For as long as Google has displayed local results they have done so with a modified Yellow Page listing approach albeit one that ranked by prominence rather than distance or alphabetically.
With the rollout of the new Google Maps preview, the loss of the Places search link & Places search from the main page of Google and the recent tests of the carousel for local hotel results, one has to ask if Google is moving away from rank ordering in an A-G list so prevalent over the past 8 years of local to a flatter, more review centric view of local listings.
The new Map view of businesses is striking in its attempt to force the user to pick a particular business based on its overal relevance and prominence within a given geography. The geography is the metaphor not a list. The list view along the left side of the display, once as equally as prominent as the Map, is now relegated to being located at least one click further away. It is not very visible once a user starts clicking on pins and is unlikely to be clicked very often. Admittedly Google is still ranking the results as they are showing 12 accommodation icons and 8 business names in the results to the exclusion of all other listings but Google is no longer readily indicating that they think one business listing is superior to any other within the display.
Equally intriguing is Google’s testing of the carousel display for local hotel results (courtesy of Lisa Kolb of Acorn Internet Services). This display “flattens” the local results and puts nearly equal emphasis on each of the top 7 results. The return of organic results so prominently on the page are also fascintating. Results 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are the organic pages for the B&Bs showing at the top of the page giving each property two shots at the searcher. I have no idea how click through rates are influenced by position in carousel results or how users react to the pages being repeated in the organic results below. However the images at the top are very eye grabbing and unlike a list display typical of the 7 -Pack, it seems to me that a click on the middle or to the right is as likely as a click on the first result.
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As Lisa Kolb pointed out in her article, the Zagat rating in this display (and one presumes a big, fat red star when Google makes that switchover away from Zagat) will be a primary attractant to the user.
This change is very consistent with Google’s new card focused design aesthetic that we are seeing in Plus, Glass and Now as well as the new Maps. Can it be long before that new design change and a non list view of rank hits the front page of Google?