Young common opossum isolated on white background

If you’ve noticed your Google My Business listings missing from search results this month, you’re not alone. Don’t worry, they’re not gone for good. They’re just “playing possum,” hence the nickname given this Google local algorithm update by the search community.

September 1, 2016, marks the day the Google Possum update first shook up the local search landscape. But what is it and how might your local business listings be affected? Let’s have a look at some of the questions marketers have around this update.

What is Google Possum and does it affect my rankings?

The consensus among the local SEO community is that the Possum algorithm update has been applied to fight spammy listings and improve the Google local pack and map listing diversity.

Google is essentially trying to improve the local user experience by filtering out duplicate listings and including additional relevant listings that might not have been readily visible because they were outside the city limit of a local query.  For example, let’s say you have a well-reviewed plumbing business listing located in Encinitas, CA.  This listing is also in full compliance of the Google Local Business Guidelines.   

Although your business is outside of the San Diego city limits, it’s still relevant for “San Diego plumbing,” as the city of Encinitas is located in San Diego county.  The Possum update will now give your business a better chance of appearing for relevant, geographically-targeted phrases that you were previously excluded from because of the city limit cut off.

Is Google Possum a penalty?

It’s a common reaction to significant changes in ranking: “Google must have given us a penalty!” But unless you’ve gone astray of Google’s guidelines, it’s not likely a penalty causing any issues you’re seeing.

Google regularly refreshes its search algorithms and sometimes makes more significant changes and updates. Google rarely announces when they’re doing updates, but when they happen, we see a lot of chatter in search forums and on blogs from marketers whose web properties have been affected. That’s exactly how it is with Google Possum — we know an update happened, but it’s impossible to know the exact impact this early in the game.

What we do know is that it’s not a penalty.  Algorithmic updates apply different types of filters, so Google can show searchers the highest quality and most relevant results.  A local listing might no longer be visible in the top results; however, if you zoom in on Google Maps, it will likely reappear.  

Is this part of Google Penguin?

No. Google’s algorithm updates have become a bit of a word salad, with each new update earning one animal name or another. The last update we saw with major local ramifications was Google Pigeon, back in the summer of 2014.

Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird… it can seem like the whole zoo is against you.

Rest assured, Possum and Penguin are two separate roll outs. Penguin, an algorithmic update launched back in 2012, is designed to keep sites that use shady, unscrupulous inbound linking tactics from ranking. It just updated this past week — here’s what you should expect from Penguin 4.0.

Sometimes, different algorithms refresh or update at the same time, making it difficult to understand which ranking and traffic changes are caused by what update.

How will Google Possum affect my local business rankings?

Local search expert Joy Hawkins shared an excellent set of Possum insights in Search Engine Land upon her review of dozens of ranking reports.

As mentioned earlier, this update appears to be designed to both diversify local results and prevent spam, and that only the 3-Pack and Local Finder seem to have been affected.

Besides the visibility boost for businesses outside of physical city limits this algorithm update also impacts:

  • User Physical Location: This is even more important than it was before.
  • Local Search Results:  Expect different results for slight variations of local keyword queries.  

Read the full article to learn more about what Hawkins discovered in her analysis.

What should I do about Google Possum?

Don’t panic.

The first days after an algorithm update are always rife with speculation and it’s easy to get lost in the sea of opinions and predictions. The important thing to remember is that search is a zero sum game — as one business listing drop in rankings, a better optimized and more suitable listing always rises up to take its place.

You want to be that local business. We can get you there.

Adherence to best practices in local business listings management helps to ensure that your business listings are among those rising in the ranks when updates come out. Make sure your map listings are correct, make good use of structured data, and optimize your listings across the local search ecosystem to future-proof your local presence.

Stay tuned! We will be bringing you more insight into Google’s Possum update as we dig deeper into the impact it’s had on real local businesses.

To learn how Rio SEO can support your local strategy schedule a demo.