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We’ve all been there. To that place of panic. You’re ranking for exactly what you want, business is great and you’re doing a little happy dance, even on Monday mornings. Then overnight, something happens. Like a light switch being turned off. And your rankings in the local pack disappear. Your phone stops ringing and your anxiety goes through the roof.  What am I going to do? What happened? How do I get my local rankings back?

The Catalyst

On September 1st, we saw a huge shift in rankings for some of our clients. This fluctuation in the Local Pack certainly had more of an impact on some industries than others. In particular, we saw a massive drop off for one of our clients, Ladonna’s Cleaning Service. During the summer and even into the beginning of fall, she does a huge amount of business for Move Out Cleaning. She was ranking for exactly that in the local pack: “Move Out Cleaning.” On September 2nd, however, she was no longer there. And some lackluster looking business in Bellevue was showing up instead. Her phones stopped ringing. And overnight business fell off in what should have been one of the busiest months for Move Out Cleaning.local listing google ranking

So what did I do? Anything and everything that someone in my position would do. I dove deep, deep down into the rabbit hole trying to figure out what happened. And to my dismay, there wasn’t much information out there other than the fact that other marketing professionals were seeing dramatic shifts in the local rankings as well. 3 weeks later, there’s really not much more information out there. There’s been plenty of chatter about a new Penguin update from Google, and in the search community we’re now calling it Possum, but Google is unwilling to make any comment except that “these fluctuations are part of the normal algorithm changes.” Now to us over at Odd Dog Media, this was unacceptable, so we continued to do our own research and testing.

Playing by the Rules

Now, we abide by Google’s rules and policies in every way possible and use the best link building solutions available. At our agency we focus on the long term game for our clients. Citation building helps to achieve more visibility for your clients. One of the challenges that we’ve been struggling with lately is local businesses who compete with our clients that are using BlackHat SEO tactics. The best way to think of this is like cheating the IRS. You can hide money to avoid paying taxes, but eventually, the IRS is going to catch you and you’re going to pay for it. That’s exactly what Google does with BlackHat SEO tactics. In this overnight fluctuation, we saw the majority of those businesses that were cheating the system completely disappear. I won’t get into exactly what BlackHat SEO is or why it’s so frustrating, but seeing these businesses cheating the system being punished was awesome! It was apparent that Google was taking action for those breaking the rules. But the question still remained, “Why the heck did our client fall off?”

What Did We Do?

We waited. A week. Two weeks. And still, nothing changed as you would expect with “fluctuations that are part of normal algorithm changes.” So we took matters into our own hands. As we began researching companies that were appearing in the local pack there was a common trend. Number 1 was the Authority of a website. Authority has been a prominent factor in organic rankings for quite a while but hadn’t seemed to be an absolutely critical factor for Local SEO. The second area we took notice of was that the majority of the businesses were no longer “service based.” This wasn’t consistent across the board, however, a rough estimate of 75% of businesses in the local pack were location based businesses. How did we find this out? Ladonna’s Cleaning service has ALWAYS been marked as a service based business. And we also had documented that a lot of the BlackHat SEO we were seeing prior to the update were service based businesses that were no longer showing in the local results. We couldn’t think of any other reasons that could be resulting in her drop off other than, for some reason, she had been caught in this new filter to catch BlackHat SEO.

So, we switched her to a location business.

A few days laters we saw her crawl back into the local pack. She’s not quite where she was ranking previously, but it’s a big improvement. And even in the areas where the local results were completely ignoring her after this so called “update”, we’re seeing her climb back into the mix. Now the funny thing about this whole fluctuation is that we didn’t see a single change in her organic rankings. All of the changes came from the Local Pack.

The Summary

With so little information being distributed from Google about this, there’s really not a whole lot that you can do other than to continue to focus on building quality backlinks and using good practices to build your search engine optimization. Whether you’re a single location business or multi-location business, it’s all relevant. And if you’re in a service-based industry, be careful and keep an eye out for changes as we still think Google is A/B testing!

Are you concerned with your Google Local Pack listing?

Give us a call for a complimentary assessment! We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.