Panda and Pigeon and Possum – Oh MY!

Google’s Latest Algorithm Update, and How It Will Affect Your Local Listings

As a digital local listings management agency, we understand more than most people that Google’s algorithm changes. A lot. Which is why we weren’t surprised to learn that the search engine giant had made a major local algorithm adjustment in September. We know from years past that no matter the update, the common thread is that Google wants to promote a better experience for its users. Take a look:

  • Google Panda penalized websites with thin and/or low-quality content
  • Google Penguin penalized sites trying to scam the system through link buying or shady linking practices, and
  • Google Pigeon factored ranking signals, Knowledge Graph, synonyms and more to improve the value of the local search results provided to end users

Now comes Google Possum, the latest algorithm update to impact local SEO results. According to Joy Hawkins of Search Engine Land the following’s what local and multi-locational businesses can expect.

The What: City Limits

Good news for those locations that fall outside of city limits: you may have seen a slight boost in your listings.

The Why

Google is attempting to allow businesses with physical locations outside of city limits to be surfaced up at the appropriate moment. For example, a corporate office might be listed in “Cleveland, Ohio”, but service centers may be located in Solon, Beachwood, Lakewood, and Parma, Ohio. If the user needs to find a service center nearest to him or her, Possum works to ensure those locations are what appear first in results despite the strength of the corporate brand’s SEO program, which serves to provide more options.

The What: NAPW Affiliations

Google is filtering out locations based on address and affiliation – in essence, Possum is suppressing listings that share similar NAPW information to diversify the results.

The Why

This is an extension of the first point in that in a multi-locational business certain locations could rank higher than others, and thus might appear first in search results. But what if the first result simply has more reviews, or the nearest result doesn’t have a proper SEO plan; this is Google’s attempt to ensure the users gets exactly what he or she needs through diversification.

The What: Known Location Searching

Physical location is more important now – if a user is performing a localized search from a different area, the results will vary.

The Why

The local filter is now more aggressive in showing results based on your physical location. So if you’re a marketing professional checking the strength of a listing from your Cleveland, Ohio office for a client in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t appear in your 3-Pack results. While frustrating from a local listings management standpoint, this Possum feature was developed to show the user the most relevant results.

The What: Keywords

Keyword phrase syntax is much more sophisticated with Possum and results vary more with slight query variations.

The Why

This is an evolution of attempting to know what the user intends. Maybe the Cleveland Hammer is a restaurant, but perhaps the user wants to know where he or she can buy a hammer in the Cleveland area.

The What: Organic Filter

Unlike Pigeon, which tied web search results and local search results together, Possum unties a poor ranking site from a relevant local business.

The Why

Websites in their entirety are now being treated separately from local results – so Google is attempting to surface brand locations that are legitimate regardless of a less-than-optimal organic rank in the SERPs.

Getting Your Ducks in a Row – The Next Pig, Pony, or Porcupine

As with all Google updates past and what we can assume will be all updates future, brands will only be able to control so much. If you found that your Google spot was affected by this latest change, here are a couple things you can do to proactively manage your local listing search result rankings.

Go Hyper-Local

Hyper-local keyword searches address the fact that different results display for different search queries. If you have more than one location in say Cleveland, Ohio, optimize one page for one keyword, and the second page for another. This ensures you’re more likely to show up for a wider variety of terms.

Google Trends allows you to research keyword popularity and frequency.

Search Console – formerly Google Webmaster Tools – allows you to filter by name of city or market to infer patterns about keyword usage.

Where Are Your Users and What Do They Want?

With regard to location, the following tools can provide a level of guidance and insights to your local listings management programs.

Whitespark is free for up to 3 searches per day, and has a paid option that starts at $20. As an added bonus, this tool provides information about citations and link opportunities that local competitors have. Links are still a great way to get local rankings movement.

I Search From allows you to conduct searches as though you were physically in a different part of the country or world, providing you with a real-time view of what users in your various markets see in search results.

Combined with a solid content strategy, PPC campaign plan, meaningful social engagements, and a good web experience, your local brand will have no problem facing whatever scary animal Google has in store next.

We have a lot of experience with scary animals and local SEO strategies alike – contact us for assistance!

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