The New Google Search Carousel is Changing Local Search


Google changes its colors quicker than a chameleon, but this is no surprise to the marketers that have braved Google Penguin and Panda over the last two years.

But, lately, it seems like Google is on a focused mission to “outdo itself” and as a result we are seeing numerous changes to the search engine in shorter periods of time.

The newest addition affects local search, and though it resembles a long, black film strip, Google has named it a “carousel.”

According to a recent announcement by Google…

“Starting today, when you search Google for restaurants, bars or other local places on your desktop, you’ll see an interactive “carousel” of local results at the top of the page.

Give it a go – type or say “mexican restaurants,” or try any similar search for restaurants, bars or hotels. Click on one of the places in the carousel to get more details about it, including its overall review-based score, address and photos. If you want to see more places, click the arrow at the right of the carousel. And you can zoom in on the map that appears below the carousel to restrict your search to only places in a specific area.

While some iPad and Nexus tablet users have seen this new look since December, we’re excited to expand to desktop. The interactive “carousel” is rolling out in English in the U.S.-we’ll add more features and languages over time.”

What will this mean for your local business? 

We are still too early in the game to make any presuppositions, but here are some details about what this new carousel offers and how you can ensure that you are not left behind when it rolls out to ALL local search.

The Google Local Carousel… Unplugged

I performed a search for “restaurants in los angeles” on my desktop and this is what I see:

Local Carousel Overview

Notice the large carousel that extends from east to west across the screen. The carousel pushes the rest of the data further down on the page.

When you click on the first carousel result, “Wokcano”, it doesn’t take you to the restaurant’s website, but it directs you to a brand-specific Google results page for the more targeted phrase “Wokcano Los Angeles”

Local Carousel Result

The carousel entries from left to right correspond to the original organic search results (starting at #1) prior to the implementation of the carousel. If you search for “restaurants in Los Angeles” on your smartphone, you will notice the organic search results, sans the carousel. Wokcano takes the #1 spot. Sushi Gen has the #2 spot and so on and so on.

Note: I only tested this theory on a few queries and I was signed into Google at the time.

The carousel displays the following information about the establishment. For restaurants, the listing features…

  • Company image
  • Zagat rating
  • The number of reviews listed on Google+
  • The restaurant’s name
  • The pricing and type of fare

Note: The Zagat scale may be confusing to those who do not know that it is based on a high of 30. The old search results listed the rating as “23 / 30” while the carousel simply lists the number “23.”

Now, let’s take a look at other local establishments and how the Google carousel displays the results:

Notice what happens when I enter a more general search phrase like “attractions los angeles.”

Attractions_Los_Angeles

The carousel returns only image results and the names of the establishments. Interestingly, when I clicked on “Disneyland” the engine changed the branded search query to “Disneyland southern california” even though I performed a search on Los Angeles attractions.

Disneyland_southern_california

Disneyland is not located in Los Angeles, but it is a popular tourist destination for people traveling to the Los Angeles area.

When searching for “hotel los angeles”, we notice a similar results page as the “restaurant” search; however, in place of the pricing and type of food, we see the hotel’s physical address.

Currently, I do not see the Google carousel implemented on searches for other local establishments like laundromats and clothing stores, although a local search for “yogurt” showed the carousel prominently with some incomplete information on the carousel listings.

yogurt_los_angeles

Pros & Cons

For local businesses, the carousel could equate to either a boost in traffic or a decline in sales.

Here are some of the pros and cons of the new Google carousel…

Pros

  • Better user experience for Google searchers
  • The carousel is a graphical representation of the organic search results, and for the first time we are seeing organic search results listed above the paid listings. My “spidey senses” tell me this won’t last for long…
  • If you were already ranking in your Google local search results, your CTR (clickthrough rate) should rise if you are listed in the carousel, and your traffic should increase now that Google is prominently displaying your images in a more eye-catching way.
  • The local establishments that once appeared below the fold on the first page now appear above the fold (the right-side of the carousel).

Cons

  • The carousel is a bit clunky and a real estate hog. So, the establishments that don’t rank on the first page of Google may see a decrease in traffic since the carousel is a distraction.
  • A spot in the carousel doesn’t necessarily guarantee you more clicks on your website. A click on your carousel listing takes the user to another Google search page for your brand name. Case in point: If while Johnny is searching for pizza places in Manhattan, he clicks on your carousel result, but then decides to pick up his ringing cell phone, answer a text, or update his Facebook status while in the middle of his process, you may miss out on his website click. It now takes Johnny two clicks to arrive at your website. In the coming months, we will discover if the carousel actually increases traffic for these top ranking spots, or decreases it due to the “evil” second click.
  • With the carousel as the focus, most of the outgoing links on the Google results page point back to Google’s properties and not businesses. Is Google giving businesses more real estate? Or just giving its own properties more exposure?

The Studies

What are users clicking on? Is the carousel changing users’ search behavior?

Preliminary informal testing from Matthew Hunt of Small Business Online Coach as reported by localu.org, showed search patterns from 83 participants who were told to click on the section of the results that most interested them.

Here is the original display:

Local_U_Study_1

Here is the result of the study:

Overall Clicks

Local_U_Study_2

Heatmap Display

Local_U_Study_3

What are the actual results?

“40 out of 83 or 48% of the total clicks were on carousel results.”

“12 out of 83 or 14.5% of the total clicks were on the map.”

The 8th carousel spot also garnered the most interest on the carousel in this study.

In another study performed by Ethical SEO Consulting, a search using the query “pizza in Denver” showed 32% of the clicks on the Google map, and 17% going to the first image in the carousel.

Ethical_SEO_Clicks

Here is a breakdown of the clicks:

Ethical_SEO_Pie_Chart

What we can take from these studies is that both the carousel and the map garnered the most attention in the new search results pages.

My early days as a scientist would tell me these results are inconclusive, yet they can give us an idea of early behavior.

Conclusion

How this all plays out is yet to be discovered. What we can deduce is that Google’s local carousel will most likely change the way users navigate the local results pages.

If you have a local business, user-generated positive reviews and stellar images should become a top priority for your local campaigns. Also, a more extensive SEO campaign targeting many more keyword variations will give you a greater chance at landing a coveted carousel spot.

It’s Your Turn

I want to hear from you! What are your thoughts? Do you believe the Google Carousel will change user behavior? Have you seen the new carousel? Do you like it or hate it?