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Round and Round with Google’s “Carousel”

What’s good and what to watch out for to take advantage of this new feature!

google carousel dallas restaurant
Image of a Google search for “dallas restaurants” showing the “Carousel”

Google came out with yet another new local search tool in February that is causing some uproar. It’s called “Carousel” because, well, it looks like a carousel. I’m going to discuss the Good, Bad and Ugly.

First let me explain what Carousel is.

Currently if you do a local search for hotels, restaurant, bars and such, you now get a band of images across the top included with the results (see example of search for “dallas restaurants”).  I think the images are well-received by most.

google carousel dallas restaurant
What happens when you hover over “Liberty Burger”

Then when you hover over a business’ entry, the right side of the page updates to present information about the business taken from their Google Places/Google+local page (see second example).

The Good!

Visual imagery is proven to engage and convert more than text.  But a word of caution, you cannot pick which photo you want displayed. Google selects it from your Google+ business page so make sure you have it well optimized with images that are cropped to best represent your business or service.

Also you don’t want a photo of something that isn’t relevant or doesn’t communicate well to show up. I actually saw a listing where the photo for the business was of a newspaper. Guess a patron took a picture of the newspaper’s front page and posted it to the business’ profile.  Ouch!  Hopefully, the owner knows who posted it so he can get it removed.

google search map
Don’t let the Carousel display your business like this! OMG!

But when Google can’t find anything for a business it usually just puts in a picture of a map of its location (see example).  Nothing could look deader and more unappealing for a business and its due to a little lack of web savvy that could be easily remedied.

Another important point is that Google reviews are included. Thankfully, Google is going back to their five star rating system. At one point, they had converted to a largely unfamiliar 30 point system used by Zagat. The Zagat scores, which historically have been used for restaurants, were too confusing for most people. Across the boards, I’ve heard a sigh of relief that Google ditched Zagat and went back to the old five star rating on reviews.

There are two simple lessons here.  Every business needs to leverage this tool by claiming their Google+ business page, optimizing it with great content and posting lots of excellent photos.  Then start getting positive customer reviews as this shows up in the results page. Reviews are very important and people respond to them – good or bad.

The Bad

Even if you get a negative review, it should be viewed as an opportunity.  It has shown you where you might be weak service or product-wise so you can fix it.  Also you can engage the customer by responding to the review in an appropriate manner which makes things right.  This makes your business look positive and on-the-ball to other potential customers looking at the reviews as no one is perfect.

The Ugly

Well, if Google’s business model is really about the ease and relevancy of search they have seriously missed the mark. With Carousel you are at least two clicks away from the venue’s website. Considering a recent survey showing 71% of searches for local business end up on a website, I would assume the searchers have a deeper need than just the business contact, directions and reviews.

Another concern we have is the impact on organic, non-branded keywords. Although the search starts with a non-branded organic term, once you click on an image the search results changes to a modified branded +location keyword.

It seems the issue is not so much a question of having a positive experience for the searcher as it is to retrain us, the searcher, in our expectations.

As a PPC certified specialist I will also be interested to see if branded keyword pay-per-click prices go up with the changes.