You may not have seen it yet, but over the last month Google started rolling out a new way to showcase listings on its SERP pages: the Google Carousel. The Carousel listings are particularly important for local businesses because of all the additional enhancements it provides. Type in “Houston TX BBQ” and note the horizontal strip of selectable images and accompanying information that dominates the top of the screen. Look at all those appetizing BBQ places!
The Carousel displays images, review ratings, addresses, etc., which distinguish results from one another in a visual way that the vertical text-based menu / map view just cannot offer. Preliminary findings have shown the users are significantly more likely to click on the image carousel instead of map or text-based results, of course it might help that Carousel listings are slammed in at the top of the page, above paid search, and other organic listings.
Beyond the Obvious, why get on the Carousel?
Not only does the Carousel dominate the top of the screen, but when an image link is selected other Google facilitated search mechanisms like Google Inside View, Google Maps, Google Reviews, and Google+ begin to fill out the page. In other words, organic results are obscured to a degree by Google centric information delivery. In addition, you will notice that the Carousel persists even when an image link is selected, giving continued presence to other options that are not immediately selected.
So the Carousel has arrived and will be rolling out to other industry verticals over the next year, but what does this mean for your business? This answer can be different depending on your industry, but it is better to optimize for Google than to get left behind as all your competitors begin appearing in the Carousel. If you believe that you are a good candidate for a Carousel position, part II of this post will explain HOW to appear in the Carousel, and how to control your message on this new prime real estate in local search.