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If you have been monitoring the movement of Google search results, you may have noticed significant activity in the rankings for local search, particularly those for Google My Business listings. It seems Google has rolled out a new algorithm update that is impacting the visibility of verified business listings, which has left some business owners panicking about the supposed absence of their listing from Google entirely.

The update is called the Google Possum, coined by Phil Rozek, local search guru of Local Visibility System and a veritable Local Search Ranking Factors Contributor at Moz.

In a nutshell, the Possum update makes local search more competitive by giving businesses the opportunity to rank for areas they are targeting, even if they are not geographically located in those areas. In addition, the update also figures the physical location of the search user in producing results for geo-targeted queries.

But what does this mean for local businesses here in Dubai, a market that is saturated with small and medium businesses competing for a slice of the pie?

The diminished role of business location


In the past, local SEO experts would have had a conundrum in their hands if a business located outside city limits had to be ranked for keywords targeting said city. Per Matt Cutts, head of the Google Webspam Team, it is more difficult to rank out-of-town businesses for local searches because the whole idea behind local search is to make search results more geo-centred.

However, with the Possum update, this is no longer a pipe dream for SEOs. Out-of-town businesses are now appearing and ranking for keywords in local search, where they used to be virtually invisible. Businesses that have been losing to other competitors solely by virtue of their location can now be more competitive on local, granted they follow the SEO quality guidelines of Google.

The increased role of the user location


Contrastingly, the Possum update seems to have put a heftier emphasis on the location of the user in producing local search results. Google makes use of the IP location of the search user to provide geo-centric search results.

This means results will continuously vary depending the physical location of the searcher – if the searcher is farther away from the location of the business, the less likely the business will appear on the searcher’s results.

 Sensitivity to keyword variation


In addition to the location of the user, the phrasing of queries can yield drastically different results as well. For the keyphrase JLT restaurants near me, Google provides the following list of results for its 3-pack.

On the other hand, for the keyphrase Jumeirah Lakes Towers restaurants near me, which is a variation of the earlier keyphrase, the search engine generates a different 3-pack list.

This may be a sign that Google is becoming more specific in terms of its interpretation of keywords, which can make local markets more competitive. Abbreviations and changes in phrasing can have a significant effect on results, which means digital marketers must also be smarter in their approach towards local search.

The widening gap between organic and local


In the past, if a local listing linked to a website that is filtered out of organic results, that listing would be filtered out of local results as well. This posed a problem for local businesses. With the Possum update, Google has effectively severed the functionalities of organic search from local search, allowing the local search filter to work separately from organic search.

This could benefit small businesses that are competing for search results against bigger, more established businesses. For end consumers, this could also mean getting better value for money – instead of having major brands dominating visibility, other businesses can slowly chomp off portions of the market share, thus improving market competition.

Watch out for changes


While these are significant changes, there is still no definitive proof that any of this will be permanent. As such, the best course of action at this point in time is to understand how this update will affect your digital marketing efforts and keep an eye out for any changes Google makes to local search.

If you are looking for a local digital marketing expert that can provide you with a robust, intelligent, reactive local search marketing strategy to grow your business, get in touch with the SEO experts at USEO today. We bring business to you.

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