The fragmentation of search results from Google's continual algorithm updates, improvements to personalized search, and changes to the SERP keep practitioners of SEO on their toes in the never-ending quest to optimize earned media. The latest, Google Carousel, presents a new opportunity to appear at the top of Google's search results, but with it also comes some new best practices.
What Are Carousel Results?
By now you've read about or seen the carousel, a row of images across the top of the Google SERP against a dark background. For now, the carousel contains up to 20 results and appears primarily in results for travel, hospitality, and restaurant queries.
We've also noticed the carousel appearing on queries in sports ("chicago bears roster"), entertainment ("james bond movies"), and education ("best california colleges"), indicating that Google is expanding the carousel to additional categories.
A search for [hotels near disneyland] results in a carousel and for each hotel on the carousel you can see an image, reviews, and property name and address. The SERP no longer provides the 6- or 10-pack, and instead shows the usual sponsored links, Google's sponsored Hotel Finder pack above the organic results, and a map on the right.
Interestingly the variation of terms on which carousel appears seems to be arbitrary. A search for [disneyland hotels] didn't contain the carousel:
How Google Carousel Works
For certain local terms, Carousel has eliminated the local listings pack and replaced it with the horizontal bar of 20 image-based results. These 20 results are now effectively in the first position. For non-local terms, it provides more visual views of more results in a smaller space, enhancing the user experience.
Clicking on a carousel result for a local search leads us to another SERP with a branded search query for the business in that particular location.
In this case, the SERP for the automatically generated query "Ramada Maingate at the Park Anaheim CA" contains a summary of information about the hotel on the right side of the page, and the usual sponsored links and organic results on the left.
This summary contains photos of the property, a Google Map, a Google Street View image, contact information, the address, reviews, booking information, and suggested searches.
Impact of Google Carousel
BrightEdge research shows that carousel currently impacts 14 percent of keywords across all industries. Travel and Hospitality businesses are the most affected, with carousel results appearing on 33 percent of their keywords.
Restaurants are a close second, with 27 percent of keywords receiving carousel results. Currently we see carousel results appearing on only 5 percent of Entertainment terms, but that can be expected to grow as Google rolls out the capabilities to more query types.
The Google Places and Google+ Local Connection
At the bottom of each right-hand side information box is a gray link stating, "Are you the business owner?" Clicking on this link takes you to Google Places for Business.
Clearly, Google is encouraging businesses to create Places pages and Google+ Local for Business pages. Without claiming a Google Places page, business owners are dependent on the information Google has arbitrarily gathered from the website, partner sources such as Hotels.com, Zagat, or Insiderpages.com, and the reviews it collects.
In the case of our hotel query for Disneyland, clicking on "See photos" on the information box for the Ramada Maingate leads us to a page of photos. We see each photo displayed in full screen above of carousel of photos gathered from various sources. Many of the photos are blurry when blown up to the full screen size.
Further research on this hotel's own website shows us that it opened a new building several months ago, and that those photos have not been included in the carousel of photos above.
If the Ramada Maingate claims its Google Places for Business page, it could upload high-resolution images that are up to date, thereby showcasing the property at its best. It would also ensure a more appealing photo is shown in the carousel itself.
What is the Long-Term Outlook for Carousel?
From what we have seen, Google is rolling out updates to carousel on a regular basis – by including carousel results on additional keywords and categories. It is unclear what categories will be added, or why carousel is displayed on some queries and not others, no matter how similar.
So far, carousel hasn't resulted in drop in traffic or conversions since it began appearing in July. Secure search is the major upheaval for SEO practitioners now, and places greater responsibility on marketers to ensure their content is relevant to users. Google Places for Business and Google+ are additional content pieces that should now be added to the overall content plan.
How You Can Optimize for Carousel
Carousel is an opportunity for local businesses to appear in the first position on more searches.
With 20 results appearing in the carousel, it beats the former local 6- or 10-pack and the traditional SERP. However, it means your business is competing for attention with 19 other businesses, with various levels of name recognition, reviews, and quality of images.
Here are four things you can do immediately:
- Set up a Google Places for Business and Google+ page. This post outlines the most important aspects of both services, and explains how to merge the two types of pages for a single business.
- Make sure images are high resolution, unique, and order them in terms of your priority.
- Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google. Research shows that reviews play a significant role of placement in the carousel.
- Measure performance and establish a new baseline.