Google Possum Update: The Possum, the Hawk and your local SEO

Google update their algorithms in excess of 500 times a year. Thankfully, the majority of these updates don’t have an earth-shattering impact on SEO. But every so often, something creeps in to give us digital nerds an acceptable reason to be up all night staring at screens.

Arguably the biggest local algorithm update we’ve seen since Pigeon in 2014, Possum update crept onto the scene early Sept 2016, and has seen many businesses local rank ‘playing possum’. The algorithm targeted Google Map listings and brutally filtered sites based on address and affiliation, not just listings that share the same phone number or website. Search Engine Land conducted a study that demonstrated Possum changed 64% of local search results. Whether for better or worse, that’s a notable digital shakeup.  

Google’s intention is to give their users a fair and diverse choice in search results. By filtering businesses in the same industry, who are very close geographically (same building or even the same street) they aimed to weed out duplicates, and tackle the problem of businesses dominating local SERP’s through multiple listings.

Possum Gain: Who’s loving it?

Pre-Possum, businesses whose GMB address was just outside a geographical area they wished to target, would have a very hard time trying to rank using keywords for that locality. For example, a photographer whose office is outside of Sydney, would struggle to rank anywhere organically for ‘“Sydney Photographer.” The Possum algorithm update saw many such businesses’ rank improve dramatically overnight. The overall quality of a site and it’s content is taken into account, as well as the geo location. Many of these businesses that struggled to be seen in local searches worked particularly hard on their design and content, to try and place themselves on page with their competitors. That is why they’ve seen a dramatic improvement, their content is on-point.   

Possum Gain

Possum Pain: Who’s feeling it?

Possums good intentions proved devastating for competing businesses within the same industry, that operate near one another. Medical offices, tourism operators, restaurants, digital agencies, hotels. There is hardly an industry untouched. Thanks to Possum, some businesses were getting completely knocked out of the local SERP’s by competitors for no good reason, other than their locality. Perhaps even more confusing, the business topping the “map pack” one day, may not be the same the next. It’s believed the results change depending on specific keywords. It appears google listened to the resounding “Possum panic” that ensued, and have responded by introducing a nemesis in the form of the “Hawk” update.

The Hawk Update: Possum (almost) undone

In August 2017, filtered businesses that were packing their digital bags and getting ready to stomp out of SEO town, suddenly started appearing in local searches alongside their competitors again. The Hawk update shrinks the size of the geographic area that determines the filter, and appears to only affect organic local searches. This update has already resulted in a significant improvement for businesses negatively affected by Possum. It does a better job; but it still problematic for rival businesses within the same industry. If you operate within 40-50 feet of each other, someone is likely to get filtered. For those in the same building, adding a different suite or office number doesn’t appear to help at all.   

Hawk update

What to do if the Hawk update hasn’t helped you

Ensure accuracy and consistency

This became critical with the Pigeon update and is still highly relevant. Ensure your GMB listing information, address, phone number etc is consistent across all digital directory listings, including third party websites, and social profiles.

Encourage Google reviews

The more people love you, the more Google will trust you. When you can show you’ve made other people happy, they’re more likely to offer you as a solution for their searchers.

Update and refresh your content and technical SEO

If you haven’t updated your copy in quite some time, Google has not had a reason to index your new information, and may feel like your site content is stale or outdated. Enlist a professional SEO copywriter or digital agency to refresh your content using best practise techniques. On-page SEO should be checked for appropriate page title lengths, meta descriptions and snippets with relevant keywords.

update content

Site speed and usability

Your site must be mobile responsive, with the fastest load time you can manage. The majority of Google’s recent updates have been focused around UX. Google will give preference to a fresh, responsive site with fast loading speed.

Eliminate possible site problems

Check your site doesn’t harbour any broken or irrelevant links. All links must offer users useful additional information, and have good domain authority. Never link to spammy sites.

Listen to the industry chatter.

Keep you finger on the pulse of those in the know. Local SEO is a stand alone game in it’s own right. Just like Google, it’s always evolving. Keeping on top of current local search ranking factors will help you identify where you should focus your efforts to drive your rankings.

Consider changing your GMB category.

If your businesses is really feeling the pinch of Possum due to a competitor with the same primary category in the same building, you could experiment with changing your primary category. Make sure your category is still completely relevant to your operation, and follows Google’s category guidelines. We must stress that changing categories can have negative impacts on your rank and traffic, so make sure you’ve conducted your research or consulted with the pro’s.

Keep calm and SEO

Every local SEO strategy is unique to its business. There are no two game plans that will work the same from one site to the next. That would be too easy. We treat algorithm changes as a chance to identify potential opportunities for our clients. For every negative, there’s always a positive that we can sniff out, and work on leveraging. Analyse, update, refresh, and moderate. Don’t wait for a new scary little Google animal to motivate you in nurturing your site.

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