In September 2016, Google released a new algorithm update that has since become known as ‘Possum’. It impacted a significant amount of local search results in Google – including those belonging to virtual office clients.
Coveted ‘local search results’ are those that appear prominently on the results page along with a map, star ratings, address and phone number. They are often the very first results on Google and naturally, they’re incredibly important for location-based businesses – including coworking spaces and business centres.
A study by Search Engine Land in November 2016, two months after the update, found that 64% of local search results had been altered.
Workspace operators may or may not have noticed a change in their local search result listings; yet the more pressing concern is for clients using business address and virtual office services.
Jason Parks, CEO of The Media Captain, explains in an article for Entrepreneur that home-based businesses are capitalising on local SEO results by using virtual office services. This enables them to set up a local presence such as a ‘Google My Business’ listing, and therefore gain regional online enquiries without revealing their home addresses.
However, Google’s Possum update is catching them out. Some virtual office users have seen their local results negatively impacted. Parks consulted with his own agency and a number of other large brands that had been impacted by Possum, and concluded:
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). Our theory is that its [Google’s] algorithm was able to detect when 14 different businesses, for example, are sharing the same suite number. In the Possum algorithm, it essentially dinged the businesses that had a Regus type of office space.
[Note: This issue is not exclusive to Regus; Parks’s reference to Regus is used as an example that relates to all providers of virtual office services]
For virtual office companies, use of their business address is a key service. How can workspace operators prevent their clients from being penalised by Google?
“Google has been hitting hard on addresses and trying to clean this up for searches,” explained Kirk Deis, CEO of digital marketing agency Treehouse51.
“If you’re not careful you’re going to confuse success with failure. There are over 100 SEO Ranking Factors — Possum is just one.”
In this sense, Kirk distinguishes the difference between success and failure as:
- Success = Having a website and a product you’re proud of.
- Failure = Leaving a website and your product to fend for themselves.
“Are you playing possum? Are you simply relying on your website to rank in Google? If you are you’re not going to rank in Google Maps. Blaming the number of Virtual Offices at your center is just an excuse. It’s not them, it’s you.
“Brands need to be active to rank in Google Business Searches. That includes creating content regularly on-site and getting valuable backlinks off-site. SEO is basically two parts on-site and off-site, remember that.
“When a center has multiple listings with the same address, Google hates it, and thinks it’s duplicate content. So to please Google and to rank you need to make your content the most unique content it can possible be.”
To help restore local search engine results as part of a wider SEO strategy, Kirk recommends 3 key focal areas to improve:
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- Create content regularly around your physical or virtual office address;
- Make sure the website is optimized on the backend for the address;
- Make sure EVERY off-site link has the correct NAP details (Name, Address, Phone Number).
Kirk added: “If you noticed a drop in Local Google Searches it’s because you’re playing possum — Google doesn’t play that game.”