Local Search Update: How Not to “Play Possum” in Google

You’ve done your due diligence in making sure you’re employing quality inbound marketing tactics like producing and publishing high quality content your audience can’t get enough of, carefully selecting and testing your long tail keywords, and staying on your link game, and then…Google rolls out a new search update.

But don’t change your entire strategy, yet. Not all Google updates are to be dreaded.

In fact, the most recent update is specific to local search and may actually benefit businesses whose search results have been “playing possum” in the high beams of geographically-specific search queries.

What was the Trouble With Local Search?

Google has officially rolled out Possum–the next big thing in search updates.

Why? You may be asking. Well…

Let’s imagine for a moment that it’s January, 2016….stay with me….

Now, let’s say we own a company.  Let’s call our company Penny Prints–a low-cost, custom print shop.  

Penny Prints is located just outside of the city of Chicago–a lovely little urban spot, without the costly city rent. Business is good, but Penny Prints hasn’t seen much activity from new customers in a while, despite a shiny, always up-to-date website and a beautiful blog.

With a little bit of digging you hypothesize that Penny Prints may not be seeing new customers because it’s not showing up in local search results.

Rather than appearing as a convenient option for prospective customers in the immediate vicinity, or showing up as an option at all in the context of “Chicago custom print shops” (or “custom print shops Chicago”), Penny Prints is effectively overlooked in local search, never showing up in the 3-pack listing between paid and organic search results.

The results instead seem to be favor those businesses with a physical address within city limits.  

When it comes down to it, Penny Prints ranks number 35 on the SERP. So it’s not not ranking for the keywords we worked so hard to identify, it’s merely playing possum, it’s just-beyond-the-city-limits address hiding from the local finder.

Rough reality, particularly for those who rely on local markets to sustain their business.

Not to worry, Google picked up on this. And they’ve taken steps to remedy the situation in the form of Possum.

Possum Brings Positive Local Search Improvements to Life

Fast forward 9 months…Penny Prints has seen a notable uptick in new site visits and has experienced an enormous jump in local search rankings over the past few months.

It’s now number 10 on the SERP and makes the 3-pack listing for even broad geographical searches if they are conducted nearby.

While, as a business owner, you may feel inclined not to question stunningly positive results, you probably have Possum to thank for this turn of events, and may benefit from becoming more acquainted with the update.

What you should know:


  • The searcher location is now more important in local search rankings


Whereas before the Possum update, “fringe” businesses, or those outside of city limits, were overlooked in local search results (it may have felt like a penalty to some, but it was in fact simply an issue of not prioritizing businesses due to the recorded address), now, results will be filtered by taking the searcher’s location into consideration. Someone near the business will see different results than someone in another location.


  • Duplicate results will be accounted for when displaying search results


This may not apply to all business types, but the recent Google update now filters duplicate addresses. For instance, if a number of dentists work out of the same building, the search results will not be restricted to listing all of those dentists. Rather, in this situation, Google will recognize the duplicates and rank more carefully based on additional SEO metrics to allow other businesses an opportunity to win the 3-pack.


  • Keyword ordering has become more important


Even slight variations in keywords will now have a notable impact on search rankings. Google is becoming increasingly sophisticated regarding keyword phrasing and ordering. Similar search terms, like “ice cream Chicago” and “Chicago, IL ice cream” may merit very different results. Something to note as you update your SEO strategy.

Speaking of Strategy…As a business owner, what do you do?

In addition to your other lead generating tactics, as a business owner with a local market, you’ll want to leverage the Possum update and take full advantage of the improved results you are likely to begin seeing (if you haven’t already).

So here are some steps you should take:

    • Pay attention to how you rank locally, regardless of how you are, or have been, ranking organically.
      • Local and organic filters are becoming increasingly less connected and therefore your local ranking may need some attention. Be sure your business address is up to date and that your name, address and phone number information is listed and easy to read.


  • Use more long tail keyword variations.


      • In the context of local search, there is now a hypersensitivity to exact keyword matches. In the interest of supplying users with the most accurate results possible, Google is no longer relying on generalized location searches to produce results. Rather, results will be based on the structure of searches as they relate to keywords used by businesses.


  • Make a good site with good information a high priority.


      • Google will continue to filter out bad sites with useless information, so if there’s one way to always improve your SEO standing, focus on your site and producing relevant, high-value content.


  • Optimize for mobile.


    • Another SEO 101 tactic, but optimizing for mobile will improve your rankings, both local and organic.

And voila! You’ll be playing possum no more.

So what’s the bottom line?

The separation between local and organic search is growing. For many local businesses, this will mean improved search results–users are getting more accurate location-based search results, and businesses with a local market have more opportunities to rank in local search. But don’t simply rely on the updates to propel your SEO rankings. Use what you now know to reach the top of the rankings.Have questions about the Possum update or steps you could take to make the most of it? Send me a note! I’m happy to help.