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ROBERTSON: Recent Google updates impact local businesses

Google released several algorithm updates from September to November 2016, causing major rankings changes for businesses of all types, including local businesses. Below are some guidelines to determine if your website was affected by these updates and steps to recover lost rankings or website traffic.

Penguin update

In late September and early October 2016, Google updated its Penguin algorithm for the first time since 2014. Penguin primarily targets web spam, including spammy links, keyword stuffing and more. Before this update, Penguin demotions were administered site-wide, meaning that a website suspected of spam tactics was instantly demoted in its entirety.

With the latest update, demotions will take place on a page-by-page basis. This can make demotions especially difficult to identify. However, if you’ve noticed a drop in traffic or rankings since the last week of September 2016, your website may have been caught by this algorithm. Improvements are possible by ensuring that your website is not over-optimized.

Google Possum update

It’s a cute name, but the Possum update was specifically targeted at local listings or map listings on Google. SEO professionals coined this name because of the apparent “missing” listings playing possum, hidden behind new filters that remove them from the local pack on the main search results page. This specific update may have helped or hurt your business, depending on a number of factors, such as location.

Businesses that fall just outside of the physical city limits saw a huge boost in visibility. For example, searchers looking for “Savannah dentists” typically received dentists that were physically located in Savannah. With the Possum update, many businesses just outside of the city limits saw significant improvements.

Additionally, Google has implemented more stringent filters to prevent duplicate businesses from showing up in the local pack. Due to the update, results are now also being filtered by address, which can be especially dangerous for local businesses that share a commercial building with similar competitors.

Looking Ahead to 2017

More changes are coming, as Google has made announcements for several more anticipated updates. The potentially most impactful upcoming update for local businesses is the Mobile-First Indexing update. Google has already begun experimenting with this update, so you may have noticed turbulent rankings in November and December 2016.

The websites that will see the biggest losses will be the ones with separate mobile websites that eliminate content, or websites that still have not optimized for mobile. Google has released several updates specifically targeted towards mobile optimization in the past, so this update is not surprising. Now is the time to take action before the full update is released.

This column was compiled by Karen Robertson, Director of Public Relations and Client Development at Robertson &Markowitz Advertising &Public Relations, Inc. She can be reached at karen@robmark.com or (912) 921-1040.

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