You may have been noticing Google's new local search feature recently - the carousel. If you haven't already noticed it, you will do in the near future. But what are the pros and cons for local SEO?
Here's what I'm talking about:
The images are activated when certain local search terms are used - the example I've used above is Japan attractions. Searching for New York restaurants should bring it up also (in theory - the carousel hasn't yet rolled out everywhere and based in the UK I'm not seeing it for every term yet - there's a list of them in this blog post).
You might expect to get to the photo's web page when you click on one of carousel images, but that's not the case. What you get are the search engine results for that particular attraction or business instead:
Restaurants, hotels, cafes and similar businesses show slightly different results:
Image from Beacon Technologies
Zagat reviews are pulled in plus a large Google Map image on the right-hand side.
Again, clicking on an image will result in search engine results for that restaurant's branded search term to appear (eg, if I clicked in the first image I would be given the search results for Hampton Inn & Suites).
What are the pros of the carousel?
Google local results now appear in image form above the paid results for the first times in Google SERPs which may mean that the top local businesses (according to Google) get noticed and clicked on before the paid listings. (For now).
More local businesses can be seen "above the fold" than previously (when only two or three local results could be seen on smaller monitors).
It looks like you may have a greater chance of being clicked on through your image than if you had only appeared in the organic listings.
And the cons?
You'll see that the carousel takes up a lot of space (real estate) on the SERPs which means even less of an opportunity to rank on the first page of the organic listings.
More clicks are needed to get through to your business website.
Most of the links on the SERPs pages now point to Google properties - not to company sites. Mike Blumenthal's done a great analysis of the numbers.
Make sure Google gets to see your images
You'll definitely need to claim your Google+ Local and Google+ Business pages and you'll also have to populate it with some stand-out images. This study shows that people are going to click on images on the left (in the west, anyway) so if your results are to the right, you'll need a really good one to attract attention. The higher Google ranks you, the further left you'll appear, by the way.
Google's SERPs pages are in flux. They've been looking for ways to emphasize local search for a while now, and this is another step in that direction. However, it's early days yet as to whether the carousel will have an overall positive or negative effect on local businesses.