If you noticed a change in your Google listings in the past few weeks, it’s not your imagination. Google has rolled out yet another algorithm change that is having a major impact on local business search results and rankings.
Google hasn’t officially named the update yet, so the search engine optimization community did the honors. In the alliterative tradition of previous updates such as Panda, Penguin and Pidgeon, SEO experts have dubbed this one Possum to reflect the many hidden listings that have resulted.
In this update, the searcher’s location, as pinpointed by GPS on mobile devices, is a primary ranking signal to determine how high on the business listing will appear on the results page. Search results previously centered on the location of the business and how well the business listings optimized for that location.
You’ve Been Filtered
What will Possum mean for businesses? As always, there will be winners and losers. Google believes users want to see the search results closest to where they are at that moment. Businesses on the outskirts of a city or in the suburbs, previously slighted in the search results because of their out-of-the-way location, will benefit from Possum.
The losers may be those multi-location businesses who invested time and energy in creating multiple Google My Business listings for each individual entity in the business — for example, a law firm with multiple lawyers. In an effort to merge local and organic ranking signals, Google now is filtering similar results for the same address to eliminate multiple citations.
The listings didn’t just drop a few positions, either. They are simply nowhere to be found in the search results, although the listings remain active.
In addition, businesses with a wider geographical target may see a drop in rankings because customers will see more results from businesses closer to their location. For example, if your business was located in Hiawatha but you wanted customers from Iowa City, previously you could rank for searches in those areas by including that location in your website content and metadata.
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Today, searchers in Iowa City are likely to see Iowa City businesses in the search results first, regardless of how well a website located in Cedar Rapids has optimized for Iowa City customers.
Each Google algorithm change usually takes a few months to play out. At this time, here are a few recommendations for businesses.
For those multi-business locations, SEO experts recommend businesses retain only on the most relevant Google listings and removing the rest. Businesses can include information about individual contributors on their main Google My Business page description section.
Businesses that need traffic from outside their immediate geographic area may need to beef up their marketing mix to include stronger directory listings, more targeted advertising, social media and pay-per-click campaigns.
Possum is just one more critter to add to Google’s menagerie of algorithmic changes that businesses will need to tame. Location is more important now — but it is not the only signal.
You still have to take care of the basics when creating your online presence. Strong content, sound website development and good on-page optimization as well as off-page citations such as reviews, directory listings and quality links all contribute to great online visibility.
Regina Gilloon-Meyer is a content marketing specialist for Fusionfarm, a division of The Gazette Company.