Mark Edwards first became interested in photography when he was given a SLR camera as a Christmas present. His hobby became part of his IT studies at University as the digital revolution in photography took off, swapping the darkroom for Photoshop.
Having spent 10 years working in IT, Mark decided to follow his passion and set up his own business (Business Photos Wales Ltd), offering virtual tours of businesses using a Google application called Google Maps Business Photos (now known as Google Maps Business View).
Nick Lewis of Nick Lewis Communications met Mark in his hometown of Bridgend in South Wales (where he is based) to find out more about virtual tours of businesses and how they can be used with other elements of online marketing.
NL: What exactly is Google Maps Business View
ME: Google Maps Business View is an interactive 360 degree virtual tour of your business that uses Google Street View technology. This allows customers to explore your premises and facilities from anywhere in the world 24 hours a day.
In addition, you are also supplied with 10 or more still photographs that are signed over to you for your own use.
Google Maps Business View is accessible via the SEE INSIDE panel that appears in the Knowledge Graph in Google Search. You can also access it via the info panel in Google Maps and via Google+.
The combination of 360 degree virtual tour, photographs and enhanced search listings will really help potential customers find your business and see what it has to offer them.
NL: Can any business be eligible for this service?
ME: The vast majority of permanent businesses premises will be eligible, however there are some exceptions. Certain types of medical treatment facilities wouldn’t, to take one example.
Businesses that operate without a permanent premises (onsite workers, mobile businesses premises) cannot use Business View because they cannot be linked to a permanent map location, which is necessary for the program to work.
Your local Trusted Photographer [a person who Google have officially authorised to carry out this work] will be able to quickly confirm your individual business eligibility.
NL: Do businesses need to be on Google Local and Google+ to qualify for this service?
ME: Yes you will need a verified Google local listing for the tour to be attached to.
Google Local is free of charge and comes with a number of additional benefits. 97% of consumers search for local businesses online so you need to make sure they can find yours.
An official Google promotional video for Google Maps Business View
NL: What are the basic costs for a business?
ME: The tour is hosted by Google and there are no hosting, subscription or maintenance fees.
You only pay a one off fee directly to the photographer for the photo shoot and creation of the tour.
The fee is something you need discuss with your local Trusted Photographer, as the size and complexity of your premises and your individual requirements will influence the price.
Most Trusted Photographers will arrange a pre-shoot site visit where all this can be discussed to help inform the quote.
NL: Can the walkthrough of the business be visible in a company website as well as on Google Maps?
ME: Yes, the tour can be embedded into your own website or another HTML compatible site (such as Facebook) using either HTML or the Google Maps API.
An actual Google Business View virtual tour
NL: Are there any privacy or security issues that businesses need to be mindful of when commissioning this work?
ME: The privacy of your staff and customers is ensured within the tour as all faces, number plates and any personal information is blurred out by the photographer during the creation of the tour.
NL: Can people do this themselves or do they have to go through an accredited Google agent?
ME: Only a Business View Trusted Photographer is able to offer this service.
We have been trained and tested by Google to ensure a high and consistent quality of photography and tour creation. Google also quality controls the tours to ensure this high standard is maintained.
NL: Does Google Maps Business View work on mobile devices such as phones and tablets as well as computers?
ME: Yes, Business View works on Android and Apple phones and tablets as well as on desktop and laptop computers.
NL: Do you do standard premises photography as well?
ME: Yes, but my main focus is Business View. However, I am always happy to discuss other projects.
NL: Who owns the copyright of the images?
ME: Copyright to the photographs is signed over to the business by the photographer. The uploaded photographs are covered by Google’s standard online terms of service.
NL: Can the business walkthrough be changed at any time?
ME: Yes, you can have a new replacement tour done by contacting your Trusted Photographer; some offer a discount for repeat business.
It can be a good idea to change the tour periodically. Some businesses, for example, like to have a reshoot to show off their Christmas decorations or want to represent the business after a refurbishment.
NL: What kind of businesses most benefit from this kind of Google product?
ME: Most businesses will benefit from having a Business View tour enhance their Google listings and show off their premises, however there are some that benefit more than most.
Venue and facilities based businesses (such as wedding venues, conference centres and co-working spaces) are particularly suited to Business View as are leisure and activity centres such as gyms, swimming pools, climbing centres, garden centres or tourist destinations.
The Retail Sector also benefits; a car dealership can show off its forecourt, shops, shopping centres and retail parks can show exactly which shops are where, and shops themselves may want to show off their interior or layout, especially if they are boutique business.
The same could be said for pubs, restaurants, hotels and camping sites.
NL: Are there any businesses or organisations for whom this would be less suitable? If there are, what alternatives are open to them?
ME: As I have already mentioned, mobile businesses such as catering trucks or hospitality lorries would not qualify for business view as they have no fixed location.
However, any business that is not eligible to be included in the Business View program could still benefit from either a single 360 degree virtual reality photograph or a virtual tour using alternative hosting and tour creation technology.
NL: How can people contact you if they want Google Maps Business View for their company or organisation?
ME: People can visit my company’s website, www.businessphotoswales.co.uk, or e-mail me for more information via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively they can call me on 07411 380996 for an informal chat.