Local Search Ranking Methods Change: About Google's "Possum" Update

December 13, 2016

Google’s hyperlocal and local search ranking algorithms got a surprise update recently when the company rolled out its newest update, nicknamed Possum by the SEO industry.

possum update

When Possum went live, the internet went a little crazy over the scrambling and re-ranking, specifically in the local and hyperlocal organic search results. But not to worry! The Be Locally SEO experts have analyzed the changes brought about by the new algorithm and local search ranking protocols and how best to help you navigate these changes.

Unlike some of Google’s updates, Possum offers several positive developments in internet marketing.

Keyword Variations and Local Search Results

The first change we discovered after Possum’s rollout was a subtle shift in the local search engine results based on slight keyword variations. For example, searching for “Bankruptcy Lawyer West Jordan” will return different local search results than “Bankruptcy Lawyer West Jordan UT” or “West Jordan Bankruptcy Lawyer.”

Prior to Possum, Google did not typically differentiate between these terms unless the city name was ambiguous with regard to state, i.e., Kansas City or Portland. The purpose of this change is to make mobile searching easier and more based on your physical location at the time of the search.

The takeaway here to be sure you consider all of the possible options when optimizing your site and content.

Search Results Vary Based on the Physical Location of the Searcher

For the first time, two internet users can enter identical local search terms in Google and receive different results, based on their physical locations.

For example, someone at home in Tooele who searches for “Children’s Dentist Tooele” will see different local pack (“snack pack”) and expanded organic search results than someone in Los Angeles searching the same term at the same time.


This aspect of the new local search protocol was designed with the intent of providing the individual in Tooele with those businesses truly closest to their physical location. Meanwhile, the person searching from Los Angeles is presented with a more physically disparate list of local search results.

If you want to see how you rank when searched from different physical locations, you’ll have to use a special local search results checker.

Increased Scrutiny for Duplicate Business Addresses and Information

Thanks to an overabundance of intentionally duplicated (i.e., webspam) business listings, Google has taken a harder stance on redundant data. If the new algorithm detects that two (or more) businesses share a street address — even if they have different suite numbers — the local pack and organic local results filter all but one of them.

This throws up a challenge for companies in office parks or retail centers that also host other businesses in their industry. For example, if a medical office building houses multiple dental practices, the new update may include only one of them at a time in the local results. This also bodes poorly for small companies that use commercial mailbox locations as their business address.

local seo office building

The new algorithm isn’t just looking at addresses, however. Shared websites and even those that are simply hosted together will also be affected, if the companies compete for the same client base. Some businesses that have nothing in common except their owner have also been affected by the new Google local search algorithm.

Improved Results for Some Previously Excluded Sites

We recently described some of the organic local search engine ranking challenges faced by companies located near the border of adjoining cities or just outside the limits of their target local city. The new algorithm brings good news for these companies, as the Possum update propelled many of them up the local rankings — some significantly.

Like all of Google’s algorithm changes, the Possum update brings good news for some businesses and less optimistic outcomes for others. For the most part, however, those companies using an ethical approach to SEO will benefit from having to compete with fewer webspam and black hat (negative SEO) sites.

The industry still has more to learn about Possum, but based on your business model and internet presence, we can provide you with a thorough review of your website and recommend strategies to leverage the new algorithm to improve your position in the local SERPs.

Be Locally SEO is the Intermountain West’s premier provider of website design, search engine optimization, social media marketing and online content. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you improve your organic and local search engine rankings.

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