Everyone (except Apple) seems to have a close, personal relationship with Google Maps. I've been using it exclusively ever since one bad day when Mapquest told me to go down a street that no longer existed (an old carriage road perhaps?). Google Maps is not only invaluable for directions, but the Street View feature has been my own personal private eye, assisting me with a novel I'm writing which is set in Los Angeles - the opposite end of the country from me. Street View allows me to look at places around L.A. and then write scenes that are set appropriately, ensuring I've captured the physical detail and made my story accurate.
This has helped me as a consumer, but Google also provides imagery services for business owners. Google Business Photos is one such service. According to their FAQ, "When potential customers search for your business by name on Google, they will see the images displayed directly on the search results page. These panoramic images will also be published on Google+ Local pages, Google Maps and other Google properties."
This is great for companies who want to provide visual, interactive online experiences for customers.
I was fortunate to be able to chat about the benefits of this service with a Google Trusted Photographer, Anthony Caccamo. Anthony runs a site at www.InsideBusinessNYC.com which has many excellent examples of their work as well as a useful video outlining the benefits of Google Business Photos.
"Most customers make their first contact with any business through a search conducted on Google," said Anthony. "Having the Google Business Photos Virtual Tour allows a business to meet customers at the first point of contact with a unique multimedia product that says a lot about their business in a very interesting way. People don't like reading, but they'll look at pictures all day. I don't think there's any better way to greet customers when they find you on Google, especially if the interior of your business is something special."
The Eye in the Sky
Let's look at an example of a business that is using Google Business Photos, the "Teak on the Hudson" restaurant in New Jersey. Photos were taken by Inside Business NYC, which provides more information about the Google Business photography process.
If I search Google Maps for "Teak on the Hudson" the results show me the location as well as available photos of the interior.
Clicking the photo to the left opens up a beautiful interior shot of the establishment.
What's nice is that these aren't just still images - you can explore the inside of the business exactly the same as you would using Google Street View. I can click on that path between the chairs and the barstools and pivot around to examine different angles as if I were actually there. In this example, I've turned the view to show the bar with the vibrant fish tank behind it.
Who should sign up?
I think a great many businesses would profit from using this service - restaurants, hotels, and antique shops and galleries for instance. Certainly when my family and I went to Florida for vacation we enjoyed looking at photos of the Orlando Sheraton at which we intended to stay, complete with shots of the pool and guest rooms. However, some businesses might not see much gain from Google Business Photos. I wouldn't necessarily find it useful to use this method to inspect an automobile repair shop, a store offering common merchandise like baking supplies, or a Best Buy (seeing as how the gear you're interested in can be looked up directly online; most Best Buys have the same layout so a virtual inspection would not add much). It's geared towards businesses with unique and elegant interiors and offerings which they want the world to see both virtually and physically.
Can I create my own pictures to upload to Google?
Well, yes and no. You will need a Google Trusted Photographer to take a series of panoramic shots of your business which is then used to generate the 360 degree exploratory views such as what I outlined above. Google states in their Business Photos FAQ that "As a business owner, you can also upload your own photographs to Google by signing into Google+ Local." This refers to still images you'd like to present to viewers.
What's involved with a typical photo shoot?
Anthony Caccamo stated: "A typical photo shoot lasts from 1-2 hours depending on the size of a business. It does not interfere with the normal operations of a business, and there are two parts of the photo session. The first part consists of the photographer positioning a camera and tripod at various locations throughout a business to capture images that will later be used to create the virtual tour. Every spot in the tour you can stop at and look around from is a location where the camera was placed.
The second part of the photo session is comprised of still images which Google refers to as 'Point of Interest Images.' These images are meant to capture important and appealing aspects of the business that will give customers a good feel for the location. The still images are both uploaded to Google and provided to the client in full resolution, and full ownership rights to those images."
What are some examples of specific business benefits?
Anthony provided me with five concrete instances of who is using Google Business Photos in the Greater New York area, and what they've gotten from it:
- St. Patrick's Cathedral - "They are undergoing a renovation and have used the Google Virtual Tour to raise awareness for their restoration campaign, which is greatly funded by donations."
- The Gold Standard - "They are a Gold Buyer and Pawn Shop and use the tours to showcase their beautiful store locations. Showing the interiors helps break through the stigma normally associated with such businesses by letting customers see that they will be in an office setting and there is no bulletproof glass to do business through."
- Mercedes-Benz Manhattan - "They wanted to show off the multi-million dollar state-of-the-art corporate flagship facility they built in Manhattan. For them, this was just a unique way to do it."
- Full Cup Cafe - "They are a small cafe during the day and with a bar and performance stage in the back that opens in the evenings. The place looks like a small hole in the wall from the street, so Google Business Photos let them show off their performance space and bar area."
- TraxNYC - "This is a diamond district jeweler in NYC. They do a lot of business online and Google Business Photos helps them show their online users that there is a brick and mortar store that is behind all the online sales. For locals in NYC, there is no storefront - TraxNYC is located in a high rise building. So now folks searching on Google can see that there is in fact a business located in the building when they search on Google Maps."
What's involved with becoming Google Trusted Photographer, or hiring one?
Anthony stated: "I've been a photographer for about 10 years. I received a call from Google in December of 2011. They asked me if I wanted to be part of a project they were working on called Google Business Photos. I learned the details from them and it sounded interesting, so I completed their training course and became certified as a Google Trusted Photographer in January of 2012. I was part of the initial group of 35 photographers selected across the U.S.A. to help Google launch the new program. This program is interesting because it is the first of its kind; it is a premium on-demand service offered through Google. Now, any business owner that wants a virtual tour published on Google Maps can have one done by contacting a photographer directly."
Google outlines how to become a Google Trusted Photographer. If you're looking for a trusted photographer for hire, click the link.
That's a wrap
We're a visual society, which explains why YouTube and other sites offer so many instructional videos which are now neck-and-neck in popularity with the technical documentation I wade through at my day job. We like to shop online from home (or work) and even with the items we can't purchase via the Internet - such as a dinner out at a nice restaurant - now we can preview what we might experience in person. Google Business Photos allows you to "try before you buy" in the sense of exploring a place to which you're considering making a commitment of time and money. It also helps motivate businesses to open their doors in this manner and one-up one another in the arenas of style, comfort, and glamour. In the end, it's a win-win for all involved.
Special thanks to Anthony Caccamo for the information and quotes.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.