Mountain View, California–Google is introducing a horizontal carousel into its search and Maps results. The new feature currently supports dining and accommodation listings and is expected to expand into other venues in the near future.
Tablet and mobile users will recognize the side-scrolling preview that was initially introduced to the handheld market earlier this year. The Google carousel appearance on desktop browsers foreshadows further expansion; as time progresses, Google plans to extend the dynamic feature into countries other than the U.S. and implement multiple languages.
A New Sort of Window Shopping
Local businesses stand to benefit the most from the horizontal preview. The Google carousel appears directly above traditional search results and offers immediate visibility to establishments that might otherwise appear much further down the page. Google automatically selects an image to display in the preview, incentivizing businesses to ensure their websites are up-to-date with the most relevant photos. The carousel’s “location-based” nature is designed to work especially well with Google’s new Maps; clicking on each thumbnail will result in the business’ nearby locations and visitor reviews.
The carousel is expected to compete with ratings-based websites such as Yelp. Efficiently scrolling across restaurant thumbnails to easily access business information may discourage users from clicking on competitor review websites down in the vertical search listings.
The new Google Maps, which Google is gradually releasing into the general public, will provide an intuitive context for users to navigate the carousel for their local searches. As with many recent new features, it is also expected to provide optimal performance with touchscreen tablet interfaces. Users who are accustomed to swiping side-to-side between applications and images will find themselves naturally browsing the carousel in lieu of vertical search listings.
Google Carousel Beta Testers Speak Up
Google has continued in its beta-testing tradition by introducing the new feature to select operating systems back in December. Reviewers have already noticed a potential drawback to the carousel’s automatic image selection. Establishments with a focus on social gatherings, such as small restaurants and bars, tend to have a greater amount of visitor-uploaded photos than high quality “official” images. In order to ensure the carousel features an eye-catching thumbnail, businesses need to ensure their websites display a higher ratio of professional to amateur photography and artwork.
Presently, local establishments hire professionals in search engine optimization in order to maintain a high priority in traditional search results. Once the carousel becomes a standard, SEO experts will also need to focus on visual optimization for prominent results.