Google Updates Algorithm – Big Changes to SERPs for Local Searches

Funny things have been happening in Google’s local SERPs this month. More specifically, the 3-pack of results feeding from Google Maps for local searches are on the move. Many businesses have seen their listing disappear completely – or so it seemed. But what actually happened was a major reshuffle due to the latest Google algorithm update.

So let’s take a look at the update being dubbed “Possum” and how it might affect your business.

Google’s “Possum” update

As ever, Possum isn’t an official name from Google, but a nickname adopted by marketers – this time suggested by local search specialist Phil Rozek. There are two reasons for the name. First, because it appears like local listings disappeared when they’ve actually just been filtered (which apparently resembles possum behaviour). And, secondly, because Google algorithm nicknames almost always have to be named after an animal starting with the letter “P. Sad but true.

What has Possum changed?

At first, Possum looked like the kind of doomsday updates we endured for years during the early Penguin and Panda days. Now that we’ve had a little time to get to know Google’s latest update, however, it’s not quite so scary after all.

Here’s what we’ve seen so far:

Google is smarter about location

One of the biggest problems with Google and local search is businesses that fall just outside of a city or defined area can have problems being seen. So when somewhere searches for a business in Chelmsford, for example, a business just outside the official border won’t show – even if it’s more relevant/closer than the alternatives.

The good news is Possum has made Google much smarter in this regard and there’s been a nice spike in rankings for businesses that site the wrong sided of borders. A user’s location is still important (more so than ever), but Google won’t necessarily ignore listings if someone’s sitting just inside the city walls anymore.

Google is also a lot smarter at filtering

Google filters local results to stop itself showing multiple listings from the same company/branch and duplicate listings. It’s now doing this on a wider scale and we’ve even seen listings for separate businesses affiliated through a parent company compete against each other in local searches.

This suggests Google has more info on the background of some companies than we realised. Hardly a surprise. But it also appears to be more regular for individual businesses that share the same address and rank for the same keywords. Which makes sense perfect sense, because this forces Google to make a decision about which business to choose. So, if you have three lawyers in the same building block, Google may filter two of them out and only show the one it decides is most relevant.

This isn’t a penalty and users can still find the other listings if they click to reveal more or open Google Maps. This is Google filtering similar listings to provide the three most relevant options to any given search.

Keyword variations play a bigger role

A really interesting result from Possum is we’re seeing much more variation in results for keyword variations. We’re even seeing different results by simply switching words around or using abbreviations. So a “dentist in Islington” is returning different results to “dentist Islington”.

For “dentist in Islington” you see Pickering Dental Surgeries at the top and Open Dental Care taking the number three spot.


However, searching for “dentist Islington” Open Dental Care is replaced by B Dental and Pickering Dental Surgeries swaps with Angle Smile Dental Care for the top and bottom positions.


Note: Google also announced Penguin 4.0 rolled out on September 23. This means Penguin is now a part of the core algorithm, rather than a separate entity, and updates will roll out regularly from now on. None of our clients have been penalised by Penguin and the impact should be smaller than previous updates. If you think you might have been affected, check your link profiles and get in touch with us if you have any problems.

So Possum certainly isn’t the scariest update we’ve seen from Google. In fact, it seems to have generally improved the overall set of local results for searchers. There are some quirks we still need to figure out, though, and there could even be more changes to come. As always, you can get in touch with us if this update has affected you or you need help with your other marketing channels.


If you would like to talk more about it, please contact me whenever you would like at and I will do my very best to help.
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About the Author

Google Adwords Partner and Facebook Ads specialist with a difference! 15 years experience in business, a qualified accountant and an MBA amongst other digital marketing qualifications. A wide range of experience across industries such as Manufacturing, Telecoms, Financial, Hospitality & Health & Beauty.

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