It's no secret that local results on Google have experienced a spike recently, and the most recent changes to the company's search algorithm have continued this trend. Although not yet confirmed by Google, local search results have been pursuing a steady climb since September and SEO experts are now abuzz about the company's new algorithm, which they say has accounted for a high number of possums. In this article, we explain everything you need to know to benefit from the new advantages of Google's most recent changes.
Why are they called possums?
First of all, we'd like to specify that Google has not confirmed any changes to its local results algorithm. As such, the unofficial name is merely a term chosen by SEO experts. To be more specific, the local result visibility expert Phil Rozek suggested it when certain companies told him that their web pages had disappeared from Google My Business. In reality, they hadn't disappeared, but were “playing dead” or — in his words — "playing possum."
Google was actually filtering a whole lot of results from Google My Business, which made business owners think that the tech company had purposefully scratched them off the list. And so was born a new and improved local SEO option for quality and content links.
What effects will these changes have?
From the looks of it, the changes directly affect local results and those on Google Maps, modifying sites listed in 3-packs of local results (formerly 7-packs) and those displayed when clicking on "more sites." As always, these changes are visible on everything in the Google USA SERP, although it can be expected that the changes will be gradually applied in all supported countries. It is also likely that you'll soon see a difference for customized pages affected by the changes. In other words, you will be able to anticipate changes to local SEO.
All in all, given what has been observed in recent weeks, the algorithm is penalizing pages that have the same domain name or telephone number on Google My Business. Pages that do not indicate their location are not exempt, nor are those for which the location doesn't correspond with business user searches on Google.
Who has benefited from this?
Although local searches put some pages at a disadvantage, others have seen major benefits from the algorithm changes, with overnight spikes in 3-pack rankings on Google in some cases. Now for some of the changes at SEO level.
Improvements for businesses located in city limits
When Google local SEO was redone, businesses located on the edge of city limits began having problems improving their ranking, given the number of competitors inside the city. According to Google, however, some of these businesses are located outside of the locality they feel they belong to.
Nevertheless, since the algorithm change, some pages (with an accurate SEO positioning) have seen their rankings go up automatically. Google has begun taking this into account for its local results as well.
Filtering by address to improve user experience
In the past, Google has used domain and telephone number to filter duplicates in local results. Following the changes made to its algorithm, Google will also evaluate and filter multiple accounts with the same physical address so that only one of the pages is displayed. For example, imagine you're a specialized law firm with lawyers practicing different types of law. You would only be allowed one account per firm or per branch of law (marriage, labor, criminal, etc.). Another example could be a private hospital, for which specialists would have their own cabinet.
If each individual branch is displayed with the same address and on the same page, Google will consider these to be duplicate content, which the SEO would filter. Only the result with the highest placed local search result would be shown. Take the example of searching for a lawyer: what is the point of showing you the same address three or four times?
Although Google has been doing this for some time, things have changed. Now, each time that businesses are filtered, they are penalized or promoted so that the search engine can determine one's pertinence over another in result lists and rank them in the local SEO results.
Physical location of users — an increasingly important concept
This is harmful to the SEO ranking of businesses that deal in a broad but local geographic location because the system benefits the most local businesses. Even if results are in a nearby neighboring region, Google will give priority to the businesses that are closest to a user at the moment they hit search. Google's SERP will be different for "service+city" queries, even when the search request is for an exact match (all the same keywords), if the results are found in different cities.
For example, if you search for "lawyers+Madrid", the results will be different if you are looking only in Madrid or if you are looking in Barcelona, despite the terms used in your query. The reason for this is that Google gives higher importance to the user's IP address when deciding where to look.
Slight changes to keywords yield different results
Before changes were made to Google's algorithm, if you searched for "lawyers in Madrid," "Madrid lawyers," or "Lawyer Madrid," the results would have been either the same, very similar, or would have contained some of the same pages.
With the new algorithm, results are more variable, including for pages in 3-packs and searches with similar results included. This could mean that Google is still making changes to its algorithm in order to tweak and improve it.
Local results, increasingly separate from organic search
It seems that even if Google considers a page to be a duplicate and filters it through the SERP, it can still appear in local results. Additionally, some pages may appear as duplicates in both ordinary results and local 3-pack results, since these seem to be functioning separately. That would imply that some businesses may be benefiting from double visibility.