limits are no longer pariahs. Even if you are in the 'burbs, you can now rank for keywords that include the city’s name. That’s a boon for practices just outside the city limits. Are you taking advantage of this shift in Google's algorithm?
  • Filtering, once limited to profiles sharing a phone number or domain, has expanded to include addresses. Are you in the same building with other physicians? Five medical professionals using the same address may discover that only one is listed and the rest are filtered. Google is judge and jury when it comes to deciding which one is the “best” and most relevant listing to display. Also worrisome: There have been cases where a practice with two locations owned by the same company now finds one of its listings filtered. This has happened even when the locations had different names, addresses, phone numbers, and websites. The common thread: The same owner. Is your website sending the signals that will get Google to pick your practice for inclusion in the visually prominent Local Pack?
  • Search results vary based on slight variations in the keywords. Those long-tail keywords you’ve been meaning to get around to? Now may be the time to optimize content for them so you match for more search variations.

Possum is new so you can safely assume that Google will continue to tweak the algorithm. But now that you know which way the wind is blowing, you can adjust your sails.

Our Advice 

Don’t play ostrich to Google’s Possum. 

Change opens the door to opportunity. If you are targeting the Local 3-Pack and want to appear in Google Maps at the get-go (without forcing consumers to zoom in to find you), take advantage of this shakeup by boosting your website's local search engine optimization (SEO) signals.

The trick is sending Google the right signals to convince the search giant that your listing is valuable and unique enough to be included in the top results.

  • Make sure your business listing information is as unique as possible so Google doesn't mistake you for a duplicate listing.
  • Ensure your business is listed on all possible local resources and directories.
  • Verify your business descriptions and proofread them.
  • Add high-quality images and videos to your website.
  • Encourage your patients to leave Google reviews.

What Next?

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