Google could be cutting the number of occasions that it displays its media carousels in the search results by as much as 30%, according to two separate reports. So what is going on, and why does this matter?

The rise and fall of the carousel?

Google has steadily been introducing features such as carousels and rich snippets into the search results for some time, as it looks to deliver more ‘answers’ to user search queries within the search results themselves (negating the need for the searcher to click away from Google itself).

We’ve covered the development of these on the Stickyeyes blog before, but these carousels are effectively media-rich features that take a prominent place in the search result pages.

That prominence in the SERPS encourage a lot of brands, particularly those that didn’t necessarily rank highly in the main index, to change their content marketing approach and to focus on mediums such as video, in the hope that they could secure prominent search listings. The news that Google may be making these carousels less prominent will therefore cause some concern.

So what are these reports, and what do they say?

The reports come from two separate SEO monitoring software providers, but they broadly tell a similar message – that the number of occasions where an image or carousel has appeared in Google search results has fallen by around 20-30%.

The analysis by both Rank Ranger and STAT Search Analytics show that the change occurred around mid-November, and that it applied to both desktop and mobile searches. The analysis by both companies focused on the US market, and it is not yet clear if the same trends are occurring in the UK or other search markets.

Google has been quiet on the report, but the analysis seems credible.

So why is this happening?

With Google keeping tight-lipped, we’re limited to speculation on the reasons behind this development.

It may be simply that Google found the features to be ineffective, but there are other potential reasons why this change may have come about.

Google is currently feeling some pressure from publishers about how it uses their content to essentially ‘deny’ them traffic from that content. They argue that by using their content to make it unnecessary to actually click away from Google, the search engine is harming publishers and that they are undermining their intellectual property.

Another potential factor is the impact that the feature may have had on paid advertising placements. The carousels took prime real estate in the search result pages – positions that were generally taken by ad positions. If the carousels were impacting revenue from pay-per-click ads, the motivation is there to make a tweak to the search results.