Google’s recent Possum update seemed relatively minor on the surface; however, more research in the ensuing weeks has found that it has done more to change the core algorithm than most had thought. Google has long followed a trend of merging the online world with the physical in terms of local rankings (for example, showing peak times, images, and visits), and Possum seems to have been an algorithmic change following of that lead. The new local landscape has only increased the importance of great local SEO. Here’s why:
The pre-possum world
Imagine that you’re walking along the street on a cold winter day and decide to buy a jacket from a local store. Like most people, you whip out your phone and get to work. After typing “clothing stores near me” or “winter jackets my city”, you’d have been given a few local results dominated by the group of results that show at the top (the snack pack, as it is sometimes called). That snack pack in turn would have probably been dominated by whichever retailer had the highest domain strength (or authority).
Domain strength is kind of like your gravity with Google, and how likely the algorithm is to rank you. A major retailer in the area with dozens of optimized pages, lots of links, and a big social following would more than likely have gotten the top spot. Not necessarily because they were the best result for you, but because their site was so big and popular. In short, there was a big difference between the haves and have nots of the local search engine results page.
The post-possum world
Now, when you frigidly type your query looking for a winter jacket on the run, a post-possum algorithm is going to be more generous in how it doles out the rankings. Google will now weigh more heavily your location than before, and will also put different emphasis on other algorithmic factors. This makes for a much better chance of other stores ranking, and not just the one major store dominating even if it isn’t very close to you. The search giant is continuing to make it more difficult for major brands to dominate the search simply because of reputation and is putting the onus on everyone to outperform competitors by providing high-quality content and optimizing pages for the keywords that people are searching for.
How it affects local SEO
The good news is that there is now far more of a chance for your small business to break its way into the rankings over more-established competition than there was before. Your locally-sourced, hand-stitched wool coats can appear side by side with the H&M’s, American Eagles’, and Macy’s of the world.
To use a simpler example, say you searched for “restaurants in Montreal” prior to Possum. You would have most likely been given a cluster of results in the downtown area because those had the most foot traffic, best reputations, and domain strength. But what good are those results if you live outside of the center, and want something closer (and more affordable!).
Now, your results will return a much broader range of options, giving you a better chance of finding one of the many hidden gems in the city. More room up for grabs, though, means more competition. It’s now going to be more important than ever to make sure your pages are optimized and that you continue to compete with other local businesses, because you can be sure they are going to take advantage of the new opportunity as well.
Thanks to Google, the power over the local SERP has been spread out amongst the many rather than consolidated into the hands of the few websites with the money and power to dominate the rankings. The new landscape will have more local businesses competing with their larger counterparts for visibility. The good news for you is that this means your business has more of a chance than ever to be seen by local searchers on the go. The only thing you have to do is make sure your site is optimized to be there.