The new Google Local Carousel provides a striking design at the top of the SERPS that not only provides significant eye candy and for some users a click attractant but also leaves little room below for the display of many organic results. This is true on very large screens but is even more so on a typical home screen or in searches categories that are ad heavy and Google displays two ads below the carousel.
The display arrangement offers a huge opportunity (or pitfall as the case may be) to achieve hight visibilty at the expense of local competitors. Or a huge incentive for local businesses to start taking out Adwords.
Once someone starts clicking through the images and Google returns the branded results with ads just below the carousel, anyone who hasn’t taken out Adwords on their brand runs the risk of their search being disrupted by a more visible local competitor. This has always been true but in the limited geography available with the carousel the competitor ad becomes a highly visible obstacle for any local business.
At home I have a not untypical 1440 x 900 pixel display (~60% of all displays are this size or smaller). Compare these two branded results for “singing lessons Chicago“. Stacy, the soprano, went to the length of keyword spamming her business name and managed to achieve visibility in the carousel. However she not only neglected to add a photo (and this carousel highlights the importance of a good one) but left the ad space to a competitor that is taking full advantage. Takleson’s on the other hand advertised on the keyword, their brand AND on competitor’s names.
PS On the issue of how users are behaving with this new display see this interesting research by Mike Ramsey: 10 Random People’s Reactions To Google Local Carousel