Episode 3: Selecting Pictures

Adding pictures to places on Google Maps is one of the main activities of Local Guides. But which ones should you upload? What should you pay attention to?



Jan Van Haver 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the third episode of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today’s episode is all about pictures, one of the main activities of local guides. Which ones exactly should you upload? What should you pay attention to? And lots more. My name is Jan Van Haver; I’m a local guy from Belgium but also spending quite a bit of my time in Germany. And I have created this podcast to share some of the experience I’ve gained in my own journey as a local guide.

Vanessa P. 0:41
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 0:45
So you’re standing in front of a point of interest – can be a shop, a church, a monument – smartphone in your hand, or a digital camera, of course. Which pictures do you take and which do you upload to Google Maps? Those are of course two different things. You can make thousands of pictures from all kinds of angles, and if you like to do that, you should definitely also do that. But that does not automatically mean that you should upload all of them to Google Maps, of course. If you have made multiple pictures of the same point of interest, make sure to carefully select them and only upload the best to the map.

Jan Van Haver 1:25
So, you could ask: “What is the best number of photos per point of interest?” As in so many situations in life, the answer is of course: “it depends”. What you should upload often depends on what is already there. If the storefront of a shop, or the church tower is already the subject of five pictures, what is the added value of adding a sixth one, even from a different angle? It also often depends on the type of point of interest: a charging point for electrical vehicles for example, will be covered quite fine with just one picture, versus a restaurant – there it really makes sense to add, for example, one of the outside, one of the inside, some of the dishes, the menu, the opening hours, some specials, … you can definitely justify uploading a few of those.

Jan Van Haver 2:21
Perhaps we should rephrase the question then to: “What is the maximum number of pictures per point of interest?” From previous episodes, you might remember (or you just know from your experience as local guide) that uploading a photo to Google Maps brings you five points. So uploading a lot of pictures might be a tempting way to reach a higher level quite quickly. And frankly, in some cases, you really see local guides giving in to that temptation by uploading dozens for one single point of interest, or by going through their holiday pictures from the last few years (when they were not yet a local guide) and start uploading loads of these to a few points of interest in the area where they spent their holidays. Let me pause for a second here for a very important warning: if what you just heard makes you think: “Hey, I could also do that and get some quick local guides points”. Do NOT do that. Local Guides have sometimes seen their accounts suspended as this kind of spammy behavior – uploading loads of pictures and loads of similar pictures in a very quick way – is a very likely reason to get accounts suspended. I will definitely make a separate episode about that topic. But please be aware of this.

Jan Van Haver 3:46
There seems to be no real maximum number imposed by Google. You can come to that conclusion if you check some famous buildings and landmarks. Let’s say, the Statue of Liberty in New York. That has more than 150,000 pictures already uploaded on Google Maps. It can be worse/better – you decide: the Eiffel Tower in Paris 600,000. And that’s not the most I’ve seen. If you check the Taj Mahal in India: close to 1 million pictures!

Jan Van Haver 4:19
So let’s revert the question then: what is the minimum number of pictures per point of interest? All the pictures showing the total storefront of a shop or the complete structure of a building or a monument? That’s quite clear: yes, of course. This can, by the way, also be a new one to replace an outdated picture after, for example, the restyling of a shop – whereby I’m answering the question about the added value of that sixth storefront picture: it can indeed have added value, if the five old ones were all showing the old look of the shop and there’s no picture yet of the new look. Well, then it’s absolutely justified to upload one more picture of that storefront. Another set of pictures can highlight special features. For example, with regards to accessibility: are there dedicated parking spaces? How about the entrance? And talking about the entrance: sometimes for large buildings, it can be useful to upload a specific picture of where the entrance is, or perhaps even the back entrance, if that’s hard to find. And it might be useful for some people who need to enter the building. Also a picture of the opening hours: Google even asks you to submit that if you’re editing opening hours. You can also upload a picture of the menu card, although that’s not my preferred option, as of course in restaurants the menu often changes in, well, which dishes are on it and which prizes they are charged at. So an outdated picture could spread incorrect information. And if the point of interest has the correct category restaurant, as you might remember from the previous episode on categories, then there’s a dedicated URL that the business owner can include to specifically link to the menu. So that’s in my view, definitely the better option.

Jan Van Haver 6:20
Pictures of the inside of a place are, of course, also worthy of being uploaded to Google Maps. But also here, it depends on the type and on the previous uploads, exactly how many you should upload. In fact, Google encourages local guides to take indoor pictures as, of course, they have no way themselves to get hold of those. The Google Maps cars driving around, can obviously only provide outdoor pictures with their Street View gear. And other sign that shows the focus on indoor pictures is that, when you upload pictures for points of interests, Google is often asking you to add a label for, for example, a product or a dish and giving you extra points for those labels. So if you add that all up, you easily get five or six, and sometimes even more, of course.

Jan Van Haver 7:18
Something which annoys me a bit is that in the ‘Uncover missing info’ module, which you can access through the your contributions page on the mobile app, Google keeps asking you for pictures, even if there are already a lot for that point of interest, and even if you yourself have already uploaded one. In my view, this module could be used in a much better way, to direct local guides to specific places that currently have no picture at all or are missing some important pictures. One thing you should also realize is that some uploads of pictures are accidental, because Google often keeps asking – some would say bugging – smartphone smartphone users to upload pictures they just took. Even people who are no local guides and have therefore have no idea what it is for and how it works exactly. The result is that pictures being uploaded to the wrong point of interest nearby, as Google often suggests a point of interest to add the picture you just took to. And in my own experience, that’s not always the right one that they are suggesting. So then wrong photos end up connected to the wrong point of interest. You can send feedback about that to Google; I’ll probably come back to that in a later episode.

Jan Van Haver 8:49
On the other hand, I’m also kind of happy that Google bugs smartphone users to do this because this was exactly what got me started as a local guide in the first place. If you want to read the full story, you can find it on the about page of the websites that I’ve created for the LetsGuide Podcast. And one more thing, before I forget: do not upload selfies to Google Maps. Let me repeat that: do not upload selfies to Google Maps. There are loads of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram where this is perfectly acceptable and even recommendable to upload selfies, but do not do it on Google Maps. And of course, something which should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately not alwyas respected by local guides who are chasing some quick points: only upload your own creations, pictures that you have taken yourself.

Jan Van Haver 9:50
The next point I want to tackle is the quality of the pictures. Should all the pictures you upload be really perfect? Well of course, obviously there are minimum quality standards. The picture should be in focus: it should not be taken when you’re sitting in a car, let alone when you’re driving the car. It should be properly framed with decent light, and so on. There’s a very good blog post by our Russian colleague, local guide Sergey Sudakovskiy; I will link to it in the shownotes. The post is in Russian, but it’s really well written and in a way that it’s easily translatable by Google Translate. So I really advise you to have a look at it. But does that mean that all of them should be artistic masterpieces? Well, if you’re visiting an area which has a very low level of local guide activity, and you’re pretty sure that you won’t be there again in the foreseeable future, I would upload at least one picture of a point of interest even if for example, that day has a sulky gray sky and not nice sunny weather conditions. Especially, if the area has no Street View, and the point of interest has zero pictures so far – I really, really really hate that grey placeholder used when no pictures or Street View images are available.

Jan Van Haver 11:16
Another question you might ask is: “If the business owner has already uploaded pictures himself, should you as local guides still add more of them?” Obviously, it will be no surprise to you that the answer is: “it depends”. If what was uploaded by the business owner correctly represents the reality and covers all needs: fine, no need to upload anything else, I would say. If, however, what was already uploaded is, for example, only a logo or a stylized picture of a flagship store of a chain in general, it might be a good idea to also add some pictures that show the real situation.

Jan Van Haver 11:57
At this point, I’d like to discuss an important frequently mentioned aspect of pictures: the number of views. Those views are often mentioned in the emails Google sends you to inform you about your achievements as local guides, and they encourage you to share them on social media – remember those things for selfies? I myself have mixed feelings about those numbers of views. It’s of course, very, very nice to see that you have reached 100,000 views, 1 million views, perhaps even 10 million views and in some cases, hundreds of millions of views. But the term is misleading. ‘View’ makes you think of someone who clicked on the picture and noticed that you have made that picture and possibly thinks: “Oh, that’s really a nice photographer”. That might be happening in a limited number of the cases, but surely not for the millions of views that you can reach with even a relatively little number of pictures. Let me make it clear: I’m not doubting that those numbers are not the actual numbers that some other counter reaches. But the key issue here is to find out what exactly is being counted. It’s crucial to know that the pictures on Google Maps are also used in the overall Google search. So if you just type in any word in Google to search it, you can get a lot of results and also gets pictures as results, the ‘image results’. There, of course, you will also find the pictures that people have uploaded onto Google Maps. And there are literally billions of people using Google search every day. So in my view, a better term for the those counters would be ‘shows’ our ‘displays’, not the number of times your pictures were seen, but rather the number of times your pictures were shown without any guarantee that the user sitting in front of the screen actually saw it, let alone noticed who uploaded the picture. A specific example that fed my skepticism on the exact meaning of the term ‘views’ comes from an observation from my most viewed pictures. If you look at the ‘Photos’ tab on ‘Your contributions’ on the phone, for example, you can sort the pictures either on the date, or the number of views, so that way you can see which of your pictures has most views up to now. One of them in my case is from a restaurant which is closed more than a year already, and which is still on the map, but marked as ‘Permanently closed’, which means it’s not by default shown to users exploring that area of Google Maps, unless they specifically search for it. And the new point of interest – an Italian restaurant, the previous one was a Chinese restaurant – is already correctly entered on that location where the old Chinese restaurant used to be on Google Maps. For that particular picture, I monitored the number of views for a day, and noticed that in about 10 hours time, almost 250 views were added. And I refuse to believe that in that short timeframe 250 people were searching for that particular restaurant, which is out of business for more than a year already, and then clicked on that particular picture that I had uploaded. I am willing to believe, however, that in those 10 hours 250 people typed in the search term Chinese restaurant in Google and were shown that picture as one of many image results, probably in a format, not bigger than a post stamp. By the way, please be aware that your own views, so if you’re just scrolling through the pictures you uploaded in your ‘Photos’ tab, those views also count as views in the total count. A Google Moderator moderator confirmed this to me in one of the comments to a post on Connect.

Jan Van Haver 16:06
For those who want to maximize the number of views, or let’s say displays or shows, I highly recommend to check out a post written by an Australian local guides called Briggs posted recently on Local Guides Connect, the official forum for local guides. And of course, I’ll make a link to that in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 16:28
Finally, one thing that you should also know: sometimes it’s simply not possible to upload pictures because the place on the map is not defined as a ‘point of interest’. Streets for example, or a park or a bridge. We won’t go into the into details on that right now. Perhaps I’ll cover that in a separate episode. And with all that said, It’s time now for the special section we have in each episode of the podcast.

Vanessa P. 16:57
What a great idea

Jan Van Haver 17:01
In ‘What a great idea’, I always highlight one of the ideas submitted to Idea Exchange. And that’s a part of the Local Guides Connect forum, the official platform that Google provides for local guides. There you can submit a suggestions to improve Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other local guides can then click the like button to vote for these ideas. And some of these ideas have already been implemented. So if you have an idea yourself, do not hesitate and submit it as soon as possible.

Jan Van Haver 17:35
This episode’s idea is obviously also linked to photos. And it’s an idea from our good friend Nabil Azeez from Egypt’s The idea is called ‘Limiting photo upload per each place’. It’s one of the most popular ideas but it’s always a good idea to upvote it even more. Of course, the proposal is quite easy, and it’s very good if you ask me. And it’s also a good answer in the discussion we had before about the minimum or maximum amount of pictures. The proposal is: set a limit of five pictures per point of interest per local guide. Quite easy. So we’ll make sure to have a link in the shownotes and you can just click there and give your vote to Nabil’s idea.

Jan Van Haver 18:25
Before wrapping up, I want to emphasize once more that I have no official connection whatsoever to Google or the Google Local Guides program. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Everything I have been telling you in this episode, and in all of the other episodes are just my personal interpretation. The recording date of this episode is mid of March 2019. So everything you hear describes the situation as it is today and might have changed if you listen at a later date.

Jan Van Haver 18:59
Before wrapping up this episode, I still want to draw your attention to the European meetup taking place in Belgium in the beautiful city of Ghent this year, from the 7th to 10th of June. It’s a very big and nice meetup for local guides and a real great opportunity to meet other local guides in a relaxed and nice atmosphere. So far, participants from nine different countries have already signed up. So do check the post on Local Guides Connect and if you notice that the flag for your country is still missing, what are you waiting for? Sign up today and change that, because it makes me really happy to be able to add flags to that list.

Jan Van Haver 19:43
That’s all I have for today. Do please get in touch. If you have any questions or remarks you can reach me on Twitter under LocalGuidesGuru, you can just send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or you can send me a message on Local Guides Connect under my normal name JanVanHaver. I’m often also available for a discussion on Facebook in the Local Guide World group and sometimes also in the meet and greet sessions on Facebook Live on Sunday. All the show notes you can find on letsguidepodcast.com and if you have the opportunity and the time please do leave us a rating or review in your favorite podcast app. And when you’re there it’s good to know for you that the LetsGuide Podcast is not the only podcast for local guys. There’s also another one – it’s called Go Loco. You should definitely also check that out. The next episode will be about unclaimed businesses.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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