The Local Guides initiative by Google Maps lets anyone contribute to the community by sharing photos and reviews of the place. Further, if any information needs correction, a Local Guide suggests edits, which gets vetted by other Local Guides and the business owner.
Being in the Matterport Capture Technician business, Google Street View expertise is one of the essentials. And an agency can’t really get the Trusted Photographer badge without being a part of the Local Guides program.
Granted that Google comes up with all these fancy terminology to get the general public to add info to their database for free. Something like how Apple calls the fingerprint option as Touch ID.
If you’re a Local Guide, you will not only have fun clicking pictures of places listed in Google Maps, but also get a fair level of excitement when you see the points and views added to your public profile. Besides, you can add a quality photo, video or review of your nearest shop or school – just for kicks.
Businesses depend on contributions from customers to grow. The Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) is an excellent option to refine and promote their listing in the world’s largest directly.
So go ahead and become a Google Local Guide, if you’re not one already. A few tips:
– Take time to compose the image in an angle that covers most of the storefront or a prominent place of the interiors.
– Try for natural lighting when possible, although food photography can look good at night as well.
– Ensure you don’t add people or licence plate numbers in your frame. If it can’t be helped, blur them out. Respect people’s privacy.
– Do not ignore less popular places like govt hospitals, police stations, post offices, etc. If there are fewer images of those places, chances are you’ll get plenty of views here, as opposed to something like a shopping mall.
– Android and iOS have amazing photo editing apps these days, which are absolutely free. Try editing to get the shop in a straight line vertically as well as horizontally, crop unnecessary areas like a garbage bin in the road, adjust exposure to make the image pleasing to the eye overall and most important – don’t overdo it! Careful with making it too colourful or adding tints – think of it more of a Wikipedia than Instagram.
– Always be ready to explain (with a smile) to a security guard or an owner who asks why you’re clicking the picture. Open the app and show your past contributions. They’ll be more than delighted for you to do your bit.
– Write an honest, unbiased review of the place along with a rating out of 5 stars.
– Take time to add details that customers would want to know, but don’t make it too wordy. The key is to be concise and clear.
– Use active tone instead of passive. It makes the sentences easier to read.
– Do not ask for discounts or incentives in exchange for a positive review.
– If the experience was unpleasant, avoid leaving a review immediately. Give it a day or two so you’re objective and unswayed by emotions. Be open to feedback from the business as well.
– When the Local Guides program was introduced, some people gave reviews to random businesses just for the sake of getting points. Do not do this. Make sure your contributions are from your own experiences.
Left and Right
Panoramic images are now more popular than ever. When a user sees an image, she’s curious to see what’s around her. With Google Street View being implemented aggressively in India, many businesses listed on Maps can see the Google proprietary images automatically added from the road. These are from partners who use vehicle mounted cameras to record the places.
As a GSV agency, we use panoramic images from professional cameras such as the Matterport Pro2 for our uploads. Here, the user is able to pan around and move from one point to another, within Maps. Here’s an example:
This was done for business purposes, and most Local Guides won’t have 360° cameras to come up with such high-res output and functionality. The good news is that, all smartphones can capture GSV or panoramic images.
Most of the contributions are just regular images. These days, videos are also an excellent way to add to a business listing. Just make sure it is short, otherwise you’ll have to trim it after uploading.
28th Feb was an important day for us because we reached the landmark of 10 lakh views for our photos. However, this was purely business – just the panoramic images from our Matterport virtual tours. No reviews, and no philanthropic images.
Today, however, one of our directors reached another milestone and he wanted to let others know how they can contribute to their local places, anywhere in the world. He assures that when someone starts adding photos and reviews, they will always have an extra eye out when they travel the next time.
In the 3 crore milestone, a small percentage was panoramas, but the top-viewed photos were taken from a phone. The highest (at 30 lakh views) is a photo of an iPlanet store in Bangalore, which was taken at night and from a moving vehicle.
Another example (at 11 lakh views) is of Mumbai Metro Station (Airport Road). He says he got lucky that it was added as the station’s profile picture (probably because there weren’t any recognisable people in the frame) and gathered so much traction within a few months. He encourages others to add places and images, especially in rural areas if it isn’t listed already.
Tips for Businesses
Listing and verifying your business is the first step. There are plenty of best-practices you could follow to optimise your organic traffic.
- Ensure the images you post ‘by owner’ are of high quality and fidelity.
- Create offers or promotions for your customers that talk about something exclusive rather than just a pricing discount.
- If you get a message or review, respond immediately thanking them.
- Do not ask customers for positive reviews in exchange for a discount. Biased reviews are easily seen.
- If you get a negative review, reply in a professional manner thanking them for the feedback and mentioning the steps taken to make the experience good for them the next time.
- Use the Business Profile Marketing Kit to effectively promote your storefront. External links are available at the bottom of this article.
- Pay equal attention to Bing Webmaster Tools, as you would at Google Search Console.
- If you do not have panoramic or GSV images in your listing already, get it done. A professional service (like from Adostrophe) could cost you ₹ 10 per sq. ft, but you could also get it done yourself. Use a smartphone as a pivot point, or buy a consumer 360° camera like Ricoh Theta (external link at the bottom) that can also shoot outdoors.
- If you’re managing a website, post fresh content. If you don’t have a website, post updates on your Business Profile listing regularly. Google likes fresh content, but do not chase after algorithms – keep it natural and qualitative.
- If you have a Matterport virtual tour created for your location already, embed the tour in your website and use URL params to make it easy for your customers.
A 66,000 sq ft office space (unedited) at Mohali. Present your model as highlights to make it easy for your users.
- In the embed code, append &ts=2. When a user clicks Play, after 2 seconds, the highlights would play automatically.
- Append &hl=0 so that the highlight windows at the bottom get hidden automatically.
- Append &mt=0 to hide Mattertags
More params available in the External Links at the end of the blog post. Check it out.
Google Street View and Matterport
This project consisted of 600+ scans for a resilient model, although less than half of them were actually made visible. Scans that were hidden, help with the overall alignment as well as additional perspectives of 2D and 3D imagery, if required. The property’s GSV images came out clean with accurate chevrons.
Based off Chennai, this mall caters to architects, builders, interior designers and others in the construction industry. With around 100 brands, this project is more complex than typical tours because additional scans were required to focus on the products on display.
The same Matterport tour is also now on Google Street View, with chevrons. While the image quality is decent, we miss out on other key features like Mattertags and distance measurement which are only available in the Matterport platform.
Best-practices (learnt from years in the field) were followed during and after the scan to get the desired results, especially in Google Maps. It appears these two platforms have integrated quite well, ironing out the bugs. The same may not be true in Autodesk, although the Matterport plugin is quite ambitious out there.
Towards the end of Q1, we have things to look forward to:
– Revit for Mac,
– Matterport compatibility with the Leica BLK360 G2,
– Apple’s AR/VR headset,
– Skydio in India,
– Inbuilt stabilisation for Blackmagic Design cameras and
– 500 days left for the Paris Olympics.