Image credit: Bold Internet
On June 19th, Google took to G+ to announce the official roll out of the Carousel, though it has been appearing on mobile searches since December 2012. It is the latest addition to Google’s Knowledge Graph, with the aim to further expand upon their local and semantic search capabilities. It is a hot topic among businesses and marketers alike, so what exactly do we know, about 3 months after its launch?
1. The Triggering of the Carousel
From what I can gather, the Carousel is sometimes triggered when one or more of the following criteria are met:
- A search is made with local intent
- The user’s location (IP address), when combined with a generic term, deems the search worthy of local results
- The search is not a single entity (i.e. for an actual business)
- When five or more results are available
My search on Google.co.uk for “theme parks uk” does indeed trigger the Carousel:
Interestingly, the Carousel is titled “Amusement parks frequently mentioned on the web”. We already know that citations play a major role in local search optimisation. It’s very rare though to see something so revealing as this from Google.
Search pundits have been monitoring words and phrases that could trigger the Carousel. Selected verticals (restaurants, hotels, leisure) were the initial targets, however now there are other keywords that can be used that don’t quite belong to these categories. Click here for an updated table of search terms. It’s probably safe to assume that the Carousel listings will be rolled out to a much wider range of industries, well beyond the confines of common search categories.
2. The Appearance
Size & Shape
The most obvious thing to note about the Carousel is that it displays results horizontally. Vertical results, which we’ve seen since the dawn of search, naturally imply an ordered list – where one result is placed above another on merit. This leaves the horizontal listings more open to interpretation by users. It might seem natural that the listing on the far left would be seen as the most relevant, but it’s far from being clear-cut. It will prove important to appear in the first few listings. Though, as it’s quite easy to scroll through, simply being in the full list of 20 will have benefits to businesses.
It’s not only the orientation that jumps out at you; it’s the sheer size of the thing. For a page as valuable as a SERP, it takes up an enormous chunk of real estate – up to 30% depending on screen size and other preferences.
Reviews are easily one of the most attractive elements of a SERP, both for businesses and users alike. For many Carousel results, review counts and five-star ratings are now starting to appear. A search for Italian restaurants near San Diego clearly shows this:
These were originally pulled in from Zagat.com, but they now come from their Google+ page.
The Carousel relies heavily on the fact that people find images quite irresistible. An image can be instantly interpreted; markedly quicker than it takes to understand text. On the web, where users can be at their most fickle, and where customers are won and lost in milliseconds, the ability to capture attention is priceless. The opportunity for a business to have an image displayed at the top of the SERPs is one not to be missed. So what can you do about it?
Well, it seems that the images come from a number of places, though the first choice seems to be Google +, then from within the rest of the Google product. That means, assuming you already know the importance of being listed on Google in the first place, ensure your best images are present on your Google+ page, your Google Business page, Panoramio, and Google Maps. And of course, your own website. There is mention that images could be generated from other review sites. The moral: publish only great images anywhere on the web.
For the Arrivaderci restaurant for example, Google uses the G+ images for both Maps and the (above) Carousel listing:
It’s important to focus a lot of effort onto your pictures. If you know that your business attracts more clicks from an appealing image of a flagship product, then have a healthy percentage of these photos on your profiles. Small, local businesses should aim for a photo of their actual premises. If your business already has a strong brand presence and you believe it’s a contributing factor to winning more clicks, you may do best to have a number of branded images too.
The image is possibly the most important battle ground for businesses in winning the local search war on the Carousel. Getting a user to click on yours opens up a whole new world.
3.Riding the Carousel
The Carousel will certainly get its fair share of attention. A recent study conducted by Localu.org brilliantly demonstrates via a heat-map that the Carousel is already attracting many clicks. Using results for the search query ‘Chicago restaurants’, respondents were asked to click on the part of SERP that interested them the most.
Localu.org found that:
- · 40 out of 83, or 48% of the total clicks were on carousel results
- · 12 out of 83, or 14.5% of the total click were on the map
That’s 52 out of 83 people, or 62.65% chose to click an image over a text listing.
All pretty compelling evidence as to its success so far. But as with anything new and shiny, novelty can often wear off.
What made Google the ‘go-to’ engine in the first place was the incredible accuracy and relevancy of its results. However, the relationship between the Carousel and the long-trusted organic listings does not quite correlate. Here’s how the first 7 entries on the Carousel compare with their organic positions:
Does Chessington World of Adventures deserve its place at second on the Carousel, yet only 11th among the entities, and an actual position of 22?
How about Legoland Windsor, who are a very respectable 5th on the Carousel, yet come in at 46th in the organic listings, 23rd of all the actual theme parks listed from this search.
An analysis of the Carousel unfortunately throws up more questions than it answers.
Using the Carousel on a mobile is possibly Google’s greatest triumph; at least for Google itself. Being unable to fit the Knowledge Graph onto mobile screens was obviously proving troublesome in their attempts to make searching easier, and to conquer the mobile search market in the process.
It’s crucial to them that they do this, given the remarkable statistics of mobile usage:
- There are currently 1 billion smart phone users worldwide.
- The number of smart phone users is growing by 42% annually, on a global scale.
And given the potential of local search optimisation for mobiles:
- 1 in 3 searches on a mobile device has local intent, versus 1 in 5 on a desktop -
It stands to reason that users who are searching with local intent on a mobile are primed to become a cheery conversion statistic. They know what they’re looking for and the area they want to find it. And they probably want it as soon as possible.
The Carousel is truly dominant of a mobile screen, taking up nearly half of my Galaxy S3’s browser window.
It is fun to scroll through though, and is very easy on the eye. Much better than squinting/enlarging list item after list item to find what I want while on the go.
4. The Big Picture
When a user clicks your image, they are taken not to your website, but to another page made up entirely of branded results with a Knowledge Graph (though the other Carousel listings remain present).
This is actually downright annoying. When I click a listing, I expect to be taken to their website. And herein possibly lies the premise behind the Carousel.
On the surface, it seems the Carousel is very organic-centric, but on the contrary. The search for “theme parks uk” brought me zero paid ads. Being presented with yet another results page after clicking an image gives Google the opportunity to place another ad before me. Clicking on ‘Alton Towers’ did just that.
Note, however, that the advert I’ve highlighted in the image above is not the official home page of the theme park. Granted, it is owned by their parent company, but this example highlights the need to take out a paid ad to secure that position on what, at first glance, appears to be a SERP dedicated to your business. A business that fails to take out this ad risks being usurped by a competitor.
It’s not just businesses that need to become aware of the huge changes the Carousel brings; all users are now affected. The entire landscape of the SERP has changed, and there are no prizes for guessing who the ultimate winner is.
An analysis from Mike Blumenthal clearly outlines where we’re all heading:
“It is arguable whether the searcher and the businesses benefit from this arrangement. It is not arguable whether Google does.” – Mike Blumenthal
Quite simply, there’s not much we can do about it except to continue playing the game. Well, Google is a business after all. Their sole intention is to make money, which means, keeping us using Google as much as possible.
It’s very important for local businesses to optimise for local search anyway, so besides the refinements to your strategy I’ve mentioned above, just carry on with the good work. It’s essentially the same factors that’ll place you on the Carousel anyway. In my humble opinion, I think businesses can benefit from this. The casual searcher is the probable victim here, although he’ll probably be too mesmerised by all the pretty pictures to even notice.
To quote local-search guru David Mihm:
“It really is a Google world and we are all just living in it.”