Two months after the release of Google Possum, a study from BrightLocal provides insight into how the algorithm update is impacting search results. The data show that 64 per cent of local search engine results differ from before the update. Despite this Possum is receiving very little attention from SEO experts. This is likely due to the fact that it mainly impacts local and map search results rather than organic results.
The Results of the Study from BrightLocal
The study examined 1,307 businesses which, combined, track 14,242 keywords. It examined the difference between results on August 31 (the day before Possum was released) with September 7 (just after the introduction of Possum). Only 36 per cent of keywords saw no change in the position of businesses in search results. The remaining 64 percent were split as follows:
- 9 per cent of keywords that previously had no impact on search results pushed businesses into the Local Finder
- 11 per cent of keywords increased the position of a business in results by three or more positions, and 15 per cent increased by one or two positions
- 14 per cent of keywords decreased businesses’ places in search results by three or more positions, and 15 per cent of keywords decreased businesses by one or two positions.
Of course, some results may be due to factors other than the Possum update, as search results change daily.
However, it is important to note that 34 per cent of keywords saw a significant change — i.e. businesses moved three or more positions in results or moved into the top three pages when they previously did not appear anywhere in the Local Finder, meaning they moved by at least 60 positions.
What Factors Improve Local Rankings?
The results of the Google Possum update indicate that new factors now impact local rankings, beyond reviews and appropriate keywords. As the algorithm becomes more complex, it is ever more difficult to decipher how rankings are determined, but by examining other data collected since the update, we can draw some conclusions.
Before Possum, businesses that lay just outside of city limits rarely ranked high in search results, even when they used location-specific keywords. Now, geographical location appears to be playing a less major role, as businesses in the suburbs are able to rank as high as those within cities.
Search results now change significantly depending on the exact keywords used.
For instance, “dentist NYC” may produce completely different results from “New York City dentist.” This suggests that businesses should no longer rely on a single keyword phrase; rather, they need to ensure several variations are present within their content to appear in a range of possible search results.
Although the age of a listing has always been a factor, it is becoming even more significant. To filter spammers, Google is now less likely to show listings recently added to Google Maps as well as listings with reviews dating back only a few months.
Google is also turning to organic search rankings to avoid showing spam listings. Businesses with a strong organic presence are much more likely to reach the Local Finder.
Many businesses create separate websites and distinct content for their various locations. In the past, Google would filter some of these results, but since Possum, the search engine is including more of these businesses in search results.
This new data indicates that the Google Possum update is good news for legitimate businesses, as they have a better chance of reaching the Local Finder. However, as it is still early days, it is difficult to say exactly what businesses need to do — such as what types of keywords will perform best. This will require more research on the part of SEO experts.