How Google Possum Has Affected 3 Pack: A Before and After Review
September 26th, 2016 by
Throughout September, the local search industry has been watching the results of the dubbed Google Possum update.
In August 2015, Google shook up local search results, which changed the Map Pack from a 7 Pack to a very exclusive 3 Pack. This change was a dramatic one by omitting many local businesses and by making inclusion nearly impossible for businesses in the exterior of city limits and in suburbs.
Fast-forward two years, and we now have Possum.
Joy Hawkins wrote an excellent blog post summarizing the effects observed by the Possum update, and in that post she attributes Phil Rozek with creating the Possum moniker because “it is fitting since many business owners think their Google My Business listings are gone, when in fact they are not. They have just been filtered — they’re playing possum.”
And officially? … Possum is an unannounced update, meaning the SEO community collectively compared notes and decided this was an algo update. Google did not directly announce or confirm this update. However, John Mueller did Tweet a comment, which I completely paraphrase as “if you see stuff happening, maybe the Google Engineers are doing something.”
“Google is now filtering based on address and affiliation.”
In her post on all things Possum, Joy Hawkins cleanly lists the effects of this change. Among her list is the observation that Google is now filtering results based on duplicate address, website, or affiliation.
We see duplicates all the time in map results for local searches for any place that has multiple practitioners:
- Doctors (plastic surgeons, orthopedists, dermatologists … )
- Dentists and orthodontists
- Hair salons
For example, a doctor’s clinic can have numerous Google-allowed listings: one for the practice and one for each physician or practitioner seeing patients at that practice. Each of these listings will have the same address, phone number, and website, so one clinic or practice can end up with multiple listings and dominate the results landscape.
But user experience for such a repetitive Local Pack is not ideal, and Google is all about user experience. We have a plastic surgeon client, Deluca Plastic Surgery in Albany, NY, who has been fighting this battle for a long time.
Dominating the Local Pack No More
Anyone searching “plastic surgery Albany NY” back in April 2016 would have seen the 3 Pack all leading to the same practice. In fact, in the “More Places” Maps results, the same practice completely dominated with positions 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 16. What the heck, Google?!
I had copied and pasted the Maps results into a spreadsheet just for fun back in April. I’m glad I did, because I can share this story with you. Here are just the first eight results from that April 2016 Maps search—those in yellow all lead back to the same practice:
Our client was ranked at 18th and 20th. Our client is in Albany, and the website had and has stronger Domain Authority, stronger NAP, more reviews, and on and on, so it just didn’t make sense.
We did some work to mitigate those results. We had some minor success, but fighting a battle against Google’s algorithm, you might not always come out a winner.
And Then Possum Came Along
Today, we now see Deluca in the 3 Pack. Woo hoo!
We are feeling pretty good about this (don’t take the wind out of my sails), but we acknowledge that all is not perfect in this scenario. In this 3 Pack, the doctor in the second listing is a plastic surgeon at the practice represented in the first listing. He has the same address and phone number, but he has his own, personally branded, website.
This is one example among millions of searches, but it may suggest that domain is a primary indicator of the duplication filter. This needs lots more observation and input, and I encourage you to let us know if you have seen 3 Pack changes this September.
Thank you – this is the most comprehensive report that I have read to date.
The change is welcome – trusting things will settle down and become clearer. Businesses that have previously established Regis type offices just for SEO will find that Google is smarter. After all, only real offices should rank in fairness to the Users. It is critical to stay consistent in every were your NAP is stated and be sure to sue location-based keywords in your Meta description tags.
My name is Ben Threlkeld and I am an optometrists in Palo Alto CA. About one or two months ago I noticed that my listing wasn’t in the 3 pack anymore. When I went to the “more places” page I didn’t see my listing anywhere. The weird thing is that when I zoom in or out on the “more places” Google Map the screen refreshes and I pop up.
To see this for yourself, if you type in the phrase “palo alto optometrists” you won’t see Cambridge Optometry in the 3 pack or “more places”. If you go to the “more places” map and zoom in or zoom out, the screen will refresh and I will pop up 4th or 5th.
It appears that with other keywords I will pop up in the 3 pack. I live in Palo Alto and when I type “optomety” I’m listed first. It’s sort of all or nothing.
One last piece of information. I recently noticed that a listing was created for my wife Cindy, (“Threlkeld Cindy H O.D.”) who is also and optometrist, and works in our office. I didn’t create the listing. I claimed and verified the listing because I thought that it might have been causing some problems. The listing is not linked to our http://www.cambridgeoptometry.com website. I tried to remove the listing but this hasn’t helped.
Any help or advice that you would give would be greatly appreciated.
After a quick review, your NAP consistency appears to be in excellent shape on your main practice listing. Excellent work on that. As far as your wife’s listing, for a multi-practitioner business, Google does allow you to have a practice and practitioner listings – https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en – and having those well optimized can be a sound strategy.
I also see you are doing well on reviews. Something to consider is any reviews gained on a practitioner listing are for that doctor. If you were ever to close/delete your practitioner listing and request Google to move those reviews over to the practice listing, not likely to happen.
You are doing these 2 things right, but rankings (Local Pack and organic) depend on overall site authority, which is a mix of numerous factors. To be deemed an authority on the topic of “optometry,” your site needs some work in other areas. We’re going to email you some more information, and we hope the info can help you out.
(Thanks for reading our blog!)