GoogleToday I am going to show you a really cool new feature that was recently added to Google Maps, and that is also a hat tip to the future of users and their experiences with your business. Typically when I write blog posts I spend about 2,500 words setting up the hook and call to action in the post and end with a big reveal! Let’s face it: I like to Geek out! But today I’m going to spare your attention span and give you the nuts and bolts up front, and then expound on the greater meaning and larger takeaways toward the end. Whether you’re an avid reader of deep, compelling content, or just a “photo skimmer,” I’m pretty sure there’s something here to pique your interest. As you absorb this concept, start thinking about how you can utilize this new feature to spread positive messages about your business and encourage interaction from your customers and visitors. Remember as you read below: the key is to convey the experience of what it’s like to do business with you. In this post I am talking about doing that primarily through photos viewable directly within Google Maps.

User Photos Are Now Appearing In Google Maps (and Other Places)

What this looks like:

Google Views Whole Foods Orland Park, IL

What Am I Looking At Here?

First off, the picture above is from my Google Views account. You probably have one too and don’t even know it. You can log in here: Not long ago, Views was primarily a place for Photospheres, the cool 360-degree-in-the-round photos of specific places—those were often added to Google Maps, mostly for tourist destinations and landmarks. But just a few weeks ago, Google flipped a switch and chose to utilize publicly uploaded user photos from Google Plus and attach them to business listings in Google Maps as well.It was an easy and logical move, really—I personally have my Android phone wide open to GPS and location sharing, and I also tag businesses in Google Plus when I can. So my photos are easily authenticated. Another place these photos may be pulled from is the Google Maps App’s “add photo” option (screenshots below). The photo below is from a search of “Whole Foods Orland Park IL” in Google Maps (on desktop). You can see that Google has chosen to use my photo as the official representation of the business. Pretty darn cool right? But my photo isn’t the only one that users see—there are several others and you can bet that users will scroll through them all, especially on mobile.

Google Maps - Whole Foods Olrand Park, IL

Let Me Geek Out For A Minute

Some of you more astute readers may be asking yourselves, “why was Allyn’s photo chosen as the number 1 representation over others?” I cannot prove this, but here is what I “think” happens based on my love and admiration for Google’s algorithms and goals. Google Maps

  1. Always remember, Google’s #1 job is to deliver the best results possible for a search of any type on any of their platforms. Experiences are the new frontier. Not just delivering a list of worded results—rather, delivering an authentic representation of the experience behind the words.
  2. In order to serve the best results, Google can use contextual signals to determine the photo that most accurately conveys this experience. These contexts may include:
    1. Actual location (authenticated through GPS).
    2. User’s proximity to his home or work – Are you a local or a tourist?
    3. User’s time on premises – If you are at Whole Foods for less than 2 minutes, it is a signal that you did not likely get the full, intended experience, whereas an hour shows good physical engagement.
    4. User’s interaction with other, similar entities – For example, if I had also been to a Trader Joe’s recently and left similar pictures or had similar engagements.
    5. Reviews – Of course, if you review the business you are revealing even more data about it, right down to the keywords you choose to leave in your review.
    6. User’s search history across devices (through Google Chrome) and how that relates to or signals an affinity for healthy eating, organic vegetables, grass-fed beef, or locally sourced produce (i.e., things Whole Foods is known for).
  3. General user authority is a factor. I strongly believe that users carry individual authority—meaning some users are more important in certain contexts than others. It makes sense that if I live in or near Orland Park, IL (which I do) that I will be an “authority” on many things in the area—much more so than someone who lives in California and just comes in for a quick visit. (Although their context could be authoritative also, especially when it comes to other people from California who may visit this particular Whole Foods—dang that’s Geeky!)
  4. I over-share. I really do (ask anyone who knows me). It’s in my nature to do so. When I share my stuff all over the internet, it’s essentially “content,” and the fact that I share a lot makes me a resource to Google.

Go check this out and see for yourself how some users are already being called “experts” (of which I am one here in the Chicagoland area). Feel free to envy me! 🙂


Google Plus as a social network is definitely being sunsetted. I don’t think it will be completely deleted or shut down in its current form, but Google isn’t going to pump more money or effort into increasing users there. Instead, Google understands social as a much bigger opportunity. Why limit social experience to a platform when you can influence and control it via everyone’s mobile device (now smartphones, but soon connected vehicles and wearables like Google Glass)? Social is everyday, everywhere, and with every person around you—like the real world! It’s not limited to just your friends or followers who joined the same platform you did. One More Interesting Note: The screenshot of bananas—it’s an interior photo (I know you noticed this), and that is worth thinking on for a moment. In the past, only outside streetview photos were approved and attached to businesses. Can you see the impact here? What if I had uploaded a picture of rotten bananas? The good news here is there were no rotten bananas, because Whole Foods cares about the experience their customers have and so their stores are full of “good living” and “earthy” displays that convey a message of healthy and clean eating. They have an image or “experience” they want you to feel comfortable with, and they go out of their way to ensure their physical stores convey that. Think about that in light of your own business. Google is also interested in my experience with the business because they can then use data from my interactions to influence search results for other users (look-a-likes, geographically centric, contextual, etc). They can measure the interactions with my photos and begin to paint a picture of the experience at Whole Foods using this aggregate data. You may note, my photo has over 12K views and it has only been live for about 6 weeks! (BTW—Google can read photos. Read here for more: Images Answering Questions In Search.)

How To Upload Photos And Attach To Entities

You will remember that I showed you last year how to leave Google reviews via mobile. Since then, Google has adjusted their app a little to make it more user friendly, but the core competency remains: Google would much rather you leave a review on a mobile phone while you are having an experience with an “entity” (a verified business, venue, place, etc)—or just concluded your experience—than on a desktop hours or days later. Remember, the context of each situation is king here. Above, I listed a number of reasons why my photo is authenticated and authoritative, and most of those items require that data from my mobile phone be publicly available to Google. If you are not aware, Google is making a big play for mobile—ever heard of the concept “mobile first?” So when you leave a review for a local business, just about ½ inch away from that review box is another option to “add photo.” That’s where you do it. You have to be logged into your Google account within the app for this to work. Now, that option has been available for a long time, and in fairly rare cases it would affect some search results if that business had no other visual representation available for Google to pull from—but it almost seems like they are encouraging more of these photos be uploaded via the app. Google is really looking for user-generated experiences, and now there are 2 ways to get them publicly:

  1. Through reviews – When you read the prompt on a mobile review, it doesn’t say “leave us a review”—instead it reads “tell us about your experience.”
  2. Through the photos that can be uploaded. (And I bet it won’t be long until there will be audio and visual options as well.)

I know I promised you way up in the first paragraph that I wasn’t going to ramble on about the Geekery behind this until later, but you know me—I can’t resist.

Google entity photo

How Can This Help My Business?

First off, since this option is offered in the Google Maps Application, it must mean that Google wants you to use it! So while you are asking customers to leave you a review about their experience, why not also ask them to snap a picture of that experience (your product, them using it, etc.) and upload that as well? This can be modeled right on the customer’s phone. Many of our clients are auto dealers—and for years you guys have been snapping pictures of happy customers in front of their shiny new vehicles and posting them to FaceBook. Why not take similar photos (with the customer’s phone) and upload those via this option as well? Imagine if when someone searched for your dealership on Google Maps (which is also a very highly utilized search engine, FYI) they saw not only your Google My Business listing, but dozens of pictures of your happy customers too! Now don’t go nuts and spam this. Don’t upload all the photos from the same mobile phone. I guarantee if you do that, you will get dinged somewhere down the line. Instead, pepper in a few here and there from your salesmen’s phones or your service manager interacting with customers. (Your people are users too, just don’t over-share!) First and foremost, however, ask your customers to do this from their own phones.


Google ViewsYou could literally tell the story of your business in pictures if you plan these out properly. I must reiterate: DON’T SPAM IT! Add good-quality content (photos) to the Maps ecosystem and make it useful. Keep in mind, these photos are going to be attached to your business—curate them accordingly. Make this process a social activity for your customers—provide them a reason to take a photo and upload it. Think of landmarks people like to be photographed in front of, like this one in the Art Deco District of Miami Beach. How can you implement such a strategy inside or outside your business? Do you have a mascot that is recognizable and tells your story? Encourage people to pose in front of it and make happy or crazy faces. Maybe consider installing a photobooth and use that as a way to create some fun. Here’s one more idea: What about your spokesperson? Some of our clients hire well-known athletes or local celebs to be their spokes-folks. Sometimes your dealer principal who is in all your commercials has a big personality and has become pretty well known too—maybe get a photo cut out of that famous person and let people take pictures in front of it, all complete with your branding and Unique Selling Points. You get the idea right? Now keep in mind, many consumers and internet users have not adopted Google Maps for mobile as a social activity yet (keyword: yet). So this won’t be quite as easy as getting them to post something to Facebook or Instagram—and that’s the beauty of it. It’s still pretty new and you can get ahead of it right now!


I hope those of you who have gotten this far down the post have picked up at least one good idea here. Just remember, this is only the beginning. Google is really all about experience sharing, and those shares are mobile first. If you keep this in mind as you move forward with this strategy, you’ll stay ahead of your competition and allow users to experience your business before they ever set foot inside your store.

Meet Allyn Hane

Allyn Hane is a blogger first, and a blogger always. In 1993, serving as a photojournalist in the US Air Force, he became editor of a weekly base newspaper ::: there he learned the power of social interaction and its direct correlation to interesting and useful content... pre-internet.