For brick-and-mortar businesses, proximity to the searcher’s location has become even more important as a ranking signal thanks to a Google algorithm update nicknamed Possum. With the Possum algorithm change, Google is continuing down a path it has been traveling for quite some time, which is the merging of local and organic ranking signals.
Google is now applying filters to reward certain businesses that are not only physically closest to searchers but that also are optimizing their location data and content for search far better than anyone else. To understand the impact of Possum crawling into our lives, let’s look at the following scenario:
- Before Possum: Let’s say Jim, a resident of San Mateo, California, requires orthopedic surgery and is doing a search for orthopedic specialists in the area. An area hospital, Hospital A, that publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons might dominate the local pack results — not necessarily because Hospital A optimizes its content better than anyone else, but because it is the largest hospital in the area and has enough domain strength to make those pages relevant from an algorithmic standpoint.
- After Possum: Jim conducts the same search for orthopedic specialists. Instead of a single hospital dominating search results, Google allocates more real estate to other hospitals nearby based on their location and the usual ranking signals — unless Hospital A’s content and data are so well optimized for search that they outperform other hospitals by a wide margin.
What Google is doing here is not new to search. For some time, Google has been making it harder for monster brands such as Amazon to dominate search results for product searches simply because of their size and prominence.
The Amazons and Walmarts of the world no longer dominate the top search results like they once did unless their search signals outperform competitors’ content by a wide margin. With Possum, Google is applying to local search a similar filter it has been using for organic search more generally.
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