Google Carousel: What Hotels Need to Know

by: Scott Davis

What is Google Carousel and Why is it Important to Hotels?

With Google launching their carousel feature in June of 2013, local search marketers have been working hard to understand how this newer search feature works, what causes it to show up, and how to rank well in carousel results.  You are probably familiar with the carousel of images that sometimes pop-up under the search bar for certain search queries on Google’s search engine results page (SERP).  If you haven’t come across the carousel yet, or you just happen to be a Bing fanatic, here’s what it looks like:

Google Carousel for Hotel Query

Google Carousel for Hotel Query

Whether you’re searching for hotels in an area, local coffee shops or restaurants for lunch, odds are you’re going to come across a carousel at some point sooner than later.

How Does Google Carousel Affect SERPs?

The most obvious effect carousel has on the SERP is pushing organic results further down the page.  Depending on whether your search query triggers a “Google Finder” like Hotel Finder or not, your SERP set may not even have organic results above the fold (i.e. showing on screen without scrolling). Something else to note is that the old SERP showed Google Map packs (see image below) but those with a carousel do not.

Google Map Pack

Google Map Pack – Before Carousel

Now this information is conveyed through the carousel in conjunction with a display map. (Zooming in or out on the map will shuffle the carousel results to locations within the map pane.)

With Carousel, securing an organic result above the fold for high-volume keywords is more important and makes local optimization more difficult than ever before.

How Do You Ride the Google Carousel?

Finding your spot on the Google carousel is not as hard as it may sound initially. Carousel draws information from several Google channels, with particular emphasis on Google Maps/Google Places.  Here are the basics of setting your business up for success on Google carousel.

1. Set Up a Google Account and Google + Profile – The first step is to set up your Google profile. This profile is usually setup for the person who will be managing the Google listing and business page, but other managers can be added later as needed, and ownership of a page can be transferred to a new profile after they have been setup as a manager for at least 2 weeks.

2. Set Up and Verify a Google Maps Listing – The next step is to setup a Google Places listing for your business. Just like your customers, Google needs a map to find you. With this information, Google can more easily determine geographical locators relevant to your physical business location and serve up results that incorporate this proximity in carousel. You will want to verify the listing because a verified Places listing allows you to edit your Google+ Local information.

3. Set up and Verify a Google+ Business Page – You also want to set up and verify a Google+ Business Page.  Similar to Facebook and other social networking sites, Google+ Business Pages allow you to post messages to your followers, provide Google additional verified information about your business, upload photos (which are used in the carousel) and take your social marketing to a new level with Google. Make sure your name, address and phone number are consistent on both Google Maps/Places Listing and the Google+ Business page so Google can merge the Business page with the Places listing at the time the Business page is verified.

What Affects Placement in Google Carousel, and How Do I Get a Better Spot?

The next obvious question is, “How do I get the 1st spot in the carousel?”  While Google has been tight-lipped about what they use to determine placement in the carousel, we’ve managed to identify a few common features that businesses in the first few spots seem to have:

Google+ Reviews:

Google Carousel Reviews

Google Carousel Reviews

Google+ reviews from customers are one of the factors that we believe most affect placement in the carousel.  Number of reviews, quality of reviews (star ratings) and relevance of reviews to your search query all play a factor in what Google shows you in the carousel.  To what level these factors influence the carousel results cannot be determined with any certitude, but a general consensus among search professionals is that the more Google+ reviews you have, the better your chances to place well in Google carousel. For more about the importance of Google+ review, read Digital Marketing Works’ article “Reviews Are the Brass Ring on Google’s Carousel.”

“What about personalized search results?” you say.  Well, don’t worry. I’ll get to that further down the page.

The Website Linked on the Google Places Listing/Google+ Business Page:

Along with reviews, Google may use information from the website linked on your Map listing or Google+ Business page.

Linked Website on Google+ Business Page

Linked Website on Google+ Business Page

This information includes authority of the website, back links, and the number of quality citations your website has on the Internet that support the NAP (Name, Address & Phone Number) for your Google Map listing.  Sites that perform better with these metrics may also perform better in carousel.

Optimized Google+ Business Page:

Similar to optimizing your website, you’ll want to optimize your Google+ Business page as well.  Make sure to add images to the page, categories as appropriate to the business and a description of the business that includes geographical locators imbedded in quality content. You’ll also want to add a Google badge and a Publisher Schema tag to your website, tying it directly to your Google+ Business page. Learn more about Google Badges.

Google+ Badge for Hotel

Example of a Google+ Badge

Search Query Relevance:

As with most searches, carousel is affected by the query being searched.  However, something to note about carousel that differs from the pay-per-click ads is Google’s use of your search query.  The pay-per-click ads shown on SERPs are usually a direct response to your search query, exactly as you’ve typed it in.  The actual Google Map results also tend to make use of the exact query searched.  Carousel doesn’t behave this way.  Sometimes Google will give you results for what you’ve searched, and sometimes Google gives you results for a variation of the keyword in carousel.

Google Carousel Keyword Change

Change in search query for Google Carousel

Carousel search query changin

Carousel search query changing, but not PPC ads.

For queries with geographical identifiers in them, Google’s carousel seems to offer locations within a close proximity according to Google Maps,but this is only one factor. As shown in the image below, the W Hotel in Dallas is in fact the closest hotel to the American Airlines Center by distance, but as you can see, it doesn’t hold the 1st spot in the carousel.  Hotels in spots 1, 2 & 3 appear to have more Google+ reviews and similar star ratings, which as I mentioned earlier also seem to be factors determining where you place in carousel.

Google Carousel for Proximity Search

Google Carousel for Proximity Search

Adjusting the search query to “Best hotel near American Airlines Center” shuffles the results and provides quite a different line-up in the carousel.  Whether the results for “best” is determined solely by Google+ reviews and star ratings on Google+ or also incorporates 3rd party reviews is unknown at this time, but star ratings would seem like one logical way they identify the “best” hotels.

Google Carousel with Quality Query

Google Carousel with Quality Query

Actively Posting to Google+ and Responding to Reviews:

While still a hotly contested subject in the SEO industry, a business’ engagement on Google+ and actively responding to customer reviews may also be a consideration with placement in carousel.  With Google’s focus on User Experience (UX), it seems to follow that carousel would prefer businesses who are actively participating in Google+ by posting relevant and fresh content for their followers and responding to their customers’ reviews.

Reviews on Google+

Reviews on Google+

Customer Engagement with +1’s, Circles and Followers: Personalized Search

At the moment, no one, outside of Google, knows what effect +1’s, followers and circles play on non-personalized search results in carousel.  We do know they affect personalized search results.  Google’s even willing to tell us this outright!

Google private search results

Google private search results

Using your Google+ Business page to build your business’ social network of connections can make a world of difference for personalized search results from Google.  (If you have an Android phone and search from it, you’re already logged in and getting personalized results!)

Posts from Google+ Business pages you follow or circle, or your connections on Google+ follow or circle can also show along with your search results.  This is also true for carousel results as they relate to the query being searched.

So, What Should I Do in Response to Google Carousel?

There’s no silver bullet to obtaining the #1 spot in carousel. Google considers a myriad of factors for placement in the carousel, and we have identified only a precious few so far that you can actively control to help you secure placement.

With the ever-more crowded above-the-fold organic search results for queries that generates carousel responses on Google, buried organic results on the SERP play second fiddle to other features like the carousel, pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements and  Google Hotel Finder.

Google Hotel Finder

Google Hotel Finder

For new websites, smaller hotels and those in highly competitive markets, getting that prime position in carousel isn’t going to happen immediately.  They just don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle working for them to hit #1 yet, but don’t fret!  There are things you can do to overcome the carousel disadvantage.

1. Consider Running Google Adwords Ads

Pay-per-click advertising still shows above the fold and directly under the carousel.  Not all search queries that generate a carousel also generate the hotel finder.  In fact, while trying to make Google show both for a screen shot in this blog article, I came across several queries for the Dallas market where a carousel shows with no hotel finder AND no PPC ads.

Even Google helps by pointing out low hanging fruit every once in a while:  even when PPC competition for a search query is non-existent, Google felt they were worthy of displaying a carousel.  This also means a hotel can take advantage of this with targeted PPC campaigns.

2. Engage in Social Media with Google+ Posts

Get out there and connect with your Google+ community.  Providing relevant, current information in posts to your Google+ page helps build your brand and relationship with your social network.  Developing and nurturing those relationships can greatly influence personalized search results, putting you at the top.  Grow your following and see what networking can do for you on a Google+ level.

3. Work with an Experienced Internet Marketing and SEO Agency

Google has always been a puzzle, but today it’s like one of those epic Puzz-3D puzzles that ruined Christmas for ambitious fathers all throughout the 90’s. It’s a lot of work, there are a lot of pieces, and it’s harder than ever to put them together.

We recommend working with an agency experienced with Google and with taking a holistic approach to search strategy which incorporates optimization, Social Media, PPC and content. Valet Interactive can be your partner in PPC advertising, Social Media marketing and optimization/SEO marketing to get your business set for success online. If your hotel needs help, request a proposal today.

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Scott Davis is the SEO Specialist at Valet Interactive.

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sdavis@Valetinteractive.com'

Scott Davis

Scott Davis is the Senior SEO Specialist at Valet Interactive. His professional experience in marketing spans over 16 years and includes public relations, direct sales, direct promotional marketing, event planning, e-commerce marketing, writing, editing, search engine optimization and search engine marketing. He is an avid music fan and plays acoustic and electric guitar. Cat Fan.