Yellow Flowers

6 Tips on How to Stage and be Ready for your 360 Virtual Tour

You’re ready for your virtual tour. You’ve hired a company, or are thinking of hiring one. Whichever the case, here are some good pro-tips from experience to help you stage your tour and be ready beforehand.

Staging works great for both Google and custom tours, and it can really help stand out for the latter when you combine color schemes, table of content, and hotspots (info spots) to the virtual tour.

The Google tours are what people are first used to seeing as your Google tour will automatically be placed in their Maps results. These results are visited often, and may even provide indirect SEO benefits.


Here are some useful tips

In general, it’s great to have a bright interior space. If not, we have editing tools to improve all photos taken. Ensure that all your lights are working properly to have consistent light throughout the tour.

Stage your place

Stage your place just like you would want to showcase to a customer as they walk in your door. It’s these virtual, visual impressions that can bring people from their device and ready to walk in your door.

Display your safety protocols

Not just staging, but displaying your safety protocols helps make it safe, compelling, and ready for people to come visit you. Especially since 2020, customers are more conscious of distancing and sanitizing.

Safety Protocols at Check In

Safety protocols at check-in

Watch for the weather

It’s hard to measure the weather. When possible, days that are at least partly sunny are superior. Some of the 360 photos are exterior and having some blue in the sky help make the tour more compelling for the user.

Mayo Civic Center

Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, MN

Showcase specific photos

If you have machines, products, scenes, or anything you want to call out, let us know. You can have specific photos of these for your custom tour.

X-Ray Machine

X-Ray Machine

Think about Stills and Tiny (little) Planet photos

Think about opportunities for stills and Tiny Planet photos. These can be a great, creative way for your use on social media and other content. Be the center of your planet!

Twitter Post on Tiny Planets and Stills

Here’s just another example of what can be done. This is a plain scene, although you can have features such as your staff be the center of the planet!

Armory - Minneapolis

Armory – Minneapolis

Consider HIPAA and other precautions

From either HIPAA laws or personal choices, your location may need to be empty. For this reason, LocalMN is available for your tours on weekends.


LocalMN provides both custom and Google tours for you for 2 reasons:

The custom tours are superior. There are tables of contents, branding, your color schemes, and the control and assurance that all the arrows point to the right direction. This is what we recommend you embed on your website with a short and easy code that we provide for you.

Also, the tool we use to create these virtual tours allow us to publish both the Google and custom tours in not a lot of extra time. We pass this saving to you and you get the best of both worlds!

We have a lot of experience in Google My Business (now Google Business Profile). Have your virtual tour created by us and hit us up with any questions.

Safety Protocols at Check In

Virtual Tours in a COVID 2022

Virtual Tours in a COVID 2022

Safely Stand Out with Your 360 Photos

To comply with the different 2022 COVID orders, more businesses and organizations have been hosting virtual tours. Whether it’s a Google or custom tour, it’s to share your place with customers to tour with these 360 photo spheres, and from the safety of their device.

Do you have a recent virtual tour? If so, do you showcase safety features that you have for your customers, patients, or students? It’s pretty accepted that we’re in a new world with more safety precautions whether it winds up being continued distancing and sanitizing, or more. Here are some 2022 tips for your virtual tours, both in general and more specific to safety.

Safely staging your front door and main area is the starting point

This is often your virtual tour starting point. Just like a residential home, this clean area is what gives a first impression to the customer. Even if it’s just dusting and light cleaning, these virtual tours and 360 photos should be as close to an in-person tour as possible and the first impression of your business front door is so valuable.

Above is the entrance to an upper-end quartz countertop gallery. Below, this flower bouquet was staged up front just for the virtual tour. This small effort alone helps make the gallery more welcoming once viewers enter the front door.

Showcase your call-to-action features

More so with the custom virtual tours, but you can showcase your calls-to-action in Google tours, too. Google is just way more limited.

For both, it’s generally a good idea to have each photo sphere, or scene, point in the same or similar direction (the above examples are South). This is done to help ensure ease-of-use for the many customers who just navigate by the arrows, while still having the opportunity to swipe to different directions. 

In this case, a dental office has a newer, modern 3d x-ray machine that they wanted to call out so we turned the machine slightly and added an infospot (hotspot) to explain the machine.

They take COVID seriously and we decided to showcase a couple safety protocols for their patients including a plexiglass panel up front along with hand sanitizers to build trust.

Showcase your exterior 360 photos

This is incredibly important and serves two major purposes:

  1. To show your building and features to let users become familiar with the look
  2. To show roads, street signs, address, and any landmark to not only let users know exactly where you are, but for them to automatically know how they will get there.

We have a lot of experience in both of these and know how to make it tick. People want convenience and easy answers and this is a great way to provide both.

This customer wanted to showcase the building address and parking lot from the neighboring road.

Many of their patients also enter the area from the back end so we focused this 360 photo on the street sign.

Highlight pristine outdoor views

If you’re in an attractive area, let’s do everything we can to showcase it like a dental clinic virtual tour I did. It can provide both implied prestige to the customer and even convince them to safely enjoy the area during their visit literally right outside by walking the promenade at Edina’s Centennial Lake. Side note, if you ice skate, this lake is a big, local skating destination in the winter.

As well, the same clinic offers a free or discounted coffee for their customers at Ambrosia Coffee on the main floor. We decided to use a couple 360 photos that show open space to compel users. Customers can even safely enjoy their coffee while walking around the lake area.

And the exterior with a couple tables safely apart.

Stills and Tiny Planet photos

It’s important to have these, at the least just to have on hand. You can add stills to your Google Business Profile at any time which helps keep it updated with very little time. I use Google Photos and everything is very user-friendly and organized, for me anyway. There are plenty of other options as well.

I do love Tiny Planet photos just for the wow and cool factor. It’s not necessarily going to make a direct impact on sales or new customers, but they indirectly could, especially depending on your industry. These often bring personality to your group and can give users a trusting feel for you, especially if you use people or even staff in these photos. 

This photo below turned out effective, and these all can easily be included with virtual tours. They’re actually great for Google Posts and Instagram and should only grow in popularity in 2022.

By taking just a little time before your virtual tour, you can have your place staged to your liking. Having a 2022 safety strategy for virtual tours still during COVID for your custom or Google tour is even better! It can be just these little things that can turn a casual browser to a customer at your location.

Feel free to comment on Twitter!

Google Local Services Ads for 2021

I first wrote about Local Service Ads upon its inception in 2017. It’s a great concept. Don’t pay for ranking, or even conversions. Just pay for actual local leads. Now we’re looking at 2021 and they’ve slowly and continuously expanded.

First, Google shows how you can learn how to start your own campaign by seeing how Local Services work.

Many industries are available for this, and here’s a few current carpet cleaning industry Twin Cities Local Services Ad search results for Google Guaranteed:

Carpet Cleaning

Google Guaranteed does give you that green check for visual trust, and they may also back you with a money-back guarantee. Plus, these stick towards the top of search results.

More industries are now qualified in Minnesota for 2021, including lawyers and specialties within, and many others including the carpet cleaning example above. One thing stays the same:

Google’s signup process is unique for each business category. This means that a turnkey solution to just leave it for companies to fulfill for you may not be the best for you. It does take your effort.

From Acquisio

You must pass rigorous checks to be able to use Local Service Ads for your business. 

These include passing a criminal background check, having valid liability insurance and proving you have the correct licenses to be able to carry out work in the first place.

For local businesses, this gives you the ability to measure your ad cost. You can choose how much or not your lead is worth to you.

Scroll and see the embedded Google Spreadsheet to see the categories currently available in Minnesota:

Google Local Services ads can also give you more real estate in search results in addition to your organic listings and standard Google Ads.

Here’s where you can sign up to be Google Guaranteed for your respective services.


Localmn Interactive provides Local Services Ads consulting for our virtual tours customers.

Virtual Tour Photo

Virtual Tours During COVID

Virtual tours for businesses have been very compelling well before the COVID pandemic came. They simply let users tour your location to get a good feel and then hopefully visit you.

Some of you are open, some of you are not. COVID still brings a challenge. Potential customers can’t just show up in person beforehand, but you can keep your visual process moving forward. 

hallway

Benefits of Local Business Virtual Tours

Visually showcase your social distancing guidelines
You may have plexiglass at your arrival to separate you from customers or social distancing floor stickers. Showcase these in your virtual tours to help ensure safety for your visitors.

Reach more potential customers with less
By letting people remotely tour your location, you can reach more while keeping face-to-face contact low to help limit the spread.

Increase conversions
At the end of the tour, you can direct users to book a reservation or appointment. It can be as easy as placing a simple form on your respective web page.

Virtual Tour Options

  • Google Street View and virtual tours – show in your Google My Business (maps) profile and it’s highly searchable
  • Custom virtual tours – like the Google Street View tours, and with customized features and branding for your business to embed on your site, social media, and other relevant places
  • Matterport – very popular and a definite leader in the real estate industry

One myth: “Having Google Virtual Tours helps your SEO rankings”. Beware of this claim. This can arguably be indirectly true since the more complete your Google My Business profile is, the better your local SEO rankings are in general. A Google virtual tour will help. With that said, virtual tours do not have a direct impact on your SEO rankings.

We hope this all helps you understand virtual tours and the impact it can make.


LocalMN specializes in virtual tours. See our Google and custom virtual tour page for more information.

LocalMN Interactive

Google Trusted Verifier Program is now called Business Provider

Per this blog post by Mike Blumenthal, Google’s Trusted Verifier program is now replaced by their Business Provider program.

What this means for LocalMN Interactive is that we’re no longer eligible to offer these services. We’re an agency. From their Business Provider FAQ page:

The proposed partner must not have access to the business listings they are verifying.

Agencies, SEOs, and resellers are not eligible for this program.

I’m not too surprised with this, given the apparent ease to be accepted. A good couple years ago, to apply I believe you needed to be invited to by a friend to take a somewhat-detailed 10-question test. In some forum, the link got leaked, I jumped on it, answered all 10 questions correctly, and bam! I was a Google Trusted Verifier.

No serious leads ever came from it, and it really seemed to be a program ripe for manipulation.

As of now, I proactively updated that marketing page and took out internal links to it. Eventually, I’ll 301 redirect the page to the closet appropriate one. I’m taking out the Trusted Verified icon for future images to it and replaced it with a Theta camera icon shown here and just partially at the top icon on this post.

Icons with Theta

Google Icons with Theta

If you have any questions, certainly let me know.

LocalMN Interactive provides local search marketing services with a specialization in Google 360 Photography.

localmn interactive foursquare profile

Foursquare Social Check-ins turn into a Local Data Aggregator

Foursquare has long-been and quietly turned into a local data aggregator since 2013 Source – moz.com. More on this below.

Foursquare has been evolving in local search ever since they were a social check-in platform in 2009. I did jump on it right off the bat, although haven’t done much with it since 2017. My first 2 check-ins:

1st 2 Foursquare Check-Ins

For you privy folks, it’s always been a social connection just like you have connections on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. As a consumer, I’ve always been interested in places my connections visit and always consider these places from that trust.

In fact, in 2015 trusted local Foursquare contributor Ed Kohler mentioned a cool fact about Pizza Nea’s wi-fi access that helped turned me into a fairly regular customer. Their wood-fired pizza alone is delicious and worth the visit. This is just one of many examples as a consumer.

Foursquare has slowly but surely come out as not just a social connection, but a beyond-solid local data aggregator along with Infogroup, Localeze, Factual (not sure on the price, it used to be free), and Acxion (retiring local search operations at the end of 2019) source – BrightLocal

In 2018, Acxiom was acquired by publicly-traded advertising company IPG. In order to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which comes into effect on January 1st, 2020, Acxiom will be retiring its directory and local search products

Bright Local

Foursquare has been a natural fit for this and I’m sure it’s been their long-term goal. They’ve always had their social game and imagine that they’ve always used this data for their local aggregate data.

Signing up for national aggregate data providers has its pros and cons. A pro is you have the consistent Name, Address, Phone (NAP) information consistently across the web (huge for SEO). A con is you’re more open to unsolicited sales calls from companies who you don’t choose to engage.

In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. Just watch out for any unsolicited sales calls.

For Foursquare, you will probably find your own business/company/organization when you search and claim yourself. As of now, it will cost you a one-time $20.00 fee to officially claim your business location.

This may also make it easier to acquire the right amount of local citations. A recent Search Engine Land article asks experts whether local citations matter anymore. I’m definitely in the camp where it’s not nearly as important as it was 5 years. Ago. I liken it to inbound linking debates 15 years ago. It’s not the quantity, but the quality. Google My Business (GMB), Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, and a company called Factual alone is a really good start (IMO).

My perception is that Foursquare has an upper hand over other local data aggregators when you combine their 10 years of social marketing in the mix. What are your thoughts? And, should we continue to add more social content to Foursquare as users to help with the social aspect?

New Google Local Marketing Kit for the Summer of 2019

Google has taken another step to take your local marketing efforts easier and more streamlined this 2019 Summer with their new local marketing kit. This ties in nicely in your Google My Business (GMB) profile.

Create custom posters, social posts, and more from reviews and highlights on your Business Profile on Google. All for free.

From the new Google Marketing Kit

In addition, it provides video and promotion options.

This Google-provided video is currently pretty cheesy, yet gives options including easily embedding the YouTube video within your content such as this blog. As of yet, I don’t know if you can customize this.

Another new opportunity is pre-made (social) Google Posts. They also give you the option to share these on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, plus a downloading option for you to share wherever in your content you feel relevant.

The current examples they seem to have are a bit generic, but I see them useful for filler Google Posts. My mind may change tomorrow, although I don’t see these as useful for Facebook and Twitter. I’d rather see updates that tell more of a story. But maybe that’s just me. Example:

Google Social Images
Google Social Images

If you’re a restaurant, hotel, or any other business prone to potential positive reviews, this is certainly worth filler posts.

At an enterprise level with multiple listings, this opportunity is a must with proper management. For stand alone local businesses, I have a couple reservations.

The best (or worst) part of it is that Google owns all the data. Yep, they still own the local search content you provide. For this, they even own the analytics although they show you an overview in your GMB panel. I only imagine that they use all of this to help calculate your overall authority in the results, and indirectly, your rankings in the local 3-pack.

Google does get info for these based on both content you provide in your own free Google My Business (GMB) profile combined with ratings or your organization.

very-friendly
New Small Thanks with Google Replacement?

I was a huge fan of the Small Thanks with Google Site that gave you free posters to showcase the positive things customers say about you, but the site’s now down. There’s no redirect and is now just a broken 404 page. The above-mentioned Google local marketing kit seems to be the replacement along with the other opportunities.

Google has a pretty strict policy regarding obtaining user reviews, and a lot of fantastic articles have been written regarding this. In a nutshell, soliciting positive reviews is bad. Reminding people they can leave honest reviews is good. Google is now showcasing the latter with new window decals.

Review us on Google
Review us on Google

Have you or your company/organization used the Google Local Marketing kit yet? We’d love to hear your experiences!

Google Maps Icons

Google My Business (GMB) – Charging for Listings or Just Incorporating their Local Services Ads

Is Google My Business sending surveys to local business owners to see if they can charge local businesses for their own listings?

I say no. Oh hell no! They’re not out to screw you. My first reaction on Twitter:

They have sent survey question (survey now closed) about this. Joy Hawkins from Sterling Sky contacted Google and sent out this tweet.

I’m with that. There’s nothing to panic about. My assumption on this good Search Engine Land conversation is that the survey questions really closely mirror the minds of those who choose to participate in Google Local Services ads and not for GMB profile listing owners worried about if they’re going to be charged for Google’s already-free product.

Google Local Service ads in general do not integrate within your Google My Business (GMB) profile. So yes, I believe they are encouraging you to buy local service ads just like they visually encourage you for AdWords Express with their Create an Ad icon. I imagine in the future, they will use these survey Q&As to encourage GMB users to sign up for Google Local Services Ads.

Create an Ad with AdWords Express

I can certainly see an simple added tab for Google Local Services ads, written in their own very simple way.

I do suggest looking into Google Local Services ads on your own. We put a services page up for this over a year ago as well. Not many local Mpls/St. Paul industries qualify, but you check out your eligibility for yourself.

What are your thoughts? Is GMB out to charge your for your listings or is it just a survey to explore interest in Google Local Services Ads?

Google Maps Icons

Local businesses can now reply to Google Maps reviews via desktop

Local business owners have been waiting for the ability to respond to user-reviews via laptop, per Search Engine Land.

It makes sense for business owners to relish this. As mobile savvy as they are, they may not want to reply to reviews on a phone due to personal perception, or are just used to working on a laptop during the work day. Using a laptop for these are (per Google) now an official option and it takes just seconds.

Right now, I immediately think of Minneapolis/St. Paul area businesses such as restaurants, bars, laws firms, hospitality, and other service-based businesses who may receive Google reviews up over once a day. No matter where, you can most likely view the same or more.

There are many through experience who have enough clout with Google that they take our responses, plus photos and anything else Google My Business (GMB) on the spot. For many others, it does take a few days at least. I do not know how immediately these replies take to go live. My guess is either on the spot or within a day.

If you’re a local business or organization you can reply to business reviews whether you’re signed in to GMB or not. If not, here are the steps.

  • Google your businesses/organization name
  • Click on “Google reviews” on your GMB listing/local box
  • You’ll see a reply button for reviews. Reply

If you’re in your GMB profile.

  • Click “reviews” in the left panel
  • You’ll see a reply button for reviews. Reply

That’s it! You’ve now replied to a local business review, of course we hope in a positive and compelling way. Happy replying!

Replying to Reviews on Desktop