10 Observations on Google’s Local Carousel

It’s no secret that I don’t like Google’s “local carousel.”  It’s ugly, inconvenient, and counterintuitive.

Much ink has been spilled on the carousel. Many excellent points have been made.

We local-search geeks (not to mention business owners) have questions about the carousel: how will it evolve, to what extent will it roll out to the search results for all local businesses, and – above all – is there another shoe that has yet to fall.

While we’re all scratching our heads about those questions and many more, I’d like to make a few observations on the carousel.  (I don’t think anyone else has brought these up, but please let me know me if someone has.)

My thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  The carousel is not fully formed.  Google will iterate.  It already has: It’s replaced the “Zagat” ratings in the carousel and elsewhere with the review stars.  Also, the carousel seems to be a missed opportunity to push Google Plus on users (a la “new” Maps) – which is another reason I think Google will change the carousel around – so as to ram Plus down more users’ throats.

2.  All the search terms that trigger the carousel are for “fun” or non-essential businesses.  Carousels are fun (unless you puke afterwards).  Fitting, no?

3.  I’m guessing Google will never roll out the carousel more broadly, to search results beyond those for “fun” businesses.  Google is not simply showing results for businesses that people want to find very locally (e.g. restaurants).  If it did, we’d be seeing the carousel for “auto repair,” “gas station,” and other necessary-but-not-fun types of businesses.  No, Google will continue to show the carousel only for the “fun,” non-essential businesses. (If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my hat.)

4.  The photos (or tiny maps) are an absolute waste of space. Searchers would benefit much more from seeing the phone numbers, addresses, and URLs of the businesses up there.  The photos might be somewhat helpful if they consistently were of storefronts or Street View shots.  But that’s not the case.  They photos are either of food that looks like it’s sitting under a school cafeteria heat-lamp, or they’re of unintelligibly tiny squares of a zoomed-in map.  They do not help or inform the user.

5.  Doesn’t the carousel seem a lot like Google’s Hotpot flop?  Hotpot was also centered on reviews, and had the same side-to-side pane layout.  Now it’s worm food in the Google graveyard.  I hope that the carousel as a whole – or at least the current incarnation of it – will meet the same fate.

6.  It’s only a matter of time before Google carves out the left-most search result for AdWords.  Can you imagine the bidding war that would create between business owners?  It would be lucrative enough to make Mr. Wonderful drool:

7.  I’m guessing one main reason Google resumed showing the golden “review stars” was to take eyeball-share away from Yelp (and other IYPs).  What happens when you click on a carousel search result and then see a “branded” search for a business?  Right: Yelp’s search results are right near the top of the page.  If Google weren’t showing the golden review stars we all know and love, then Yelp would be the brightest peacock.

8.  The carousel is much taller than it needs to be.  There’s a lot of blackspace above and below the panes for each business.  I think that’s another attempt to squeeze Yelp.

9.  Businesses will probably never be able to control which images show up on their carousel panes.  If they did, there would be too many opportunities to upload eye-catching but irrelevant photos – not to mention photos that have the caption “I’m with stupid,” with little arrows pointing to the left and right.  Then Google would have to add a “report a problem” mechanism to the carousel, sort out problems, and generally deal with other dirty work that Mountain View typically avoids touching for as long as possible.

10.  Why doesn’t the carousel truly live up to its name and let the users scroll full-circle through the search results – in such a way that if they keep clicking on the right-hand arrow they eventually return to seeing the first batch of local search results?

What are your observations on the carousel?