For best results, get a Google Street View virtual tour and augment it with an overlay for publishing on your website
The Viewer Is The Director
Ever since we’ve been dealing with COVI-19 and the impact it’s had on local business, there’s been an increase in interest in virtual tours. It makes sense. With a virtual tour, you retain a key advantage over other forms of media that sets virtual tours apart.
With standard still images or videos, the person capturing the images is controlling what the viewer gets to see. But with a virtual tour, you allow the viewer to become the director. They are now able to choose which direction to look from any point of view. That’s a big deal.
It’ reverses the visual process and for some business owners (and photographers & videographers) it could make them rather nervous as they may feel like they’ve lost control of what they want you to see. So how does that impact decision making? For one, we know that generally people who look at virtual tours, keep looking at the content for far longer, sometimes twice as long. So that means more time for a business to connect with a potential client.
So if virtual tours are truly that powerful and useful, it makes sense to publish it by using tools that are very familiar in navigation and have the greatest impact of feeding the most important search engine for business today, Google.
Google’s is the #herdofelephants
Don’t get me wrong. If there was another place that mattered more than Google Maps and Google Street view to publish tours, I’d be all for it. In fact, Google Street View virtual tours do have some serious limitations on its own. For example, the images can be a bit slower to load at times, the navigation arrows can be clunky and the transitions from one 360° view to the next is not the smoothest. Some people even claim it makes them feel dizzy.
But how can we argue with the fact that these images are published directly on the single most used online map system in the world, owned and used by the world’s largest search engine? You can’t. Google has well over 90% of the search market. So to not publish your virtual tour on Google Street View may actually hurt your business. There are exceptions, but for the most part, using #GoogleMyBusiness and its associated Street View virtual tours is by far the best choice.
So why do so many virtual tour photographers choose to not publish or promote having virtual tours using Google Street View? That tends to be due to a lack of understanding of the undeniable relationship between content hosting and content usage. This is why, when I’m asked about the importance of Google My Business, I say that to call it the elephant in the room would be an understatement… it’s a #herdofelephants.
No differently than Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media platforms, Google would rather keep you in their backyard than to scuttle you off to someone else’s platform. In fact, If you’ve ever tried publishing a link to an external source on Instagram, you’ll know just how hard (nearly impossible) that is.
This is why in #localsearch, we’re seeing such a trend of businesses getting more conversions directly from their Google My Business page, where the searcher doesn’t even bother going to the business website and simply reviews the content that’s right in front of them (photos, virtual tours, reviews, business descriptions, even posts and Q&A) and then either get directions to the business or click on the ‘click to call’ button on their mobile (which Google tracks and reports back to your business insights on #GMB).
So where does that leave virtual tours that are published on a business website? That depends. If its source images are still hosted by Google, Google will continue to see all the clicks.
Custom Overlays for Google Street View Virtual Tours
Here’s the solution I propose most often. When you want to add a virtual tour of your business on your website (and you should), then leverage a Google Street View virtual tour and embed it on your website. If you want your virtual tour to be essentially as functional as virtual tours that are not published on Google, you have what is called an ‘overlay system’ added to the virtual tour.
What this overlay does, is add the vast majority of the features found on a self-hosted virtual tour such as a navigation bar or menu, information cards, clickable hotspots, calls to action, links to internal content on your website or external content (both kinds of backlinks are good for SEO) and myriad of other features.
You may lose out on silky smooth image transitions and other very ‘niche’ features but for the most part, you are retaining the key benefits that a virtual tour on a website should offer. Most importantly, you are enhancing and increasing the likelihood that your visitors will want to contact you.
What about Virtual Tour based websites?
Recently I’ve also been noticing a trend in the virtual tour creation and publishing industry that may be leading business owners to believe that some virtual tour platforms are full websites. They’re not. I do believe that this will be the case someday very soon, but there are very important factors that need to be considered.
One particular platform which I have used recently for a couple of projects where Google hosting was not the right choice, does offer the ability to have your virtual tour look very much like a website. But let me be very clear. Even if such a virtual tour looks like a website, it isn’t. It lacks some very important features that will have a negative impact on how you rank and how you can implement any form of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help search engines understand why they should serve it up when keywords are added in your content.
One day maybe, hopefully soon, these virtual tour based websites will become the new standard of content creation. They are very cool, chocked full of fantastic experiential content but they’re not designed to be ‘scraped’ for data by Google or other search engines just yet.
So my advice is, don’t jump ahead of the tech just because it looks cool. It’s tempting. I’d even be tempted. But if the final impact is that you’re not ranking as well as your competitors, then you’re better off to stick to embedding an augmented virtual tour published using Google Street View for the images. It’s about striking the right balance.
Choosing the right virtual tour hosting for your business
If you’d like to learn more about ways to leverage virtual tour technology, Google My Business, Google Street View and other ways to be found, be seen and be trusted online, you can contact me at 0424 357 118 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org