​Don’t Play Possum with Google’s New Local Algorithm

by Brock Marion

18 plus year career wholly focused on delivering digital marketing excellence, both agency and client side. Led award winning teams working for over 50 leading global retail, CPG and travel brands. 

Helped found, build and grow the first pay-per-click display advertising network and recognized early the emerging importance of paid and organic search marketing for direct response ecommerce and lead gen, founding his own search marketing practice in early 2001.

Duck hunter. Intense dislike for anything containing cilantro or truffle oil. 

Local search has typically been driven by a consumer’s physical proximity to the searcher’s location. In regards to ranking signals, physical proximity has now become even more important with the Google’s new algorithm updated, called Possum. With this update, Google is continuing its work to merge local and organic ranking signals.

Before the algorithm change, small to mid-size businesses had to aggressively compete against monster brands in their vertical that would dominate the local and organic landscape. However, with this Possum update, Google is now applying filters to reward the brands that’s are not only physically closest to the searcher’s location, but that are also optimizing their location data and content far better than anyone else. This update effectively levels the organic local search playing field so all brands have an equal shot at ranking for local results and organic keywords.

To understand the impact of the Possum update, consider the following examples.

  • Before Possum: John Doe, a resident of San Francisco, needs to find an orthopedic surgeon and is currently researching orthopedic specialists in his area. An area hospital, Hospital A, publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons. Due to this volume, Hospital A might dominate the local pack results, not because Hospital A optimizes its content better than Hospital B or Ortho Surgeon A, but because it is the largest hospital in the area and has enough domain strength to make those pages relevant from an algorithmic standpoint.
  • After Possum: John Doe conducts the same search for orthopedic specialists. Instead of Hospital A dominating the search results, Google now allocates more real estate to other hospitals and practices in his area, based on his location and the usual ranking signals – unless Hospital A’s content and location data are so well optimized for search that they outperform other hospitals by a wide margin.

While the Possum update is a new update from Google, what Google is actually doing is not new to search. For the past year, Google has been making it harder for monster brands (i.e. Amazon, Walmart, etc.) to dominate search results for product searches simply because of the size of their business and their prominence in the marketplace. Unless their search signals and relevance truly outperform competitors’ content by a wide margin, the Amazons and Walmarts of the world will no longer dominate the top search results like they once did. With the Possum update, Google is applying a similar filter to local search that it has been using for organic search more generally.

Greater Competition with Your Neighbors

Along with impacting organic and local search results in regards to competing with big business, the Possum update is also impacting local results in a subtler, but very important way. The new algorithm is now affecting search results for similar businesses that are clustered closely together, such as similar retailers, restaurants, and businesses that are located across the street from each other or who might share the same office space.

Before the update, a nonbrand search for “Greek Restaurants” in the Chicago area might include the names of several Greek dining establishments clustered closely together in Chicago’s Greektown area. This type of result would make perfect sense if the searcher was located a block away from Greektown, on the city’s west side. But what if the searcher was located in the northern or southern suburbs and wanted to find a Greek restaurant for dinner? A group of Greek restaurants in the most popular area of Chicago might not be relevant to the searcher since they are not in a close proximity to that area of the city.

Possum has made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches, unless as noted, the searcher is searching in close proximity to that actual location of those businesses. A good implication of this, is that national to local brands may see positive shifts in rankings due to an increase in brand authority due to the signals in the ranking algorithm. Ultimately, the physical location of the searcher is now more important than ever before.

How to Beat the Competition

As a brick and mortar business, the first thing to check is to see if your local rankings have been affected by the Possum update. Local rankings may not have been impacted, or we might see an improvement in results, but not necessarily a drop in rankings. This update is meant to improve local and organic search results for brick and mortar businesses.

Regardless of how you’ve been impacted, now is the time to get serious about how you manage your location data and content – these pieces need to be turned into assets to make your brand more visible when people conduct “near-me” searches.

As a next step, confirm that your location date is accurate and shared properly with Google and Bing. Make sure you are tracking local terms so you can measure positioning and progression over time. Confirm that you are currently using data attributes within your local listings, such as the availability of free delivery, in-store availability or same day pickup, items that can differentiate you when near-me searches occur. Make sure to optimize all local listing content at the individual location level, such as crafting long-form descriptions of the business with information unique to that location, such as cross streets, landmarks and other attributes users might use as search modifiers. Finally, ensure that your visual imagery is optimized properly for image search.

The Google Possum local update has leveled the playing field allowing businesses to more fairly compete with large national brands. Don't miss out on a great opportunity for your organization by not taking advantage of this significant change in the local search landscape.

Don't have the internal resources, bandwidth or skillset to confidently manage your physical store locations online to ensure your local search profile drives users to your physical store locations? Speak with the tenured digital performance marketing team at Robofirm today to discuss how we can help you compete in local search and turn your website into a tool for driving in-store visits extremely efficiently, helping you to connect online and offline while improving the user experience and driving incremental sales and revenue for your business. Let's talk Local today!

​Don’t Play Possum with Google’s New Local Algorithm

​Don’t Play Possum with Google’s New Local Algorithm

by Brock Marion

18 plus year career wholly focused on delivering digital marketing excellence, both agency and client side. Led award winning teams working for over 50 leading global retail, CPG and travel brands. 

Helped found, build and grow the first pay-per-click display advertising network and recognized early the emerging importance of paid and organic search marketing for direct response ecommerce and lead gen, founding his own search marketing practice in early 2001.

Duck hunter. Intense dislike for anything containing cilantro or truffle oil. 

Local search has typically been driven by a consumer’s physical proximity to the searcher’s location. In regards to ranking signals, physical proximity has now become even more important with the Google’s new algorithm updated, called Possum. With this update, Google is continuing its work to merge local and organic ranking signals.

Before the algorithm change, small to mid-size businesses had to aggressively compete against monster brands in their vertical that would dominate the local and organic landscape. However, with this Possum update, Google is now applying filters to reward the brands that’s are not only physically closest to the searcher’s location, but that are also optimizing their location data and content far better than anyone else. This update effectively levels the organic local search playing field so all brands have an equal shot at ranking for local results and organic keywords.

To understand the impact of the Possum update, consider the following examples.

  • Before Possum: John Doe, a resident of San Francisco, needs to find an orthopedic surgeon and is currently researching orthopedic specialists in his area. An area hospital, Hospital A, publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons. Due to this volume, Hospital A might dominate the local pack results, not because Hospital A optimizes its content better than Hospital B or Ortho Surgeon A, but because it is the largest hospital in the area and has enough domain strength to make those pages relevant from an algorithmic standpoint.
  • After Possum: John Doe conducts the same search for orthopedic specialists. Instead of Hospital A dominating the search results, Google now allocates more real estate to other hospitals and practices in his area, based on his location and the usual ranking signals – unless Hospital A’s content and location data are so well optimized for search that they outperform other hospitals by a wide margin.

While the Possum update is a new update from Google, what Google is actually doing is not new to search. For the past year, Google has been making it harder for monster brands (i.e. Amazon, Walmart, etc.) to dominate search results for product searches simply because of the size of their business and their prominence in the marketplace. Unless their search signals and relevance truly outperform competitors’ content by a wide margin, the Amazons and Walmarts of the world will no longer dominate the top search results like they once did. With the Possum update, Google is applying a similar filter to local search that it has been using for organic search more generally.

Greater Competition with Your Neighbors

Along with impacting organic and local search results in regards to competing with big business, the Possum update is also impacting local results in a subtler, but very important way. The new algorithm is now affecting search results for similar businesses that are clustered closely together, such as similar retailers, restaurants, and businesses that are located across the street from each other or who might share the same office space.

Before the update, a nonbrand search for “Greek Restaurants” in the Chicago area might include the names of several Greek dining establishments clustered closely together in Chicago’s Greektown area. This type of result would make perfect sense if the searcher was located a block away from Greektown, on the city’s west side. But what if the searcher was located in the northern or southern suburbs and wanted to find a Greek restaurant for dinner? A group of Greek restaurants in the most popular area of Chicago might not be relevant to the searcher since they are not in a close proximity to that area of the city.

Possum has made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches, unless as noted, the searcher is searching in close proximity to that actual location of those businesses. A good implication of this, is that national to local brands may see positive shifts in rankings due to an increase in brand authority due to the signals in the ranking algorithm. Ultimately, the physical location of the searcher is now more important than ever before.

How to Beat the Competition

As a brick and mortar business, the first thing to check is to see if your local rankings have been affected by the Possum update. Local rankings may not have been impacted, or we might see an improvement in results, but not necessarily a drop in rankings. This update is meant to improve local and organic search results for brick and mortar businesses.

Regardless of how you’ve been impacted, now is the time to get serious about how you manage your location data and content – these pieces need to be turned into assets to make your brand more visible when people conduct “near-me” searches.

As a next step, confirm that your location date is accurate and shared properly with Google and Bing. Make sure you are tracking local terms so you can measure positioning and progression over time. Confirm that you are currently using data attributes within your local listings, such as the availability of free delivery, in-store availability or same day pickup, items that can differentiate you when near-me searches occur. Make sure to optimize all local listing content at the individual location level, such as crafting long-form descriptions of the business with information unique to that location, such as cross streets, landmarks and other attributes users might use as search modifiers. Finally, ensure that your visual imagery is optimized properly for image search.

The Google Possum local update has leveled the playing field allowing businesses to more fairly compete with large national brands. Don't miss out on a great opportunity for your organization by not taking advantage of this significant change in the local search landscape.

Don't have the internal resources, bandwidth or skillset to confidently manage your physical store locations online to ensure your local search profile drives users to your physical store locations? Speak with the tenured digital performance marketing team at Robofirm today to discuss how we can help you compete in local search and turn your website into a tool for driving in-store visits extremely efficiently, helping you to connect online and offline while improving the user experience and driving incremental sales and revenue for your business. Let's talk Local today!