Google possum update

The Google Possum Update and its Effect on Local Search

Swell recently wrote an overview on Google’s update for Penguin 4.0, but we wanted to highlight another update Google released in September. On September 1st, Google released an update to what is being called “Possum” which focuses on local SEO. The name has been tossed around in the SEO industry because when several businesses were assuming their Google My Business listings had disappeared, they were really just being hidden (or playing possum) based on new filters applied.

What is affected?

Since Google doesn’t give much explanation to their algorithms for the purpose of authentic search results, SEO thought leaders have tested enough to find that the changes made affected local search only. Impact has been seen in the 3-pack and finder (Google Maps results) along with speculation that slight changes to organic search was carried out as well.

Why was it updated?

When it comes down to it, Google’s updates are always about one thing, creating the most authentic search results for the end-user. This means blocking or making it increasingly difficult for spam sites to gain rankings. While the Possum update was to police spam, it was also launched in order to diversify local business search results as well.

What is different now?

There are 5 main changes with the algorithm that affect local search.

    1. Businesses located outside of the city limit search are now included in search priority. This means that any business that services or sells products to customers in a particular city, but is located outside of those city limits will now be included in that local search. Before, businesses like this wouldn’t even be looped into a particular city search at all in Google Maps.
    2. Google now filters based on address and affiliation. In order to increase variety in search results, Google will only provide local listings that are not using the same address and not owned by the same parent company. Realize that this doesn’t mean the child company or business in the same building that is being filtered is penalized, it just means it is being hidden in that search. Users still have the option to view unfiltered results. Business will also rank differently based on different keywords.
    3. Heavier priority is given to the location of the searcher.  Businesses that consistently pay attention to their rank in Google for targeted keywords have already noticed this change. If you have one person performing a search with a keyword in one location and another person performing that same search in the next town over, the results for a particular business will, in theory, show up higher with whoever is closest to that business’s location. This is why it is critical for all searchers to have their correct location registered with their browsing device.
    4. More variation in 3-pack listings with slight variation in keyword search. With the algorithm update, there seems to be a lot more variation in business ranking even with slight differences in keyword searches. For instance, if you were to type in “furniture manufacturers in grand rapids” and then “grand rapids MI furniture manufacturers”, there would be a variation in the 3-pack listings. Prior to the update, the results shown would be very similar regardless of which variation of keyword you used.
    5. Local filter and organic filter are run independently. Before the Possum update, websites that were organically filtered out were negatively impacted. This occurs when a site is too similar to another one and will therefore be filtered out from the results. Now with Possum, (since local and organic results are filtered independently) local business websites will see a spike in ranking if they were being lowered prior to Possum.


Because there is so much fluctuation in local rankings recently, there is speculation that Google is currently A/B testing their algorithm. If this is true, it is completely possible that Google may revert back to its original filter settings if necessary. For now Possum seems to be a part of the Google algorithm family with the increase in priority for local search.