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How Google’s Possum Update Affects Lawyers

On September 1, 2016, Google instituted a large-scale update of its search algorithm. The SEO community dubbed this update Possum because it caused some business owners to believe their websites were being hidden from the public on SERPs when in reality they were not.

The Possum update affected primarily the local business 3-pack listing and the Local Finder (the local results or Google Maps results). The update is intended to create better and more diversified local area search results while filtering out more spam.

For lawyers, Possum creates some SEO challenges worth considering.

With Possum, businesses located outside city limits saw their rankings spike higher in the 3-packs and Maps listings. The idea is that consumers who live near the edge of a city’s border might be equally interested in business providers outside that border but still physically close by

If you’re a lawyer with a suburban office, your website might now rank higher in searches performed by residents living in parts of the city near you. If your office is in the city, however, your search ranking might drop for certain city dwellers, replaced by lawyers with offices closer to them.

The Possum update also introduced more filtering based on address. Previously, Google filtered out listings with the same phone number or domain. So if your law firm has multiple lawyers with separate listings, Google would filter out some of them in favor of showing a wider variety of firms.

With Possum, Google is now filtering based on location as well. So if multiple listings share an address, even if they are separate entities, Google might filter some of these out. This can be an issue, for example, in a professional building where several independent law practices share the same address. Some of the firms may be ranked much lower than others simply because they are located in the same building.

Google does not appear to take suite numbers into consideration, at least not yet. SEO practitioners will continue to test the effects of Possum as Google tweaks the algorithm going forward.

Bottom line for your law practice: it’s more important than ever to follow Google’s guidelines regarding your business address. Pay close attention to how Google asks you to record mailbox or suite information. Since Google has cracked down on the abuse of its rule on virtual offices, you should make sure you’re in line with those requirements, too.

Finally, while it’s okay to have a personal Google listing in addition to one for your practice, Possum might filter out your listing on search results, believing it to be a duplicate. So be sure you adhere to Google’s guidelines for individual practitioners as well.