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Why a Possum Is Messing With Your Google Local SEO

Did your business drop out of the local search results on Google? It could be because of Possum!
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According to a recent report, 53 million Americans (34 percent of the U.S. workforce) work from home as freelancers and/or home-based business owners.

In the fast paced digital environment that we currently live in, why not work from home? Meeting with clients and business acquaintances at coffee shops is an everyday norm.

Google sees things a little differently, however, and this has drastically impacted many small business owners’ bottom line throughout the country. According to Moz, the No. 1 ranking factor in local SEO is the physical address of the business. 

What is local SEO?

I’m sure you have done a Google search and seen the results populate at the top of the page with the map, star ratings, address and phone number. This is what I’m referring to when I say local SEO. This is Google’s Local Snack Pack. Depending on the industry, it has the potential to be the very first result on Google and can make a big difference when it comes to bringing new leads into your business.

Related: 5 Tips to Improve Your Local SEO in 5 Hours

What's the issue with home business addresses?

According to Moz, “You should always hide your address if you're using your home address (unless customers actually show up there)." This makes perfect sense. Do you really want everyone to know where you live, especially if you have kids? That’s the risk you’ll take if you publicly post your business address when it also happens to be your home. 

This is very problematic for local businesses owners when it comes to their SEO. In order to rank well locally, you need to make your address public in some way, shape or form. The NAP (name, address, physical location) are key local SEO indicators, so if you don’t have one, your SEO will undoubtedly suffer.

Related: Your SEO Checklist: 4 Steps to Optimizing Your Website

What about a virtual office space?

Small business owners are savvy. To compensate for not listing their home address on Google, entrepreneurs signed up for Regus office spaces (or a similar type of virtual office). According to Regus’ website, it offers flexible workspace from an hour, to a day, to as many years as needed -- made simple with all-inclusive pricing.

This plan makes perfect sense. Entrepreneurs can pay to have a meeting space for a day or two per month and they can also publicly put this office space down as their physical address on Google and across the local directories.

Watch out for the Possum!

Entreprenuers were reaping the benefits of Regus type office spaces on Google until Sept. 1, 2016, when an algorithm named Possum rolled out. According to Search Engine Land, a study shows Google’s Possum update changed 64 percent of local SERPs (search engine results pages). 

There are many different theories behind Possum but I’m going to stick with the one theory I think most small business owners can easily understand and relate to. This is also what I think they were most likely impacted by.

Related: Why You Get What You Pay For in SEO

Our marketing agency, The Media Captain, handles thousands of local directories throughout the entire country for many businesses across all industries. We have also been consulting with large brands that have been impacted by Possum. A trend we noticed was that if a business had signed up for a Regus office space or another type of service, it was dropping out of the local results (in most cases).

Google is smart. Our theory is that its algorithm was able to detect when 14 different businesses, for example, are sharing the same suite number, which was the case when a business signed up for Regus. In the Possum algorithm, it essentially dinged the businesses that had a Regus type of office space.

Is this fair?

If your small business was using a Regus office legitimately to conduct meetings and utilize the workspace, then no, I don’t think it is fair if Possum penalized you. If your business signed up for eight different Regus locations in different markets throughout your state for the sole purpose of ranking in those local markets, I can see where Google was coming from.

Just like any Google penalty, there is controversy involved. At the end of the day, many small business owners were impacted by this local algorithm shakeup. The question becomes, how does your business recover?

Related: SEO Strategy in 2017: What's Most Important?

Here's how to recover.

Each businesses’ local SEO strategy is so different that there isn’t a generic game plan that will work across the board. I will say that if you have multiple business locations and have signed up for a service like Regus, you need to reevaluate your strategy. Consolidating locations could be a great play, and in this scenario, we’d recommend that you only focus on your most lucrative market.

If you work from home and want to reap the benefits of a brick-and-mortar storefront for local SEO, it could be worth it to see if there is a cheap and small office space in a suburb that you can actually rent out. This will ensure you aren’t sharing a suite number. It used to be crucial for local SEO that your businesses were centrally located in the downtown area but this is no longer the case. This means there could be cheap office space in one of your suburbs and you could take advantage of that.

In a previous Entrepreneur article, I mapped out how you can  “Improve Your Local SEO in 5 Hours.” I recommend following the tips outlined in my prior piece. Before executing on this strategy, however, take a closer look at the strategy behind your physical address, as it’s another factor that could greatly enhance or hinder your SEO efforts.

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