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PART II: Google Local Carousel for Restaurants, Hotels & Bars Replaces Local Pack

[Google, Community]
Summary: It's been nearly a year since Google first launched the Knowledge Graph Carousel, but less than two months ago they introduced a major change - the inclusion of local businesses for certain types of searches. Prior to this summer, the carousel was generally just shown for informational searches. The implications stand to be huge for local SEO, especially as Google continues adding services to the already 300+ that trigger the carousel. Earlier this week, before getting to the topic of the new "local carousel" results, I got sidetracked with a number of changes Google has recently made to their search results page. If you missed Part I, read it now to familiarize yourself with these other changes. Got it? Good, now back to the Local Knowledge Graph Carousel. As of about two months ago, the carousel no longer appears for strictly informational searches - it's now also showing businesses for certain types of local searches like restaurants and hotels. Take a look at the results page I got for the simple search 'pizza' (with Google auto-detecting my location as being in Burlington): Pizza Search Results Carousel As you can see, after I clicked on Marco's Pizza, the Knowledge Graph area to the right became populated with Marco's specific information including their address, phone number, hours of operation, average rating and links to reviews. Additionally, there's a "People also search for" section that has a bit of an overlap with the carousel, however it's clearly not "pizza" specific. Noticeably absent from the knowledge graph area is a link or any way to visit the restaurant's official site. You can of course click to the official site if you look to the top of the organic search results back on the left, but Google is counting on people not doing that if they can provide users with the important information they seek in the eye-catching knowledge graph area. Personally I'd still prefer to go to a restaurant's official site to read their menu, specials, etc., and in most cases I would think the business owners would prefer this as well, but I suspect a lot of people know what they want, which is often just a phone number or address. However it's important to remember this isn't limited to restaurants, so accessing a menu (often my concern) isn't always the searcher's goal. At any rate, my point is that Google is always looking for a way to keep you on one of their properties so they can market to you more effectively. As is often the case, local search guru Mike Blumenthal was one of the first to highlight a couple of other carousel changes geared toward keeping users in search results rather than clicking over to official websites:
  • Clicking to read reviews causes a dialogue/overlay to pop-up, rather than taking you to the business's Google+ Local ("Places") page, as had previously always been the case.
  • You can now filter the local carousel results for price and user ratings

Google Reviews Overlay

Here's how the new overlay looks when you click to read reviews from the search results: Marco's Pizza Reviews on Google As you can see, basically all you're able to do is scroll through and expand reviews inside this box. Your only other options are to click to "Write a review" yourself, sort them by various criteria, or click outside the box to return to the search results page. But there's no way to go to the business's Google+ Local page.... You know, the pages Google has been telling business owners to claim and optimize ever since the migration from Google Places. Interestingly, the official site still says "Places for Business" (in the title and on the page), despite the move over the last year to Google+ Local, part of the overall effort to get people engaged on their fledgling "Google+ social network". For whatever reason, they're showing a photo of a laptop that shows what a Places/+ Local page looks like on your screen, as if to emphasize why this is important to business owners... but why, when they've now made it nearly impossible to access a business's Places/+ Local page? My guess would be that's simply an oversight. And at the same time, I suppose one could argue that an optimized Google+ Local business page still influences your local rankings which determines who used to appear in the local pack and now the carousel, but that doesn't alleviate the frustration felt after someone spends time picking out great profile and cover photos, etc. only to have the page virtually never seen by anyone. Lest you think I'm overstating how hard it is to actually view a Places/+ Local page, I challenge you to try to do it yourself. It's not *difficult* in the sense that it requires any kind of special skill, knowledge or ability, but they just bury it behind several clicks that few would ever realize are the portal to a business's Google+ page. The only way I could find to access these pages was to first click on the business map that shows up in the knowledge graph area, and then click on the reviews or "More info" link from the little business info pop-up within the map results page.  But how many people are actually going to see the map results page in the first place? You have to click a relatively tiny map to the right of the business photo and above the street view (again, see Marco's example above again), which my gut tells me few people even pay attention to. And even if they do make it that far, then they have to somehow know that clicking the inconspicuous reviews or "More info" links will take them to the Google+ page (and even the "More info" link has been retired in the "New" Google Maps.) I would never argue that anyone should neglect their Google+ Local/Places page because after all, this is Google's world - we just live in it. We have to follow their best practices/quality guidelines if we hope to gain any traction in the search results. But I will say you shouldn't waste a ton of time obsessing over cover photos, profile pics and social engagement at this stage, when few will ever see any of it.

Local Carousel Filters

The other item Blumenthal highlighted was the new carousel results filter feature, which will change depending on the type of search you perform. Keeping with the pizza search above, the options are to filter based on rating and price: Google Local Carousel Filters Blumenthal's example of a generic "restaurant" search allows for a third filter type: "Cuisines", which lists all types like barbecue, Italian and seafood. Getting back to the point about a decrease in users actually clicking through to businesses' websites, Blumenthal made another great point just days after the "local carousel" launched - these new search results pages may push more business owners into the "pay to play" realm. Essentially what we're seeing are search results pages that in some cases don't even show a single organic result above the first fold. Blumenthal shows examples where one Chicago singing lesson instructor's organic result is being bumped right out of the first fold by their competitor's Adwords PPC add. The only way the bumpee can compete with the bumper now is to start running ads, and of course that increased competition will drive up bids, resulting in ad revenue for teh Googs. Blumenthal further emphasizes how few links in the first fold are now non-Google properties with another great post that highlights all of the different areas that mostly just link you to other Google pages/services. If it wasn't clear before this post, I'm sure it is now - I'm a big fan of Mike Blumethal's local SEO blogging and he's been all over the local carousel since before I even got a chance to write about it once, so I would encourage you to go through all of the posts I've just linked to... and those that I'm about to! More information about the new local carousel: