Google’s new carousel feature is shaking up local search by pulling photos directly into search results. It looks cool, but there is a catch. Business owners do not completely control which photos display in the carousel. According to the Google Products Forum:
My business is on the carousel, but I’d like to change the photo. How can I do that?
The Google business listing is one of several sources we use for the photos in the carousel, and making sure high-quality images are posted to it will help improve your photo. However the image selection, like the actual ranking of businesses, is primarily decided by algorithms and so we can’t guarantee complete control over the image.
So where do the photos come from?
Many of the photos are crowd sourced from Google Plus users, especially Google employees. A search for “NYC restaurants” provides a nice example. The restaurant I see farthest to the left (which is technically in the first place position) is Extra Virgin. Extra Virgin’s primary carousel photo was taken by former NYU student Alex Kolenovic and posted to his Google Plus profile. In fact, 2/7 of the photos associated with Extra Virgin were taken by Alex. Very interesting.
The trend holds true for Corner Bistro, which appears second in carousel results. Corner Bistro’s primary photo is pulled from Googler Meg Smith’s Google Plus albums. 2/9 of the photos associated with the Corner Bistro were shot by Meg.
Cipriani, the third restaurant listed has Mary Jones to thank for all three of its carousel photos.
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, the fourth restaurant listed in the carousel also displays a primary photo taken by Kevin Song, again a Google employee.
It’s not until we get to the fifth place position that Bleecker Street Pizza breaks the trend. Their primary photo pulls from “local photos,” presumably added by them.
Most of the remaining businesses listed in the carousel’s top 10 display “local photos” rather than shots from Google users. Other sources of photos include Zagat and Panaramio.
The lesson seems to be that that businesses who take the time to add good photos of their own are more likely to have those photos associated with their listing in the carousel. When businesses don’t add photos, they are supplied by Google users. The problem for business owners is that the quality of user submissions varies. When businesses with hundreds of visitors, like restaurants, fail to add good photos, low quality user photos may represent them in the search results.