Almost a year ago, Google threw everyone for a loop with the rollout of the Google Local Carousel. The SEO community scrambled to try to figure out how it worked, and theories started flying about how it would change search behavior. It was immediately evident that a location’s Carousel photo would be all-important…
It didn’t take long to realize the biggest problem with the Carousel: business owners had no control over the photo that gets displayed. There was a lot of buzz about not being able to choose thumbnail photos, but the buzz died down as nothing was updated. At the end of last year, Google quietly began playing with the display images.
The image updates have continued, with some businesses seeing two or three different display thumbnails within the last six months. There’s still no update to allow business owners to set their display photo, even though Google clearly knows the photos have a huge effect on click-through rates.
When the Local Carousel first rolled out, the displayed thumbnails were the first images uploaded to the location page for the business — even if the business didn’t upload the photo. That led to quite a few interesting carousel photos:
At the end of last year, Google started to switch to interior shots (from what we monitored, the changes happened mostly with restaurants and hotels). There didn’t seem to be a pattern to which image was chosen, just that they were interior shots.
Several months ago, Google started switching to exterior shots on many of the same businesses that they’d changed in December. The interior shots seemed to work better, since you’d get a sense of the atmosphere of the restaurant or the room decor of the hotel. The exterior shots don’t make as much sense — they’re typically from a distance and don’t show much detail.
So if you’re showing up in the Carousel and you can’t control what image shows up, what can you do? According to Google, your best option is to delete all the photos in your account, and when you upload new photos, upload your desired Carousel photo first. This isn’t always feasible, but it’s their only solution.
In most cases, Google has removed the user-uploaded images from the Carousel displays, so at least you don’t have to worry about someone killing your branding with a bad photo.
Now that Google appears to be testing interior and exterior shots, the Carousel thumbnail is no longer your first uploaded image. Until Google rolls out an update that allows business owners to choose their photo, it looks like we’re stuck with the current Carousel crapshoot.
If Google’s going to choose a photo at random, you need to be sure that every photo will look good in the Carousel. You have to pay extra attention to how the photo will look after being cropped so you don’t end up with something that looks strange.
Carousel thumbnail photos are 115 pixels by 115 pixels, and the review overlay is 36 pixels high. Since that works out to roughly 31% of the height, you should assume that the bottom third of your image will be hidden behind the review overlay.
That’s important – you MUST be sure that your “money shot” is contained within the top two-thirds of the square thumbnail that will be created from your photos…
Landscape Thumbnail Crop
(where the photo is wider than it is tall)
The thumbnail will be cropped from the center of your image.
Whether you’re inside or outside, you’ll have to buck tradition and include extra “ground” in your shot.
If you go with the standard bottom-aligned building with lots of sky, the review overlay will cover your building and you’ll end up with something really odd.
Portrait Thumbnail Crop
(where the photo is taller than it is wide)
The thumbnail will be cropped from the top of your image. These are the trickiest to get right, since you’re really only going to see a little less than the top third of the photo.
As you can see with the example to the right, it’s a nice shot of their bruscetta appetizer, but once it’s cropped to the Carousel thumbnail, you can’t even tell what’s in the photo.
It’s difficult to find a photo that looks great in your gallery that also looks great as a Carousel photo. Your best bet is to only upload landscape photos (at least until Google allows us to choose our Carousel thumbnail).