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Just like Joni Mitchell said, They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. The “A” position on Google Maps is a thing of the past for many local searches. That prime real estate on local search that everyone sought after, a.k.a. The Seven-Pack is about to be bulldozed. With The Local Listings Carousel, Google is democratizing local search.

The Google Local Listing Carousel is a horizontal display of business listings across the top of the search results page. The horizontal display scrolls around like a carousel (hence the name), which is oh-so-perfect for mobile and tablet users who can perform a finger swipe on a touch screen. (This carousel format has been available on mobile devices for months; the big change is that desktop searches are now displaying the carousel, too.)

There are no pins, balloons, or seven letters in alphabetical order, constantly tormenting poor “H”. There is no hierarchy of integrated results. There is, however, an immediate display of reviews: the total number of reviews as well as the average review score (out of 30).

Remember how we’ve been encouraging everyone to be proactive in getting online reviews from satisfied patients? Google just added to the list of reasons why you need your satisfied patients to review you on Google. It’s one of the first things that searchers will see when they are looking for a service in their local area. Don’t miss your opportunity to impress new patients with great reviews on Google!

The carousel made it’s national debut on desktop search sometime on June 19th or 20th. When you think about it, Google has always had its roller coasters and quick-drop thrill rides, so a carousel seems like an obvious addition to the theme park. The carousel does not appear for every Google search; currently, searches for ‘restaurant’ and ‘hotel’ and ‘bars’ in a local area will display carousel results. So will searches for ‘gas station’ and ‘fast food’ and ‘grocery store’. We are not seeing the carousel when searching for medical professionals such as ‘orthodontist’ or ‘dentist’ — not yet anyway.

Will Google make the switch for all listings in the new Google Places for Business? Or will the carousel only be seen when searching for walk-in businesses that a mobile user might be looking for? For now, it seems to be the latter. Another thing we’ll be watching for is some sort of ‘More listings’ link that loads more business into the carousel. Currently, the carousel is capped at 20 businesses. One would assume this is a scaled-down version of the carousel and Google will add more businesses to the carousel in the future.

Now, more than ever, the first image associated with your business listing is going to be hugely important. Of the 20 businesses contained in the search carousel, the one with the most compelling image will earn the lion’s share of clicks!

The carousel is not all bad, however, if you weren’t one of the smart (or lucky) ones to be firmly entrenched in the “A” position. This new design features more  options; a “fair shake” with less bias against the little guy or the newcomer. The guidelines are still the same for prospering on Google local search: if you’ve got the best services, the best website, and a bunch of good reviews, the Internet will bring you new business.

The buzz about the carousel has been building for about a month now, starting in the Local Search Forum and also on Search Engine Watch. It is too early to tell how this will impact the organic rankings, or if it will at all. Currently, Google is using an “integrated” results layout that combines the organic ranking (just your website) with your Google Maps ranking. If the Maps rankings are to be vacuumed up into this Local Listings Carousel, what remains below in the organic area will be crucial to business owners.

As for what Google users are going to click first, that is an interesting debate. The eye will be drawn to the carousel, yes, but people are trained to click on the first or second organic link that they see. If a business owner is able to maintain a spot on the first “page” of the carousel and also be in the top three of the organic rankings underneath, then this new update is hardly cause for concern. We are currently seeing lots of Yelp and Yellow Pages listings in the organic results underneath the carousel.

A jagged little pill to swallow for the Number One Spot. However, this is the nature of the beast. The Internet is going social, which means transparency and individuality and, above all, INTERACTION. The sites that interest people, engage people, and encourage both new and repeat visitors will be the sites that prosper. Ask yourself: is this any different than what you were already trying to do?