Especially related to hospitality businesses like restaurants and hotels, Google has started to display a Carousel image gallery at the top of some local search results. This change significantly increases the importance of improving search engine results, especially for small and medium sized local businesses.
The photo gallery layout could have major impact on online traffic, and therefore real world traffic. Clicking on any of the results in the Carousel gallery brings the user a new search page for that business underneath the Carousel display. This is an interesting approach on the part of Google, because it means that the online consumer is then presented with a larger view of that business' online presence, including their website, local results, reviews and premium advertisements. This is likely to create more clicks in the SERP, and alter how traffic clicks through to business pages.
It becomes even more important for any business to be listed in Search Results, and listed highly, in an increasingly competitive online landscape. The Carousel function could all but eliminate from consideration any businesses not displayed in that list (but which may still be present in normal 'organic' results that are derived from a different search algorithm).
Carousel also raises the stakes for having a broad online strategy, even for small businesses. Google local results have long been tied to having other Google online assets, including a Google+ page for your business. But now, your consumer is being presented with a more complete view of your business through the Google Carousel SERP. The more competitive your market, the more important it is to have a complete set of online assets working at your disposal. Pictures are only becoming a greater driver of the search environment, and that evolution is certain to continue. As display devices like phones and tablets become more common and more powerful, the content migration from text to pictures will surely continue its evolution to video and beyond.
Various market research firms have already begun to use heat maps, click analysis and eye tracking software to try to identify how web searchers will interact with Carousel SERPS. Check back soon for more in depth analysis and review of how Google Search, Carousel, and other developments will affect your business; because staying informed is your best strategy to stay ahead.