Google’s Algorithm Updates Dive Bomb Local Businesses

Posted on by Chad Crowe

Businesses hoping to gain or retain a spot in the coveted “map pack”—the three highly visible local listing spots by the map and above the organic search results—may find it more difficult after two algorithm updates by Google that have had significant effects on local businesses.

Google’s Possum Update

The first of these game-changing updates for local search occurred in September 2016 and was intended to diversify the results that appear in the map pack. Named “Possum” by the SEO community, this update filtered out businesses that had the same address or ownership as other businesses with similar services. Before, your update would have only been filtered out if you had the same domain or phone number as another listing.

However, after Possum, having the same address or even being a short distance from a competing company in the same industry could seriously impact your ability to show up in the map pack for relevant searches. Even if you had different suite numbers listed in your Google My Business address, a business could still be filtered out of the map pack results just because they are located in the same building as another similar company.

However, while Possum did filter out listings, it did not actually remove any listings or penalize any businesses. Although you may be filtered out because your listing is too similar to another, your listing still does exist and can be viewed in the expanded map view. However, not appearing as part of the map pack on the organic results can be devastating to a business’ online marketing efforts.

The second part of the Possum update also gave more weight to the physical location of where someone is performing a search. For example, someone searching for a “dentist Queens” could get vastly different results if they were in New York City than if they were in Texas. While your business’ physical location in regard to people searching for it is not something you can actively control, it is something to keep in mind when looking at your rankings to see how Possum affected a business’ map pack rankings.

Possum’s Effect on Local Businesses

While Google’s goal with this update was to help ensure that users get the most diverse and relevant results for their search (while also targeting businesses that were creating spammy Google My Business profiles in an effort to dominate the map pack), many legitimate businesses were also negatively impacted by it.

Local service businesses such as medical offices, law firms, and financial industry companies that tend to have offices at the same location as other businesses of the same type may have seen their listing filtered from that coveted map pack in the search results.

However, it not only affected businesses in the same area as their competition, but also businesses with the same ownership but different locations. For example, large medical groups that have offices throughout a metro area were also affected.

Hawks Eat Possums – A New Update

In August 2017, “Possum” was given the “Hawk” update to tighten the proximity filter to make it stricter and lessen the effects of Possum. Now, a competing business that is close to your location—but not at the same address—would not automatically filter you from the map pack. But, if a business did share the same physical address as another company offering the same service, the possibility of that negatively affecting the ability to show up in the map pack is still very real.

Despite the fact that the filter is stricter after Hawk, some businesses may still be negatively affected. For example, if a business and a competitor are in buildings that are only 50 feet away, they may still be close enough to be affected.

What Do Hawk & Possum Mean for Local Businesses?

Because showing up in the map pack is essential for many local businesses, the effects of Possum could have been devastating and may or may not have gotten better with the release of Hawk.

Now more than ever, local businesses in highly competitive industries such as medical, legal, and financial services need to consult with experts in local SEO. These updates to the Google local search algorithm can make or break a business’s digital marketing plan and you need the information and skills on your side to fight back and stay visible to potential customers and clients.

Chad Crowe manages implementation and account management operations for Techwood Consulting.

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