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Google Possum Update

In the past month or so, did anything odd happen to your Google My Business listings? Did you believe your listings had disappeared only to find that they had been filtered? Did you notice a giant spike in your rankings? What was going on? Although Google didn’t announce any algorithm updates, SEOs in the know detected the change. Since so many people found their listings “playing dead,” the local search community decided to christen the update Possum. The Google Possum Update altered local search results in several ways, giving some businesses a boost while letting others slump down. To learn more about this shake-up, please scroll down.

P.S. Before we get started, do yourself a favor and check out this baby possum playing dead. Did you know that playing dead is an involuntary behavior for possums? They mimic the appearance of a dead animal when threatened or harmed, losing consciousness for between 40 minutes and 4 hours! 

Google Possum Update

Google Possum Update

First appearing on September 1, 2016, Possum has proved to be a massive update to the Google Local algorithm, impacting rankings in the 3-pack and the Local Finder (i.e., local results or Google Maps results). We’ve noticed five major changes since Possum arrived on the scene . . .

The Major Changes

Filtering Based on Address and Category

In the past, Google filtered local results that shared a phone number or domain. Thus, if a hair salon had separate listings for each hair stylist and one for the salon itself, Google wouldn’t rank them all highly in local results. Noticing that the listings all linked to the same website and provided the same phone number, Google would filter out some of the listings to prevent duplicate content. The Google Possum update expanded this filtering to include address and category. So if several hair stylists used the same address on their listing, most of them would be filtered out even if they had different phone numbers and domains.

A few notes:

  • If you zoom in on the map of Local Finder, you can still see the filtered listings (source).
  • Sometimes one building can have two different addresses (based on which side of the street you enter). However, you can’t cheat Google by using different addresses for the same building (source).
  • You can also not avoid filtering by listing different suite numbers to differentiate between addresses. Google knows what you’re up to! (source).

This could greatly affect businesses that use a “virtual office” to increase search traffic. In the past, hundreds of companies would register to use the same virtual address, so that they could all reap the benefits of improved SEO. Now they will be filtered based on their location. Possum will make it harder to deceive Google in order to rank in areas where your business lacks a physical address. However, if you live just outside the city limits, you may be in luck . . .

A Big Boost for Businesses Outside City Limits

In the past, if a business fell outside a city’s physical limits, they would struggle tremendously to rank on Google. However, with Possum’s involvement, these businesses have seen significant increases in their local rankings. They can now rank for keywords that include their city’s name, despite not having a physical address within the city limits.

Emphasis on the Searcher’s Location

Although the searcher’s physical location has been important for a while now, Possum emphasizes the searcher’s location when providing their search results. So if you are not located in the same city or even the same state as your business, you won’t see what people in your business’s area see when using Google to search for local listings. Luckily, you can find tools online (at BrightLocal and SEMRush, for example) that allow you to change your location to track your ranking.

Local & Organic Searches Work Independently

Pre-Possum, general search results impacted local search results, typically with negative ramifications. Now, the two search functions seem to be working independently. Thus, even if you rank poorly in organic (perhaps Google classifies your page as a duplicate and filters it out), you may still rank well with local search.

Tiny Keyword Variations Matter

In the past, if you searched for several keywords that were only slightly different, you would see quite similar results in your organic search results and 3-pack. Now, in some cases, just varying the order of the words can influence the results page. Adding a state abbreviation to a keyword can also impact your results. Thus, you may want to use different iterations of a keyword on different pages of your website to increase your overall traffic.


Many SEOs say that the Google Possum update is the largest change to local search results since 2014’s Pigeon, so we urge you to review your rankings and keep an eye on local search results. You may see a great jump, or you may find your listing “playing possum.”

Hoping to get a leg up with Google and other search engines? Check out 417 Marketing, an online marketing company based in Springfield, Missouri, that specializes in SEO and web design. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.

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