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Google recently introduced Business Photos, which uses the same tech as Street View, and allows shops, restaurants and other businesses to provide virtual tours of their premises.
These tours are then shown in Google Maps and local results, providing offline businesses with an opportunity to drive footfall into their locations.
I'll look at how business can use these photos to drive footfall, and improve CTR, while I've also been asking Charles Mansfield-Osborne of StreetVisit, one of Google's 'Trusted Photographers', about the scheme.
How businesses can use photos
Hove Bar now has a comprehensive listing on Google which will appear in relevant local results pages.
The 'see inside' option allows potential visitors to get a real feel for the place, which should go a long way to helping them make a decision.
Here's another example, from Aird Toolshop in Brighton. You could probably even check if they have the right tools in stock before you pay a visit.
Combined with related information such as opening hours, contact details directions, and reviews from customers, these listings provide a comprehensive guide for any potential visitors.
Even businesses without a website can provide useful information for customers and rank highly in Google for relevant search terms.
These listings allow the business to rank for relevant keywords which they have used in their description. while adding photos it is a great way to increase click through rates.
Also, as more people use the virtual tours and hit the +1 button, these listings will get a boost.
These photos, together with the rest of the listings, are great for driving footfall. Take this restaurant listing for example:
If I'm unsure of where to eat, then being able to actually view the inside of the restaurant and get a feel for the ambience, as well as seeing the reassurance of godd review scores may be enough to persuade me to book.
It's a great way for businesses to gain an edge on their competitors by making listings more useful to customers.
There are a number of extras which can be used in these virtual tours. For example, a chain icon can be added to allow viewers to share the link to the page with friends.
Also, hyperlinks can be added within tours to allow people to book or even make purchases. So, in a virtual tour of a hotel, you could head for the reception desk, click and make a booking.
I asked photographer Charles Mansfield-Osborne about the scheme...
What are Google Business photos?
Google Business Photos uses the same technology used for Google Street View to provide high quality, fully interactive, 360 degree virtual tours for businesses.
The photography for these tours is captured by Google Trusted Photographers, such as myself, during an arranged photo shoot and then uploaded to Google. Once it has passed strict quality controls including face blurring and image checks it is then published to that business' Google Plus Local Page.
How can businesses use this photography?
Businesses can use the photography in any way they want. Part of the contract, between the Google Trusted Photographer and the business, transfers all copyright of the images to the business.
The virtual tour created from those images is made available for businesses to share via social media via links or to embed and use on the businesses own website.
How is this incorporated into Google Maps?
The integration of the tour into Google Maps, Google+ Local, search results and Google Street View is what makes this project so exciting.
Although virtual tours and panoramic photography have been around for quite some time, in the past they simply provided functionality within a businesses own website whether that be for improved user experience or as a sales or demonstration aid.
Now with Google Business Photos the virtual tours actually drive traffic towards a business from Google+ Local, Google Maps and through Street View whilst also appearing in Google search to help improve click through rates.
All this still with the benefit of providing a rich interactive experience to the businesses end user/potential clients.
What advanced features can businesses make use of?
There are numerous advanced features that businesses can use.
Through the tours Google Maps interface the business can navigate to anywhere within the tour, look in any direction and go to any zoom level then click the link button, little button that looks like a chain, then either share the direct link via social media or use the embed code on their own website to display that exact view.
Create a treasure hunt or social media competition incorporating their tour. A great example of this was a tour I did for Pure360 down here in Brighton.
Before shooting the Pure360 office I mentioned to them an idea of running some sort of promotion or treasure hunt an they loved the idea, so much so that they used their white boards around the office to write factual numbers about their business with entrants adding the numbers up and tweeting the answer to win a £50 Amazon voucher.
This has only just been introduced in the UK, so it remains to be seen how these listings will affect bookings, footfall and click through rates for the businesses using them. However, anything that provides more useful information for searchers, and increases search visibility is well worth trying.
If you have used these tours for your business and would like to share the results, please let me know below...