The Google Carousel started with humble beginnings at the end of 2012, giving tablet users slides rather than blue hyperlinks to click for certain search terms. The Carousel has now begun showing for local searches in the U.S. and it is only a matter of time before this is implemented in other regions.
This is no minor update of the Google search results page. For a company that once tested 41 shades of blue for their logo and debated a 3 pixel difference in a border, making such drastic changes is a huge deal and is one that needs to be prepared for.
Carousel Vs Map Listings
Whilst much of the information pulled in to rank each Carousel listing is identical to how local map listings are sorted; having local citations with the correct NAP (name, address and phone number), Google reviews, and on-site factors, there are some differences.
Rather than taking information from all over the web to build a business’s local profile, the Carousel pulls the data it shows from a business’s Google+ page, so ensuring this data is optimised and matches with citations and on-site signals is of paramount importance.
There is however something new that is pulled from the Google+ page for each Carousel slide - a photograph.
A Picture is worth a thousand words
The introduction of images to listings is one of the major changes which businesses will need to plan for. Coupled with the horizontality of the Carousel, this gives a much more level playing field for all businesses listed in the Carousel to gain clicks, compared to map listings where businesses placed below the fold have their potential exposure to searchers reduced.
A study into how the Carousel has changed searcher behaviour by LocalU emphasises the potential to ‘steal’ clicks from competitors with appealing images. The below image is a heat map from the study, showing clicks for one Carousel results page.
Surprisingly, the 3rd and 8th slides had the most clicks, coming 1st and 2nd respectively, despite neither having the highest review score or number of reviews. This would point to the images sealing the deal for searchers; the search without the overlaid heat map is below for you to decide.
The decision of which image is shown in the Carousel is however, out of your hands. Google currently decides which image to pull from a business’s Google+ account. Whilst this pot luck seems somewhat unfair, all businesses should strive to have high quality photos on their Google+, and therefore have no real issue with the Carousel using any images from the page.
Whilst this is more of an inconvenience than an issue, the current system does have some other faults that Google would do well to fix before its roll-out to other countries.
Problems with the Carousel
Whilst local map listings in search results usually open a business’s website or Google+ page, the Carousel instead opens up a brand search in Google. This change, whilst seemingly innocuous, is comparable to Google’s introduction of (not provided) to keyword data. Any searcher who uses the Carousel and eventually arrives on a business’s website will be coming in on a brand search and removing any non-brand keyword data that could have been analysed.
There is also a lack of clarity in how Google orders the Carousel results. Generally those businesses that have more reviews and microdata such as Hreview stars tend to be nearer the left hand side of the Carousel; however there are no guarantees that having the most reviews or implemented microdata will push you to the first slide. As we can see below, the rule generally works, however there are a couple of exceptions:
This hopefully will simply be teething problems for the Carousel, with Google honing their ranking factors to make these anomalies a rarity. However, as ever with Google, concrete details of how to rank well in the Carousel will surely not be revealed.
The Future of Local?
Google Local Carousel is going to change the landscape of Local SEO. Research performed by Search Engine Land shows that 48% of clicks go on Carousel results; suggesting that it could become the single most important area of a results page. Do you think that the Carousel is going to be a revolution in local search? Or is it simply a flash in the pan that is gaining these clicks because it is a new feature? Please do let me know in the comments below.