While content farms and affiliate websites have had to deal with Panda and Penguin in recent years, local businesses have largely been unaffected by the more aggressive Google search updates. However, one update can seriously hinder your SEO presence, and that update is called Possum. If you had been enjoying high positions in the local business results on Google, but suddenly lost a significant amount of traffic, this update could be to blame.
What is Possum?
Google’s Possum update first reared its head in September 2016, when many businesses noticed that their Google My Business listings had seemingly vanished from the search results. Further investigation revealed that the listings were actually still there, but they had been filtered out – they were “playing possum”
Possum only affects local listings in the 3-pack and Local Finder (Google Maps results). Following the Possum update, businesses just outside large cities experienced a jump in rankings, whereas many businesses that had addresses in the cities saw a fall. The interpretation is simple – exact physical location is no longer as important in ranking locally as service area.
Before the Possum update, businesses that were just outside city limits had a hard time competing with those just up the road, which was considered gravely unfair considering they both served the same area.
Address and Affiliation Filter
One of the negative features of the Possum update is that it has resulted in businesses that operate from the same address being penalised. This was done to reduce spam, where one business would register several names under the same address, in an attempt to attract a wider market share. However, as with all updates, there is always some collateral damage.
For instance, many sole traders who work from home use a virtual office, such as those provided by Regus, for their business address. This means that one address can have tens, or even hundreds, of local businesses listed. This worked well for both security and SEO, but since Possum, it has hit SEO hard. According to Search Engine Land, the update has affected 64% of local businesses. As always, there are both winners and losers.
How To Recover Your Lost Local Listings?
The first step is to review where your business is listed. If you have been using a popular virtual office, consider changing to an alternative address. If you have more than one location listed for your business when you only actually operate from a single base, consider removing all satellite addresses and focusing on the main one.
A more expensive option, but one that may reap greater rewards, is to seek out an office to rent. A unique address certainly appears to be benefiting businesses at the moment.
While it is rarely a good idea to list your home address as your business address, this could be an option for some businesses.
The local filter is separate from the main organic search algorithm, and different rules apply. However, if you are operating more than one website and it gets filtered organically, it will likely drop out of local search too.
Review Your Keywords
Another suggestion, which appears to help some businesses, is to vary the keywords that you are targeting. Rather than simply using the same keyword phrase with a slightly different location, mix it up a little. Some businesses have found that giving more emphasis to location rather than popular keyword search terms has helped improve their ranking, although, care must be taken to ensure that organic listings do not suffer as a result. London companies should focus on boroughs and towns, rather than London.
The bottom line is, reduce the number of websites and locations that you are attempting to optimise for. Unless you really do have multiple physical locations, avoid trying to trick your way into Google local search. As already mentioned, Google now shows local results when the physical address falls outside of the official town boundaries, so there is less need to focus on specific areas. So long as you inform people via your website which areas you cover, and link your website to one central location, you should experience an improvement in your local SEO.