Near me searches: Is that a Possum near me?

For a year and a half now, we SEOs have been talking to small business owners and each other about how Google’s handling near me searches better and better. Needless to say that mobile traffic is growing and location based ‘everything’ needs to be taken into account while optimizing the mobile SEO for every location dependent business. With the recent Google update that has been named Possum, it’s even more clear that Google is stepping up its game for local SEO.

In this article, I’ll try to give you some more insights on near me searches and what you should do to make sure your online presence is set up the right way.

What’s near me?

Google tells you what business is closest near you. I bet you have done Google searches from your phone, looking for a local business, bakery or gas station. In the suggestions that Google gives you, keywords like these appear:

  • Near me;
  • closest;
  • open;
  • nearby.

Things that relate immediately to your location or dire needs at that time. Here are some examples from my own phone:

Near me variations

While testing this (please try it yourself as well), you’ll find that there is a ton of similar combinations of words people use to find these local businesses.

These are what we SEOs call near me searches. Over the past years, traffic on these search terms has grown substantially:

Google Trends near me

And yes, you can optimize for these.

How to optimize for near me

Optimizing for near me searches resembles your local optimization process. There are a few steps you really need to take:

  1. Add your NAP details
    We’re talking Name, Address, Phone number, in an easy to read and index format. Preferably, I’d say to add one page per location, if you have more than one.
  2. Add NAP to Google My Business
    Add that exact address to your Google My Business page. If you have multiple locations but only need to promote one being the main headquarters, add multiple locations to one listing. If your business consists of a number of smaller businesses, feel free to add multiple My Business pages/accounts.
    Don’t forget to update your listing when you move!
  3. Add data to your address
    We made a plugin for that: Local SEO. It adds the appropriate LocalBusiness schema markup to the address listed on your website, making it easier for the larger search engines like Google and Bing to index these details.
  4. Get positive reviews
    We can’t deny that positive reviews on Google, Yelp or similar websites influence the strength of your local ranking. It’s like the marketplace. If locals, users or simply any other people recommend a business, we’ll be more tempted to go there. Search engines obviously pick up on this.
    Don’t forget Facebook and Facebook reviews in this! People also use that a lot to search for local businesses.

Where’s the Possum?

Google did an update we like to refer to as Possum, that targets local search rankings on the first of September of this year. Effects are still rolling in, and at the moment there seems to be only one real reference for the update, being Joy Hawkins’ article on Searchengineland.

There was something going on that first of September. Here’s MozCast for this month:

Mozcast September 2016 including Possum?

There was something going on the day before yesterday as well, judging by this graph #justsaying. On that first of September, Joy found that:

  1. Businesses that fall outside of the physical city limits saw a huge spike in ranking.
    This is interesting, as that would mean that after the Possum update, Google is better at understanding service areas, right? That’s me thinking out loud, but it makes sense.
  2. After Possum, Google is filtering based on address and affiliation.
    Multiple addresses listed for your business? Google will most likely only show one. And I bet they try to make this the one that seems most likely for you.
  3. Search results vary more based on slight variations of the keyword searched.
    This is new to me, and I think that this is just Google trying to come up with the best result per query (as always). Google tends to focus a lot on ‘similar’ queries and less on order of words, in my opinion. In near me searches, the addition of ‘near me’ is extra, and the main keyword is at the beginning of the query. I’m wondering where this is heading, and if it’s not just something that will get back to ‘normal’ at one point.
  4. The local filter seems to be running more independently from the organic filter.
    If Possum’s goal was about delivering better local results, this makes all the sense in the world. If this is correct, it definitely feels like Google is somehow ‘helping’ these smaller businesses compete with the giants.
  5. The location of the searcher plays a larger role in what results are served.
    This seems like the red line in the update. If you search for local results in another city that you are searching from, results will vary. Mobile traffic increases, geolocation is easily determined, why not act on that.

All of the above means that if you have a local business, you really should make sure you have your local optimization in order. Focus less on trolling the search results to rank in a nearby city, as Google seems to understand that better now, and focus more on simply being the best result for your brand, business type or product.

One more thing

Following item four, local searches being less dependent on organic results, that gives local business another near me opportunity:

Product near me

Yes. Near me suggestions are given for brands and products as well. Not new, but definitely an opportunity. Good luck optimizing!

Read more: The ultimate guide to small business SEO »

Coming up next!

12 Responses to ‘Near me’ searches: Is that a Possum near me?

  1. E67 Agency
    E67 Agency  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for this so what seems to be most comprehensive commentary on the possum update very valuable content with thank you for publishing this early and we thank you for what you do often.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      So kind! Appreciated!

  2. Samuel Ade
    Samuel Ade  • 5 years ago

    Does this in anyway, affects blogs who don’t really sell anything using their platform other than giving information?

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Really depends on the goal of the website. If there is no local, geographical connection, the near me has little purpose, right?

  3. Steve
    Steve  • 5 years ago

    Obsessive Editor here. You several times use the term “exponentially” — once immediately before a chart that is *not* exponential! It has grown dramatically, or substantially, or markedly, but not exponentially, a term with a specific mathematical meaning. This is what an actual exponential curve looks like:

    Other than that, thanks for the info!

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Hey Steve, just changed that. Thanks. It was actually once, indeed right before the chart :) Substantially fits perfectly!

  4. than thoai
    than thoai  • 5 years ago

    My keyword is dancing…

  5. Tim Akers
    Tim Akers  • 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing! Another example of the importance of Schema. It seems like a never ending task for me to get clients websites marked up with and is a common SEO error.

    • Michiel Heijmans


  6. Joel Black
    Joel Black  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, the “near me” searches have not worked all that well in the past, so it will be interesting to see how this update changes that.

  7. Ivo
    Ivo  • 5 years ago

    Hi Michiel,

    Great stuff. Makes sense. Do you have any recommendations for business that operate on a country or regional level and have to compete with local businesses?

    As a SEO I’m having a hard time competing with businesses that get a local advantages whilst they are doing not much optimisation them self.

    It often feels like google is pushing us to adwords instead.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      You’re in one of the most competitive markets as well, Ivo. But you are aware of that. I think in your case, focusing on the branding a lot as well makes all the sense in the world.

      I think what might be ‘bugging’ you is that Google seems to be trying to solve the searchers question/query itself. Google prefers not to link to your search page or perhaps category page, but to the exact result the searcher is looking for.

      Perhaps analyzing your site structure and further optimizing your camping pages might get you more insights. A page like this just doesn’t add that much extra when compared to the actual website of the camping.

      Besides that, Google will find that affiliate link to the website. You might want to read this and see what you can do with that.