Google announced a new type of local search result display called the "carousel." This is a dramatic deparure in how Google shows local results. Photographs for each business are highlighted at the top of the search in horizontal results & starkly surrouned by black makes the listings highly visible. This replaces the A-G vertical pinned display that Google has traditionally used to show local results in the past.
The display is US only and shows primarily on searches for restaurants, hotels and categories within the entertainment arena. In early tests we are seeing the new display on searches for movie theaters, skiing resorts, museums, entertainment and bars as well as on things like singing lessons and bowling. Most bricks-and-mortar and service-area businesses will not be affected by the new carousel.
The carousel offers users an easy way to browse the local listings on any search. As you cursor over any partiuclar listing their location bubble & red pin appears on the map below. Once you click on one of the business images within the carousel, you are rapidly presented with a brand search showing a "knowledge graph panel" of that partiuclar business to the right and organic branded search results below. In this panel Google represents all of the information it thinks relevant for the business from around the web. It is much less necessary for a searcher to ever leave Google. If you want more choices than those presented in the carousel you can simply click on the large and very obvious arrow on the right side to see additional listings.
The number of listings displayed depends on the size of monitor on which it is being viewed. On my 1900 x 1200 pixel display I was able to see 15 listings while on my 19" display with 1200 pixels I could see 10 listings.
While ranking for the results are still based on the same algorithm as the pack results, the results are effectively flatter -- that is, there is no perceived difference between listings at the left, middle or right of the display. It is as if Google is saying: These are the 10 (or 15) results that we think are most relevant. And more results can easily be seen with a simple click on the right arrow making those businesses below 10 more readily visible without the searcher "feeling" like they are leaving the page.
In a simple user test with a typical Google user instructed to find a restaurant, she scanned the results, arrowed to the right, arrowed back, hovered over the 3rd photograph and then selected the 5th in the row. This display not only disrupts normal organic behavior but traditional local search behaviors as well. The net result is that specific rank is no longer as important as an attractive listings. What makes for an attractive listing in this context? A beautiful photograph and good reviews.
The photograph is chosen automatically by Google from those that are available to it from several sources. You should claim your listing and make sure that you upload at least five very attractive photos to your listing. But as Google noted in their release announcement, since the selection is "primarily decided by algorithms and so [they] can’t guarantee complete control over the image" that is displayed.
If a listing that has fewer than 10 reviews, just the total number of reviews are shown. If a listing has more than 10 reviews then Google displays their total number of reviews and the Zagat rating on a 0-30 scale is shown.
If the new results affect your industry, be certain you have attractive images uploaded to your Places page, especially a good logo image and photos of your storefront and sign. You should also pay attention to your review numbers in comparison to those of the top rankers. If you're light on reviews, then instituting a process to encourage your patrons to "tell their friends about us" online should move up to the top of your to do list.
There is a broader reputation and marketing lesson as well. We have long known that reviews are important to have at not just Google, but from around the web. Now you also really need to think about the images of your business around the web as well. Google has noted that they use several sources for the photos in the carousel and which photos show are primarily decided by algorithms. Thus you should look at the images of your business across the web at photo sites like Panoramio & Flickr as well as local sites like Yelp & CitySearch and make sure that each image is good enough that if it stands at the top of Google search it is one that you can be proud of.