Google Users May Determine Which Photos Represent Your Business in the Carousel

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.

Extra Virgin Photo

Photo taken by a Google Plus user at Extra Virgin appearing in local carousel results

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.

Corner Bistro local photo

Corner Bistro’s primary carousel photo was taken by a Googler

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. 

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 2.16.42 PM

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.

Bleecker Street Pizza

Bleecker St. pizza’s primary photo pulls from “local photos” rather than customer Google Plus accounts.

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.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the President of JSO Digital, a NYC based internet marketing company.

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7 Responses to “Google Users May Determine Which Photos Represent Your Business in the Carousel”

  1. matthew hunt

    Well this is a good lesson to SMB’s. Claim your listing and actively manage it and make sure you are adding awesome photos to it. Heck, you might even want to get some friends and family members to upload solid photos to their Google+ page and Google+ album or Panaramio accounts. Now I wonder if the photo has been GEO location tagged by your phone or other photo tools like instagram, etc if it has a better chance at showing up in the carousel.

    I still think if you have “claimed” your listing then you should be allowed to choose the photo that represents your business (whether be one you uploaded or a users photo).

  2. John O'Connor

    Thanks Matthew, good insight. As to claimed listings, my instincts were the same, but listings like Extra Virgin seem to demonstrate that the issue is uploading photos more so than claiming the listing.

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