google-thumbProximity, for brick and mortar businesses, to the searcher’s location has become quite important as a ranking signal, all thanks to a Google algorithm update nicknamed Possum.  With this particular algorithm change, Google is moving down the path that they’ve been traveling for quite some time, which is the merging of local and organic ranking signals.

Now, Google has decided to apply filters to reward certain businesses that are not only closest physically closest to searchers, but that have also optimized their location data and content for search for better than anybody else.  Here’s an example, given by , of how to better understand the impact of Possum, by looking at the following scenario he gave:

  • Before Possum: Let’s say Jim, a resident of San Mateo, California, requires orthopedic surgery and is doing a search for orthopedic specialists in the area. An area hospital, Hospital A, that publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons might dominate the local pack results — not necessarily because Hospital A optimizes its content better than anyone else, but because it is the largest hospital in the area and has enough domain strength to make those pages relevant from an algorithmic standpoint.

  • After Possum: Jim conducts the same search for orthopedic specialists. Instead of a single hospital dominating search results, Google allocates more real estate to other hospitals nearby based on their location and the usual ranking signals — unless Hospital A’s content and data are so well optimized for search that they outperform other hospitals by a wide margin.

This isn’t anything new to search.  Google has been making it much tougher for monster brands, like Amazon, to dominate search results or product searches, all due to their size and prominence.

These large businesses of the world are no longer dominating the top search results like they used to unless their search signals outperform competitors’ content by a pretty large margin.