Google Possum Algorithm Update - Is Your Business Playing Possum?

What is Google Possum?

The Google Possum Algorithm update is a massive local listings algorithm update that occurred on September 1, 2016.

It was coined with the name “Possum” because many noticed their Google Business (Google Maps) listing was gone, when in fact it is still there, just filtered from the results – or “playing possum.”

Local Vs. Organic Search Results

To clarify, this algorithm update only affected the local search results. Here’s the difference:

A Little Background on Google Possum

The algorithm update was hinted on as early as November 26, 2013 when Google filed a patented for ‘Reverse engineering circumvention of spam detection algorithms.’ In simple terms, they developed a system that assigns spam scores to business listings to flag or filter spammy or non-existent businesses trying to rank in local business listing results. The patent was granted nearly three years later on June 21, 2016 and implemented shortly after.

Why is Google Filtering Local Business Listings? 

Google is continually striving to deliver a better search experience. Just as they regularly update the algorithm impacting organic search listings, they are now paying attention to the algorithm for the local listings. Goals of the Google Possum update include:

  • Eliminate spammy or fake business listings.
  • Eliminate duplicate listings.
  • Deliver more location specific results.
  • Improve overall user experience.

What Factors Does Google Use to Rank Local Businesses?

Google does not reveal the exact factors used in ranking local business; however, these are believed to impact the likelihood for a business to show up in local results.

  1. Proximity of the searcher – Those searching from near the business are more likely to see the result
  2. Age of the listing - Older listings carry more ranking power.
  3. Organic ranking - Businesses in the top organic results tend to also do well in the local listing results.
  4. Duplicate listings - Businesses that have multiple listings using the same address could be filtered or suspended.

See it in Action

When conducting a local search on Google, you may see fewer results for certain queries. In the example below, there are 5 pages of search results in the original search. However, if you zoom in slightly on the map, it will show you 10 pages of search results. This is occurring because Google is likely filtering duplicate business listings or possibly individual attorney pages at the same firm.

Positive Benefits of Google Possum

While Google is showing fewer results for many industries, there are many positive benefits to the algorithm update. Those include:

Fringe-City Ranking Boosts
Businesses located outside of the physical city limits saw a spike in rankings. For example, a business located in the suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois, may now show up for local searches with “Chicago” in the query. 

Goodbye SPAM
With spammy results removed, businesses who are playing by the rules have a higher chance of showing up in the local results.

Hello User Experience!
User experience has been greatly improved. With user’s trust in the local listings improved, people will interact with them more, making the local listings an even more important driver of traffic and engagement with your brand and website.

What Next?

SEO specialists are still seeing significant fluctuation in the listings, which means Google is still conducting A/B testing. It’s likely there will be additional findings and best practices established from here. 


As a Business Owner:

  1. Claim your business listing(s) on Google and other platforms.
  2. Ensure your profile(s) are accurate and consistent.
  3. Avoid any spammy or deceptive practices. ALWAYS follow Google’s guidelines for representing your business on Google.
  4. Monitor your business listings and conduct regular audits.
Have any questions about your local business listings on Google or any other channel?

We’d love to hear!

About Author

Courtney McKeown
Courtney McKeown is a Digital Marketing Director at With 12+ years of experience in the Internet industry and an emphasis on SEO, Courtney understands the evolving nature of digital marketing and the importance of staying current on the latest practices. At, Courtney supports initiatives ranging from SEO, Paid Search, UX, Analytics, Social Media, Email Marketing, and Automation. Courtney recently moved back to Chicago from Los Angeles and will regret the decision every Winter for the rest of her life. She enjoys travel, cooking, dining out, watching sports, and spending time with her family, including her Standard Poodle named Otto.

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