The Craziness That Is Possum And Google Penguin 4.0: A Review

Have you looked over your website rankings in the last few weeks? If so, you might be confused and wondering, What in the world has Google done to us now?

Since the start of the month, the search engine optimization community has collectively witnessed perhaps the strangest search results that have been seen in recent memory.

Some sites have tanked off the deep end while others have seemingly risen from the dead, local results have gone through upheaval, and there have even been 404 errors in the search console, among many other issues and weird phenomenon taking place.

We at Elevation Scholars don’t typically respond quickly to Google updates, because in truth you often can’t.

Anybody who immediately says they have the answer to rankings you might have lost is lying through their teeth, unless they’re a psychic, and we just can’t comment on or compete with that.

What we do is go over hard, actual, real-world information and data. We have conversations with our clients, from those that have one site to those that have dozens to hundreds. We analyze our own Web properties. We get in touch with higher-level contacts we have in the search engine optimization community, and then we get all our notes together to share with you.

So, here we are, ready to go over just what Google has done in the last few weeks so we can brief you on what’s going on.

Let’s dig in!

What’s going on at Google?

1. Google updates caused interesting fluctuations near the start of the month of September:

Those of us in the search engine optimization community run a number of fluctuation monitoring tools to track changes in our search engine results positions, and we started noticing some rather big changes in our results. Some minor variation is inevitable, but these were way outside normal parameters, and the community took notice of this the first three days of the month.

You can see the data for yourself:



What became quickly obvious was a correlation to something that changed results for local search queries. On the other hand, there were noticeable changes in global searches at a very core level, and this started getting noticed on the second day of the month.

Google updates are typically rolled out one nation at a time, but we were hearing about experiences similar to our own from our colleagues and community contacts on an international basis.

Joy Hawkins wrote an article for Search Engine Land that started shedding light on the local search changes. It detailed what was going on with what has now been named Google Possum.

(You do have to wonder what the deal is with Google updates getting named after animals. The fascination with “P” animals is even more disconcerting. Pandas, penguins, and possums: when are we getting Google Pig?)

Anyway, this is it in a nutshell:

Businesses that are not in the centers of their cities seemingly got a boost in search results. It was a long-standing rule that having an address near the actual heart of your city gave you an advantage, but this does not appear to be the case anymore.

There is now filtering of local results, if multiple results share the same physical address. This can happen to office situations and sometimes even strip malls. The assumed intent here is to prevent false verifications of local businesses.

The IP address of a searcher, or their physical location, is now taken more into account. Results vary depending on the determined location of the searcher. If you use any rank tracker to keep up with your rankings, enable the localized features to see how you’re doing with those near your business.

There is now an increase in variation for long tail search results. If there are varieties in terms of the combination of entered keywords, city, and state, then the results are just as various. It might be a simple matter of SERPs getting re-sequenced, but paying attention to the variations is a good idea in terms of your link building and website content.

There’s now a disconnect between local search and organic search. Google seems to flip flop on this a lot. A number of previous updates made organic rankings lead into success in ranking on local maps. This looks likes it’s taken a step or two in the reverse direction with this update. A number of local search matters got adjusted, and we’re still watching to see how things play out in the long run.

2. We noticed even more fluctuations in the midst of the month, with some websites seeing huge drop-offs or promotions.

Conversation and chatter regarding the updating seemed to peak around the 15th, give or take a day or two, but in truth, the whole month has people seeing unusually big changes in the SERPs.

Notice how the whole month is orange…

Some of us got in touch with Google and asked them directly what was going on. They consistently denied things, giving us linesĀ about “normal daily fluctuations.”

No one’s buying it.

It’s crystal clear that Google has used this whole month to test something, although we’re not entirely sure what, because the repeated shakeups in search results, as well as their size, is just unprecedented in recent memory.

It wasn’t too long ago that Charles Floate put out a video (below) where he did his own analysis. His conclusion is that the Penguin algorithm itself was updated, and it looks like he might be right in calling this.

This was all about Google testing Penguin 4.0 and doing related adjustments, which lead to SEOs and webmasters the world overĀ seeing our websites get raised from oblivion or condemned to it.

All of this led up to the 23rd, when this happened:

3. Google finally made an official announcement of Penguin 4.

The announcement came through their Webmaster Central Blog, and they confirmed that Penguin is now fully integrated into their core algorithm.

This update has some notable differences that you should take note of:

1. This update for Penguin is going to be continuously rolling.

Previously, if you had a website that took a penalty thanks to Penguin, you probably had to wait until Penguin was updated again before you saw that penalty changed. Penguin’s last big update was almost two years in the past at this point.

Google was never really apologetic about this, but at least now we’ll see live-time improvements to our website SERPs as Google is continuously re-crawling the Internet, our pages, and our links. This is something we highly approve of.

2. Penguin can now impact portions or sections of sites, even individual pages.

It used to be that anything applied to a website would hit the whole site. This helps you out in the fact that if you over-optimize the anchor text of one individual article, your entire website doesn’t get spanked over it.

Putting it all together:

With everything that happened, it seems like it could be a drastically different Internet. However, when we went over everything our clients have, we didn’t notice widespread penalties amidst all the fluctuations.

That pleases us, since it means that as a community we’ve done well about maintaining best practices that defeat Google at their own game.

This update wasn’t like Penguin’s original update where massive and widespread losses turned the SEO community upside down because what we needed to do had changed overnight. Increasingly, Google is looking to connect its users with sites that are naturally good and an appropriate match to the queries their users have.

What you should do if you were impacted:

If this update hit you hard, or if you have witnessed huge fluctuations, then it might not actually be the end of the world.

First of all, we’re seeing a lot of volatility, given that Google’s rollout of this update is ongoing and far from over. We have noticed some websites take steep dives in the SERPs one day, only to recover all their lost ground by the next morning.

Secondly, if your website has any anchor text that is over-optimized, then you can recover more quickly once you clean up your lower-caliber links and make your anchor text’s profile more natural.

This is a great time to run your anchors through the Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, or LinkResearchTools and then clean up the dirty links as well as build newer, higher-caliber links.

What else do you need to know now?

We’ve noted a number of trends happening at Google.

The obvious one is that the company is hoping to make more money, but what business doesn’t?

Next up is the fact that Google continues to tinker with the relationship between organic search and local maps. You apparently need to concentrate on both using map citations to boost your map rankings, but also continue to build good, natural links and optimize your website fully.

Additionally, there is now more emphasis than ever on mobile search and use, so optimize your site for that if you haven’t already. If you have mobile popups, disable them, as Google has announced a future update will penalize sites with them. Desktop popups are still okay though.

Finally, don’t fear under-optimizing, but definitely continue high-caliber, natural link building.

A Final Thought

Google is not something static. Expect future changes, but also expect us to keep you up-to-date on any changes in Penguin, Panda, Possum, or whatever animal may come our way.

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