Earlier this month, Google quietly released a massive expansion to the number of carousels that appear on the first page of search results. Appearing for a variety of queries—including business, product, and “best…” searches—these new carousels are making waves in the online publishing world. Very little is known about where the information displayed is pulled from, and these carousels could have massive impacts on organic search results.
In late January and early February, reports of new and expanded carousels started rolling in:
Historically, Google’s carousels haven’t had a tremendous impact on B2B businesses, but these new business listing carousels have major implications. The carousels appear above both ads and organic search results. When you click a listing in the carousel, a new search is performed for the chosen term.
Query: Project Management Software
Query: Best Marketing Software
Query: Best SEO Companies
In a Twitter exchange with Rand Fishkin of Moz, Google’s Gary Illyes alluded to the fact that the “top websites” carousel was pulling its data from Alexa—which was the first organic result that appeared for that query.
It’s possible, then, to conclude that the carousels are being populated much like the answers in featured snippets. Google is pulling the data from sites it’s deemed as having the best answer, connecting the companies listed with their Google business/brand profiles, and using that information to display results.
But upon review of the page-one organic results for “best marketing software,” none were a 1:1 match for the carousel results, and Google Analytics—the first result in the carousel—didn’t appear in the lists for any of the organic results.
Another potential clue is in the categories that appear directly above the search results:
These categories work like breadcrumbs, and clicking on “software” conducts a search for “list of software” that results in another carousel:
It seems as though Google has categorized certain businesses, but how these categories are being determined and applied, where the images are being pulled from, and how the businesses are ranked for placement in the carousel is all unknown.
Google’s carousel results for these B2B searches are very similar to listicles. In fact, it’s list articles that are largely being moved below the fold in search results for the queries that return carousels. At this point, it’s unclear exactly how many keywords are populating carousels, and Google has not commented on its plans for expanding carousel results for additional queries.
With so little known about these carousels, it’s not yet clear exactly what the implication will be for brands. However, it’s clear that if searchers begin to click on carousel entries instead of organic results:
Since Google has yet to comment on these new carousels, it’s too early to recommend changes. However, it’s a good time to do an inventory of important keywords to determine which pages and pieces of content are likely to be impacted. Collect a list of keywords that are resulting in carousels, and monitor traffic changes for those keywords in the coming months.
The days of SERPs displaying ten organic links—and maybe a few ads—feels like a distant memory. Today, the first page of a Google result commonly features a variety of carousels, snippets, and cards that are designed to provide users with the information they need more quickly. In fact, by late 2016, organic results that displayed on page one were down to an average of 8.5 listings.
Google announced its first search carousel in 2013: a listing of Google Maps results for local business queries. Since that first carousel, others also appeared incrementally. Last year, Google added carousels to desktop searches that displayed top news stories from AMP publishers, and added carousels to sponsored product ads. Carousels appear more frequently on mobile, showing video, image, music, and related search results.
By mid-2016, there were more than a dozen versions of blended results—including featured snippets, image packs, Knowledge Graph cards and panels, related questions, and news packs—to contend with the organic results that appear on the first page of Google search results.
“Best” lists have been a staple of content marketing for many years now: they tend to receive more shares and links, so it’s easier to rank highly for targeted keywords. The problem is that lists do not always provide the best user experience. Often, lists provide shallow content, are used primarily to drive affiliate marketing commissions, or are created primarily to encourage incoming links from the businesses/products that appear in the list.
This change seems to be another attempt at providing quality, relevant search results for queries. As was the case with keyword stuffing and backlink manipulation, all attempts to manipulate ranking signals to populate top results with low-quality content eventually become obsolete. These new carousels may be Google’s new way of improving search results by discouraging publishers from focusing their efforts on producing low-quality list posts.