Virtual tours have been integrated into the Google My Business setup since 2011. It’s a feature that we’ve seen work incredibly well for businesses in the hospitality and travel industries with walk-throughs of restaurants, bars, hotels and even airplanes. According to Google, having a virtual tour integrated into your business listing has the potential to double interest in your business, and on top of that they state that 67% of consumers say they’d like to see more virtual tours.
But surprisingly it hasn’t been utilised as much by online businesses who rely on interpersonal relations and brand connection with their audiences. And moreover, the ones that have created virtual tours haven’t really pushed the envelope on what’s possible. With there being so many benefits (which we’ll get into later on), it’s genuinely surprising how many businesses aren’t optimising their Google My Business listings with a virtual tour.
Earlier this week, we published our own dog-themed virtual tour to take you on a ‘walkies’ through the hub of digital marketing genius that is Indago Digital HQ. It’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but it’s also on-brand for us – so have a look below and then read on as I explain the exact process we went through and how you can do the same.
So now that you’ve seen our ‘barking mad’ virtual tour (lol, hilarious), here’s the low-down on how it all came together and what you can do for your own.
1. Conceptualise the Tour
Before doing anything, we decided that we wanted to do 3 things with our walk-through:
- Show the world where we work,
- Demonstrate how easy it is to create a unique virtual tour, and
- Have some fun.
Depending on what industry you’re in, or what your business’ core function is, you may come up with a couple of different ideas of how you would want a virtual tour to look. Our logo is a dog, so it wasn’t exactly a giant leap to go with the canine theme. We’re also an eclectic and rambunctious group of digital marketers, so we thought we’d inject some fun with the scenes. You may be thinking that the scenes aren’t that ‘out there’, but Google has their own guidelines which you need to walk the line with – have a look at the guidelines here.
The virtual tour is essentially going to be an extension of your brand. So think of what you stand for, how you want to communicate your business’ personality to the public and come up with an angle that is congruent with what you do.
2. Make A Plan
Now that you’ve got your idea sorted, you need to plan out how you’re going to achieve it. Where are you going to get the props? When are you going to create the tour? Are you going to do the photography yourself or are you going to hire a professional? Are you going to promote the fact that you’ve done the tour with a blog post on how you did it afterwards… These are all crucial questions that need answering. So well in advance of creating the tour, nut out the details on timelines for how everything is going to happen so that when it comes time to get the job done, you’re prepared and you’ve got a map of how to make the most of it.
3. Source the Required Material
One of the biggest hurdles for us was getting all of the props organised – masks, dog food, leads, costumes, a book about dancing with cats. That isn’t to say that it was at all difficult sourcing these things, but if you’re going to go to the effort of creating a unique virtual tour, then it’s worth the effort to go the extra mile with sourcing extra details.
4. Organise the Photographer or Work It Out Yourself
Up until recently, individuals weren’t able to create their own virtual tours. But with smartphones being so photographically advanced these days, having a relatively new model gives you all the necessary tools to take the photos needed to create your own tour – if you’ve got the pluck to try and pull it off. If you’re a bit of a gun with a camera or don’t want to use your smartphone, then we’d recommend using a fish-eye lens of 8-10 mm focal length for APS-C sensors and 15-16 mm for 24 x 36 mm sensors. If, like me, this seems like a language from the other end of the universe, then you’ll want to take your pick from Google’s provided list of Trusted Photographers.
If you’re like us and want a high-quality photographer, we’d recommend Alex Hitchcock at Virtual Eyes. He came all the way from Melbourne to deliver an impressively professional and creative photo shoot for us. He also then stitched the photos together to create the panoramic tour, as well as uploaded it to Google to make sure everything was just right.
5. Get Everyone On-board
A virtual tour is supposed to give outsiders an inside look at what your business is like, not just the inanimate makeup of your office-space. So involve people (or dogs) in the tour. We tried to pick a day when everyone was going to be in the office, and we bought enough dog masks so that all present could get involved in the scenes.
If you’ve hired a decent camera man, this step shouldn’t be too difficult. Google’s trusted photographers know the ins and outs of what’s allowed and what isn’t, what will work and what won’t, and most importantly, how to achieve continuity in your walk-through.
If you’re planning on doing the photography yourself then make sure you take an excessive number of photos to give yourself a decent selection to go with when it comes time to publish. Have a look at some examples of virtual tours before you shoot your own and work out which spots within your business space you want to have as pivot points.
7. Stitch and Publish
If you’ve sourced a photographer, this should happen within 10-14 days of the photoshoot taking place. Make sure you ask your photographer to send you a sample of the tour before going live with it to guarantee you’re happy with the end product before it becomes public.
Google used to provide a free tool for stitching panoramic photos to create the virtual tour effect, however it’s since been discontinued. So if you’re going to be doing the stitching yourself, you can choose from a couple of different software options, but these are highly regarded:
Once it’s stitched, just go to your Google My Business login and upload the tour to your company profile.
At first glance it seems like a complicated process, but really, creating a virtual tour for your business is easily achievable. It’s a powerful cherry on top of your Google listing sundae, and while it may not have any direct SEO benefits, the business wins from having a fully optimised listing are there. We’ve previously gone into relatively extensive detail on how optimising your business’ Google listing can be beneficial, but the three main things you’re going to gain from it are:
- Brand awareness
- Customer familiarity
- Increased traffic interest
Whether you invest some money to get it done professionally with all the bells and whistles, or if you do a basic version yourself, the business wins are there to be had. And with it being such a simple process to do, you’re barking mad if you don’t have a virtual tour of your business.