Local Carousel Photos – You Might Be Screwed

Posted on August 29, 2013 in

Google Local Carousel Photos

Seriously – you might already be screwed, and not even know it. Yep, I said it… hold on to your seats, folks – this post is rated PG-13 for language and adult situations. It’s long, and it’s got a lot of photos – but stick with it, and you’ll see how crazy this problem really is.

The new Google Local Carousel still has everyone feeling a bit wonky. We’re not really sure how it’s all going to end up, but it’s clear that the Local Carousel is going to drastically change the way that people conduct local searches. I’ve written several posts over on the AutoRevo blog about the Carousel, so if you’re not up to speed on the new changes, check ’em out.

Several people have conducted click tests to try to figure out how people are going to use the Carousel and how your photo might make a difference. This isn’t one of those posts…

We can all make the logical assumption that a great photo will win the Carousel. We dug around and started looking at the different photos that show up for various Carousel-triggering searches, and we were blown away by what we saw. We’ve found what’s possibly the most ginormous bug in the Local Carousel system – and it doesn’t look like anyone else has figured this out yet…

In many cases, you can’t control what your Local Carousel photo is!

Yep… you could be totally screwed and you don’t even know it.

Your Local Carousel photo is going to be the first photo uploaded to your Google+ Local account – whether you uploaded the photo or not! You don’t even have to have a claimed Google+ Local (aka Google Places) listing.

Google’s official solution is to delete every photo in your account, then upload them all again – being careful to upload the photo you want for the Carousel as your first photo. Clearly, this is an awful solution, especially for businesses who have been active on Google+ for more than five minutes. Plus, this only works if your Carousel photo is one that you own – if someone else loaded it, you can’t do anything.

Think about that for a second… it’s incredibly scary – if someone else has uploaded a photo to your location/listing before you, that’s what will show up! Even worse, you can’t delete that photo, so you have zero control over what shows up in the Carousel.

The absolute worst case scenario: the photo was uploaded by an anonymous Google user. You’ll have no way of figuring out who loaded the photo, so you can’t try to contact them to get it taken down.

Let me show you a few screen captures to illustrate the depth of the problem. We first noticed it in a search for “hotel Spokane” (because of an interview we were doing with a local search blogger) – check out the screen cap:

Google search for "hotel Spokane"

What really jumps out at you?  The photo of the random girl, right? Check out the weird photo for the Comfort Inn just to the right. Is it just me, or does it look like a run down building in the projects? Let’s take a look at the actual photos behind the Carousel images:

Spokane Carousel photos in detail

The girl’s photo was uploaded by Erin McGovern – so luckily, the Spokane Club can look her up on Google+ – her profile includes her email address, so it’s likely that they could get her to delete the photo.

The Comfort Inn actually wanted that photo to be their image – it’s even what they have selected for their Google+ Local profile image. Obviously, they weren’t thinking about how it will look on the Carousel, since they probably uploaded the photo long before the Carousel rolled out. Regardless, it’s a crappy photo – why would they choose such a distorted wide angle shot? It’s all about branding, people. You’ve got to use photos that clearly convey your branding.

Here’s how the Carousel photos get cropped:

For whichever image you’ve uploaded, Google will create a square thumbnail from your image. The bottom third of that square will be hidden by the nearly opaque review overlay.

If your photo has a portrait aspect ratio, where it’s taller than it is wide, the square thumbnail will be anchored to the top left corner of your image and cover the full width. In other words, Google is going to take the top portion of your image, cropping off whatever is below the largest square it can make. The Local Carousel photo will only clearly show about the top third of a standard portrait photo.

If your photo has a landscape ratio, where it’s wider than it is tall, the square thumbnail will be anchored in the center of your image, covering the full height. The edges of your image will be cropped off, so the wider your image is, the more you’ll lose. The Local Carousel image will only clearly show the top two-thirds of the center of a standard landscape photo.

It’s time for the PG-13 examples

Hold on to your seats, this is where the post gets a little more adult-oriented. We wanted to see how bad this problem was, so we started checking crazy outliers – businesses that showed up on the Local Carousel where you’d assume to see a certain type of photo…

So we searched for strip clubs in Dallas. Now, before you scroll down and check out the screen grab, think about what you’d expect to see in the Carousel photos – lots of T&A, right? It should be a visual feast of depravity, only it’s not:

Google search for "strip club Dallas"

I only included the first 8 results in that screen grab, but I could actually see 15 results on my monitor with the browser window maximized. Out of the 15 results, only 3 had photos of women. Not such great marketing, right?

What jumps out at you? You’ve got the 2 photos of girls… then for me, you notice the newspaper ad and the wood beam ceiling. Let’s take a closer look at the girls first, since that’s really the intent of someone who’s searching for strip clubs.

Dallas Strip Clubs Local Carousel Results

The first photo was uploaded by a gal named Malika (blurred out a bit because I think the RankHammer guys might not be too happy with the original). A quick search for her G+ profile, and we can see it’s obviously a call girl marketing page – she’s listed as a stripper/callgirl/porn actress from Nepal. Obviously not something the bar owners want advertised as the figurehead for their business – BUT, since they can find the profile, they can contact her to delete the photo.

The second photo is blurry and none of the girls are looking at the camera – clearly a camera phone shot from another photoshoot. Again, this one was uploaded by an anonymous Google user, so they’re stuck with it.

Now let’s take a look at the rafters and the newspaper ad:

bad Local Carousel Potos

The rafters shot is at least understandable – they clearly had a photographer come in and take some nice pictures of their establishment. The actual photo shows the huge wooden rafters over their front door – but just like the hotel that looked like the projects, the cropped version of the photo looks awful in the Carousel. Since they uploaded the photo, they can at least delete all their photos and upload something better instead.

The newspaper ad is where things get really hairy. Once you look at the actual image, you can see that it’s a Toys R Us newspaper ad. Why this was uploaded to a strip club listing is anyone’s guess – but you can be sure that the owners of the club probably don’t want this to be their Carousel image.

It’s also a safe bet that Toys R Us doesn’t want to be associated with a strip club. What happens if they notice this, and send a cease and desist order to have the image removed? The image was loaded by an anonymous Google user, so the owners have no way of contacting the user to ask for the photo to be deleted – and they have no way to delete it themselves…

So what does this mean for you?

It’s absolutely imperative that you log in and check your Google+ Local listing. If your business already shows up in Carousel queries, get in there immediately – but even if you’re not a Carousel business, it’s just as important… You never know how Google might change things in the future.

Check your photo, and make sure the photo that shows up is one that you control. If you’ve got a merged Google+ Local page where you’ve got the standard “About” page AND the social page, your profile photo might not be the same photo that shows in your Carousel listing – so check both places.

If your Carousel image is one that you want, you get bonus points for being lucky. If not, you’ll have to try Google’s wonky “delete everything and upload again” solution. If the image was uploaded by someone else, hopefully it’s got a name associated with it, so you can dig up that person’s G+ page and ask them to delete it.

If your Carousel listing (or your G+ Local Listing user image) just shows a map image, that means no photos are associated with your listing yet. Claim that listing if you haven’t yet, and upload the photo you want to represent your business. Otherwise, someone else could drop a photo in there and cause you endless headaches in the future.

By Greg Gifford

Greg is the Director of Search and Social at AutoRevo, a software company that services car dealers. He shares his local search expertise as a frequent speaker at SEO and automotive conferences all over the country. He'll punch you in the kidney for misusing homophones, and he's got an obscure movie quote for just about any situation...

  • Andrew Shotland

    Greg, methinks you are confusing a bug with a feature…

  • I’m going to upload my picture to every new business in the country, Finally an easy ticket to fame!