In the past month, Google introduced a new way to present what has commonly been referred to as the "Local Pack" or "7 Pack" of local search results. This new presentation is called the Google Carousel.
The carousel creates a row of images at the very top of local search results, making a very visually impactful presentation that local businesses and brands will want to leverage.
Currently, the carousel has only been rolled out to a select group of vertical categories. Restaurants, being one such vertical category, seem to trigger the carousel most often. When it will roll out to other categories, or if it will, has not been revealed by Google.
How Does It Work?
The carousel is the set of images in the black strip across the top of the screen. There is an arrow at the right you can click to advance through to the next round of listings.
If you click on one of the images, you are served a brand/location-specific search results page, as seen below. Note that the carousel is persistent, so even on the brand-specific results page, you still have the option to go back to another brand/location.
The data that is pulled up on the knowledge panel section to the right (where the image and map are) is powered by that location's Google+ listing. The same optimization schema that applies to the old 7 Pack should apply here as well.
Because clicking on an image from the carousel results in a brand-specific results page being served up, we expect three outcomes to emerge:
Where Will the Carousel Go Next?
Looking at Google's history, any new product or feature is just a precursor to more changes. It's very rare to see Google unveil something and stick with the same functionality or layout seen at launch, so we can bet that the carousel we see today may not be the same one we are looking at in even a month's time.
Functional changes. Currently, clicking a tile in the carousel will lead you to a search results page for that business.
Google could also use the carousel to push users to a business' Google+ page. Google+ is still an important part of Google's strategy going forward, and tying a + page to such high-visibility real estate would be an excellent incentive to get brands that haven't yet created a page to do so.
With this approach, Google could turn the carousel into a self-serve advertising platform in which you could pay to take control of your carousel tile, choosing to display a logo, offer, or location image, and even deciding where it is pointed.
Industry/category expansion. Right now, the carousel is only seen in conjunction with select industry verticals, most prominently bars, restaurants, and colleges. But as Google monitors the click-through rates for those verticals, it'll be sure to expand out into other high-traffic areas as well.
The question becomes, will this be rolled out to every category or only certain ones? Are categories like home services, where the professionals come to their customers rather than customers coming to them, a good fit? Does this make sense for a category like insurance, where much of the dialogue occurs over the phone and through email/online in 2013?
Product expansion. The carousel would be a perfect fit for Google Shopping results, and would likely inspire even greater adoption of product ads by advertisers.
What if Google chose to integrate a carousel approach into paid search? A horizontal carousel would be awkward given the text orientation of Google's ads, but what if it rotated vertically? What if the area at the top of the page, which currently hosts two to three advertisers, could be changed with a click by the user to see a second set of two to three additional advertisers? Google could charge a bit more for those placements than it would for the positions on the right rail of results, or it could pull the right rail out altogether and replace it with something else.
Carousel is a manner for Google to expand the number of businesses/brands that it displays for its most popular local categories. It's part of the continuing evolution of Google's local offering, increasing user functionality and advertiser utility. We recommend that businesses and brands keep an eye on how this new format develops and if it is applied to your business vertical in the future.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014