What struck me about the update was that the very first bullet in their list of features for the app is the ability to upload photos for Places. This, coming right after the desktop Google Places update that also prioritized an “upload a photo button.”
What Photo Buttons?
These updates come on top of Google’s business photos program, where Google will send a photographer to take photos of your business for free (and potentially include a 360 degree interior view of your company on Maps. The company is trying hard to get all the photos it can find.
Why So Much Effort For Photos?
There are a couple good reasons for Google to go after user photos.
People Like Pictures
Google’s announcement of the “add a photo” feature for the Google Maps app included this comment:
When deciding on a place to go, people often want to know what a place looks like in addition to seeing ratings and reviews.
My guess is Google has some user-data showing that people really like to look at the photos. This will vary by category, but they are very nice in some areas – check out the hotel site, Oyster.com for a look at how great photos can really be worth thousands of words.
Decrease Reliance on 3rd Party Sources
One of the biggest changes seen on Places Pages recently was the removal of 3rd party reviews. There has been debate whether this is due to anti-trust issues or for internal reasons, but either way they clearly decided not to rely on these external sources.
Photos on Google Places currently rely heavily on 3rd party sites (they have hundreds of pictures of each hotel in some cities… 80% due to Oyster having covered those cities). If a business owner has not uploaded a photo, the photo shown is usually from a 3rd party site, although there are increasingly some photos provided by Google users.
My suspicion with both reviews and photos is that anti-trust may have some role, but their real goal is to establish a competitive advantage by having the best information. And you can’t have better information than anyone else when you just scrape other sites. They clearly see photos as an important complement to reviews and ratings.
So What Should A Business Owner Do?
To start, go claim your Places page. Fill it out completely, with lots of high-quality photos, and sign up for Google’s business photos program if you can (it’s limited to select cities).
Once your side is complete, think about if there is any way to get customers uploading pictures to your Places Page. There is a lot of controversy around incentivizing reviews, but I’ve never heard anyone say you can’t run a contest for the best photo of your business (or the people having a good time there) on Google Places. For a bonus, have people send them up to your Facebook Page as well.
This will indicate to Google and Facebook that your customers are engaged and that your business should be prominently displayed, while showing potential customers how popular and great your company is as well.