5 Ways Google’s Possum Algorithm Focuses on the Local User Experience

Mila Hose | Sep 29, 2016 12:29:28 PM

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Google’s recent algorithm update, referred to as “Possum” by local SEO experts, has had many marketers wondering why they suddenly lost their local search rankings. However, as Joy Hawkins reported, it is unlikely that brands have been penalized in the local search results, but rather, the new algorithm update has caused a major shift that is forcing some brands out of the local 3-pack for keywords for which they were previously ranking.  

The update, which seems to have only impacted local search results, may be the most impactful update since the Pigeon update in 2014.  Always keeping user experience front and center, Google’s algorithm update attempts to provide users with the most relevant results, while also eliminating spam.  Here are five ways that Google is honing its local user experience with the Possum algorithm.

Local Product Ranking  
A user’s “near me” searches for products and services are starting to show nearby stores in the local search results.  So, if a user searches for “shampoo near me,” local stores that carry shampoo have the potential to appear in the results. This will make it critical for brands to claim relevant categories and keep their inventory accurate and frequently updated.


A structured method for measuring inventory gives brands the ability to target local customers with precision ads that draw them in-store. With nearly 80% of local-mobile queries resulting in an offline purchase, it is imperative that brands syndicate location data and include relevant information, such as store hours, so that customers can quickly and easily complete their intention through your brand.

Affiliate Exclusion  
In its efforts to crack down on spam, Google is now filtering affiliate listings in the local pack. This update will impact brands with multiple stores within a same city or service providers, such as doctors or lawyers who have multiple listings for the same location.  For non-branded searches, users are most likely interested in finding the options closest to them, and Google is attempting to filter their results by removing listings from the same brand to help create an easier decision-making process.

For example, a branded search for “Starbucks near me” brings up over a dozen Starbucks locations in Anaheim, California: 

Whereas a non-branded search for “coffee near me” shows only one starbucks location in the local 3-pack:

Location is still a predominate ranking factor, which makes it more important than ever for brands with multiple listings to cleanse location data and highlight features that make their stores or services unique to potential customers.

Rankings Extend City Limits     
For anyone who is discouraged by the Possum algorithm update’s affiliate exclusion, Google’s decision to start including brands that lay just beyond city limits in the local search results should come as a nice surprise.

Previously, brands that fall outside of a city's physical limits have had a very difficult time ranking for that city, even when it is the city under which their address falls. However, research indicates that these brands should have an easier time ranking in the local search results with the Possum algorithm update.

Penalties for Sloppy Local Data
Recently, Google deindexed a brand’s locator page because it directed users to an XML sitemap that contained links to all of the other location pages. The locator page was clearly put together in a hasty manner and directed users to a place that would be completely irrelevant and unhelpful for them. Recognizing this, the algorithm simply de-indexed the page, further showcasing Google’s attempt to clear irrelevant results and keep the user experience at the center of local queries.

To avoid similar issues and potential penalties, brands need to seriously invest in cleansing and syndicating location data and concentrating the ease of navigation for branded properties such as store locators, local listings and local ads. Test run and verify usability before publishing these critical components of your local strategy.

Emphasis on User's Location
A user’s local proximity now dictates the results for the same search query or search terms within two different geographical areas.  Two users within the same city may see vastly different results based on their specific physical location, and brands may rank differently depending on the user’s location.   

This makes it more important than ever to make sure that users’ location settings are enabled and that their frequent locations are set to the right cities, or your brand may not be in their local search results, even when you are the closest and most relevant option. Brands can encourage users to enable location settings via push notifications and target ads to those locations.   

As Google continues to push location to the forefront of its algorithm updates and advertising capabilities, such as its new cross-device retargeting feature, brands need to make sure that their location data adheres to Google’s high standards in order to reap the rewards: in-store conversions.

Evaluate your location data today on core channels like Google and more with Brandify’s free Quick Scan Report below.


Topics: Google, Local Listings, SEO

Mila Hose

Mila Hose

Content writer @ Brandify.

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